- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

The PGA Tour yesterday officially acknowledged the Washington area as a potential spot to fill a suddenly open date on its summer schedule but said a return of pro golf to TPC at Avenel in Potomac this year is unlikely.

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem confirmed yesterday the tour has dropped the International tournament, leaving open the possibility of a new event to be scheduled on Independence Day weekend. But he said planned renovations at Avenel, which was the main site for an annual PGA Tour event until last year, will make the course unavailable.

“Avenel is scheduled to go into a total renovation this summer,” Finchem said. “I think that’s going to take them out of commission.”

Finchem said the region remains on a list of “three or four cities” that could play host to a replacement event. Serious discussions about finding a replacement for the International will heat up in the next two weeks, along with talks involving potential sponsors.

“Obviously, Washington, D.C., is without a tournament, and it might be that something fits there,” Finchem said. “I wouldn’t rule it out, but I wouldn’t say it’s our first priority either.”

Promoters of the PGA Tour’s past Washington area events said they have talked to the tour, and boast of having the infrastructure, volunteers and interest to play host to a tournament as soon as July.

“I think there would be some real sizzle to having a major event in the nation’s capital on the Fourth of July weekend,” said Steve Skinner, CEO and chairman of KemperSports Management, the firm at the forefront of the region’s local tour stop for nearly 30 years before the event was dropped from the schedule before this season.

The decision to cut the event seemed like the last in a series of painful snubs that defined the PGA Tour’s relationship with the Washington area stop in recent years. From taking longer than expected on promised Avenel renovations to scheduling the event on dates that ensured many top golfers would not attend, the PGA Tour has been no friend to the area of late.

The final straw came last year when sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton pulled its title sponsorship of the event after the tour revealed it would be played in October — after the high-profile events.

But Skinner and Co. are hopeful the tour will seize on this opportunity for reconciliation.

“I don’t know if anybody owes anybody anything,” Skinner said. “But speaking on behalf of the area and its 30 years of support, I think Washington deserves to have a major league golf tournament.”

With tournament infrastructure still in place, choosing the area over other rumored slot candidates Philadelphia and Minneapolis makes political sense for Finchem and practical sense given the immediacy of the situation.

The key for the area’s bid would be finding a sponsor, and recent corporate host Booz Allen Hamilton is the obvious first choice. Booz Allen CEO and chairman Dr. Ralph Shrader in the past has stated his willingness to produce both the financial and emotional commitment to make the event happen if the tour will work with him on securing attractive dates and upgrading the facility.

Where that tournament could be played is an open-ended question.

Though it seemingly has been ruled out, Avenel course officials said holding an event was still possible.

“We expect the permitting process to be completed sometime around the middle of July, meaning that if for some reason we needed to host an event before then, we could do that,” said Mike Sullivan, director of golf at TPC at Avenel.

Skinner named Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., as a potential site, but club officials said their only talks with the PGA Tour have been related to the 2009 Presidents Cup.

“My sense, as far as our members go, is that they may be open to hosting a tournament on a one-time basis, but not a regular basis,” said Glenn Smickley, the club’s chief operating officer.

Robert Trent Jones Golf Club played host to the Presidents Cup in 1994 after just four months notice, and Smickley said they could make the quick transformation again, if asked.

“Can it be done? Absolutely, it can be done,” he said. “Can it be done to the level that the tour and the club would like to have? It’d be a real challenge.”

Other possible hosts include Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va., and Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.

Until recent days, there was little question the PGA Tour would retain the International, known for its unique modified Stableford scoring system that gives points for pars, birdies and eagles, while subtracting points for bogeys or worse. But Finchem and the tournament’s organizers at Castle Pines Golf Club in Colorado said the date, which falls on the July 4th holiday weekend, was not well-received by companies eyed to sponsor the International.

“We think it’s a great date, but the perception from a lot of companies didn’t agree with that,” Finchem said. “It’s a matter of getting past the perception that a holiday weekend is a bad date.”

The early July date for a tournament likely would be seen as an improvement over last year’s event at Avenel, which took place a week after the U.S. Open and was skipped by many top PGA Tour players. The open date is two weeks before the British Open, and was filled last year by the BMW Championships, which routinely boasts a strong group of entries, including Tiger Woods.

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