- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

The PGA Tour said yesterday it plans to make its D.C. stop one of golf’s premier tournaments, an event that features the world’s best player, a beloved course, a globally recognized sponsor and an invitation-only format that will guarantee an elite field.

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, standing alongside top-ranked golfer Tiger Woods at the National Press Club, said the new AT&T; National will be played July 5 to 8, most likely at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. Woods will play host for the event, and his foundation will be the main charitable beneficiary.

“We’ve talked for a number of years about having a premier situation here in Washington,” Mr. Finchem said. “This is an incredibly positive thing. Tiger Woods is not just a great player, not just a great competitor, but someone who has changed the face of the game of golf. To have his direct involvement is unique for the Washington area.”

The announcement of the tournament marks a sharp reversal of fortune for golf in the District. Until last month, it appeared the PGA Tour this season would not make a stop in the area for the first time in nearly 30 years. And the arrival of Woods, who never played at any of the previous tour stops in the District, gives the event prestige it has never had.

The purse for the tournament will top $6 million, placing it in the top third on the PGA Tour. Furthermore, Mr. Finchem said, the event will be invitation-only, ensuring a smaller, more elite field than those at past tour events in the District that drew more than 150 players.

Woods’ involvement appears directly tied to his desire to hold the tournament and generate publicity for the Tiger Woods Foundation, which focuses on educational programs for children. Woods pledged yesterday to build a new learning center in the District similar to the $25 million facility opened by the foundation last year in Southern California. He said the chance to play host to a tournament on behalf of his foundation was a “dream come true” and one he had discussed with his father, Earl Woods, who died last year.

“My focus and my goal, along with my father, was to host an event on the PGA Tour,” Woods said. “This is a pretty momentous day for us, and I just wish my father could have been here to see it.”

The tournament will be run by Greg McLaughlin, executive director of the Tiger Woods Foundation, and a former tournament director of the Western Open in Chicago.

Tour officials expect the tournament to be played at Congressional this year and in 2008 but must wait on a vote by club members. Approval by members is expected to come in early April, but the tour is considering Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., as a backup. It’s also possible the tournament could be played at a renovated TPC at Avenel course in Potomac after 2008. Woods, however, expressed a preference for Congressional, a highly regarded course that played host to several majors and is scheduled to hold the U.S. Open in 2011.

“I would like it to be played at Congressional in future years,” Woods said. “It’s one of the nicest golf courses not only in the United States but the whole world. I remember when I played there in 1997 at the U.S. Open. It was certainly a test.”

It’s still not clear whether Woods will play in the new event this year. Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, are expecting their first child this summer.

“Obviously, that’s the most important thing in my life right now, but my intention is to play,” Woods said.

Woods and the Tour plan to commemorate the July Fourth holiday by offering free admission to all active military personnel. Woods’ father was a Green Beret. Children younger than 12 will also get in free.

The date of the AT&T; National is seen as a major improvement over past years. The AT&T; National is three weeks after the U.S. Open and two weeks before the British Open.

The July date became available last month after the PGA Tour canceled the International, a Denver-based tournament known for its unique scoring system. Organizers of the International said Woods’ refusal to play the event made it difficult to attract a major corporate sponsor. The District had lost its spot on the tour last year when sponsor Booz Allen pulled out, citing the decision to move the tournament to a less desirable date in October.

With Woods aboard, finding a corporate sponsor for the July event was a nonissue.

AT&T; officials said they did not actively seek to sponsor the new tournament but were contacted by the PGA Tour last month after the International was canceled. The company already sponsors the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in California and the AT&T; Classic in Duluth, Ga., and has previously worked with the Tiger Woods Foundation. It will pay more than $8 million to sponsor the event.

“The tournament does have several natural ties to Washington, D.C.,” AT&T; chief executive Ed Whitacre said. “The location here in the nation’s capital is a very important market for AT&T.; It really will provide a great way to connect with our customers. We think the AT&T; National will be one of the most anticipated events on the tour schedule.”

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