- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007

If attendance and reviews from golfers are a guide, the AT&T; National staked its claim last week as one of the most prestigious nonmajor tournaments on the PGA Tour.

Though financial figures for the tournament will not be known for at least a month, the inaugural event at Congressional Country Club already may have reached the level of such well-respected tournaments as the Memorial, the Wachovia Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship.

AT&T; National organizers reported a six-day attendance of 139,389, including more than 121,000 for the four days of tournament golf. The PGA Tour does not release attendance figures, but that total is thought to be far higher than the typical attendance at the Booz Allen Classic, the tour’s event in Washington in past years, and even higher than the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional.

“It seemed like a huge tour event, to say the least,” said Jim Furyk, who finished Sunday’s final round in a tie for third place. “And when you think back to 16 weeks, three to four months that they put this together, everyone involved should be really proud of themselves because they did a great job. I thought, you know, the first year is always the toughest, and then to do it in such a short time and to turn out so fantastic, it was very nice.”

Greg McLaughlin, the tournament’s executive director, was particularly happy to hear Furyk’s comments. The PGA Tour generally breaks down into three tiers of tournaments: the majors, the regular tour stops and a handful of events that carry extra prestige because of the host, course or quality of the field.

“We always called them ‘near-majors,’ and we set out asking ourselves, ‘How can we achieve that?’ ” said Mr. McLaughlin, who also is executive director of the Tiger Woods Foundation. “It’s one thing for me to say it, but it’s another for a player to say it. So I think that’s really positive.”

In this case, the AT&T; National had a pair of huge advantages: the planet’s best player, Woods, serving as the host and a top-rank course in Congressional. Those combined to attract a field that included the top four players in the world.

Because it will take as long as 90 days to receive all the data from vendors at the AT&T; National, Mr. McLaughlin was careful not to declare the tournament a financial success. He was, however, optimistic that the tournament would reach its goal of $1 million raised for the foundation. He also expects the event to bring in even more money next year because there will be more time to plan and to obtain competitive bids from vendors. Planning for this year’s event began in March.

Officials from the PGA Tour, which nearly pulled out of holding an event in Washington this year, had nothing but praise for the tournament.

“I don’t think we could be more pleased,” said Ty Votaw, the tour’s executive vice president. “The reception we received from the community was spectacular. Our expectations were pretty high, and, whatever they were, this exceeded them.”

Comparing attendance at events is difficult because the tour and many tournaments do not release figures. However, the AT&T; National appears to rank alongside several of the prestigious nonmajors.

The Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, N.C., drew 140,000 fans in May, selling out its allotment of 35,000 tickets for each day of play. The Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass., typically sells all 25,000 tickets available for each day of competition, drawing about 100,000 fans over four days.

The weekend crowds at Congressional even rivaled those at last month’s U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh. Oakmont drew an average of 37,000 spectators each day, including a Saturday crowd of more than 46,000.

Some tournaments, particularly those played on courses designed to accommodate large throngs, draw more.

The Byron Nelson Championship near Dallas drew 262,000 fans over five days in April. The FBR Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., attracts more than 500,000 spectators.

“This tournament in general has been a bigger success than I think any one of us could have imagined,” Woods said. “I think the turnout’s been incredible. We’ve had one little spell of weather there for the week, and just a little bit hot, and they still came out and still supported this event.”

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