- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

POTOMAC, Md. — The PGA Tour makes its annual stop in the Washington area this week. Whether the Tour will return here beyond 2018 remains a burning question.

The Quicken Loans National will kick off Thursday at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, a course in Montgomery County that first hosted the event last year. The tournament has been played in the Washington suburbs almost every year since Tiger Woods founded it in 2007, but financial turbulence has cast doubt on its future in the region, despite the marquee name Woods provides.

For the Washington golf community, and for players like defending champion Kyle Stanley, it would be disappointing to see the tournament be squeezed off the schedule.

“(The National) has a reputation of playing really good golf courses. I know guys like that,” Stanley said. “And then having Tiger associated with the event, and his foundation as the host, I know it’s an event that a lot of guys put on their schedule every year.”

Quicken Loans originally did not renew its title sponsor deal after a four-year run with the tournament. Last September, with no other sponsor stepping up, the PGA Tour chose to cancel an agreement to play the tournament at the more prestigious Congressional Country Club in 2018 and 2020.

Congressional, in nearby Bethesda, was the site of The National seven times, most recently in 2016. When the Congressional agreement was canceled, TPC Potomac stepped up to host for a second straight year.

At the end of May — in essence, the eleventh hour — Quicken Loans signed a one-year contract to sponsor the 2018 tournament. But at the same time, the mortgage company announced it will become the title sponsor of a new PGA Tour event in Detroit, where it is headquartered, beginning in 2019.

In all likelihood, that move means The National will have to search for a new title sponsor once more. Worse, it could mean the event is in danger of being cut from the Tour schedule.

PGA Tour event title sponsors pay millions of dollars a year, which goes to the purse and advertising among other things. In the case of The National, that trickles down to the beneficiary of the tournament, Woods‘ TGR Foundation, and the charitable causes it serves.

The National is not the only golf tournament facing this problem. Earlier this season, two other PGA Tour events — the Houston Open and the Fort Worth Invitational in Texas — were played without title sponsors. To the fan watching on TV, the events went off without a hitch, but they were likely less profitable than normal.

Woods is expected to address questions about the tournament’s future at his press conference Wednesday. He will play The National for the first time since 2015.

In the meantime, Tour officials say they are focused on the here and now, hoping to make the 2018 edition of the tournament the best it can be.

“We’re excited about the 2018 Quicken Loans National and look forward to a great week,” said Tyler Dennis, the Tour’s senior vice president and chief of operations, in a statement to The Washington Times. “We’ll have more to say about the full 2018-19 schedule in a few weeks when it’s announced, but we certainly consider the Washington, D.C., market an important one to the PGA TOUR and professional golf.

On the course, Stanley said tournament director Mike Antolini and his staff “do a great job of putting together a nice event for us,” but “nice” doesn’t translate to “easy.”

A week after the Tour plays the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, where birdies come easy, golfers face a tougher test in Maryland. Stanley’s winning score of 7-under par was the highest winning score relative to par of any PGA Tour event in 2017.

“The rough was up, the greens were pretty quick,” Stanley recalled. “A lot of par 4s out here can play fairly difficult. Probably a golf course that caters to a guy that’s going to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens.”

Another golfer in this week’s field, rookie Denny McCarthy, reflected on what could be the final time — at least for now — the PGA Tour holds an event in his home state of Maryland.

“I think this D.C. area’s a great venue. TPC Potomac is a great, really great test of golf,” McCarthy said. “And just combination of a couple of those things — Tiger’s name, the venue, the golf course — you’re definitely going to bring in a good crowd of guys here.”

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