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PGA Tour Stop in Washington, part II

Posted on Wednesday 7 June 2006

Several weeks ago I wrote that this summer’s PGA Tour stop here in Washington could be the last one for a while. I think the Tour wants out of the TPC at Avenel for a variety of reasons but doesn’t want to look silly and just cancel an event at one of their own venues, not to mention what such a move might do to regular play and membership at Avenel.

I don’t think the Tour wants to leave Washington on a permanent basis but I do think they’re willing to sit out a couple of years to get away from the venue in Potomac. And the choices of where to hold a Tour event are not as wide as you might think.

First of all, rule out last year’s host site, Congressional. The members have made it clear they want majors and near-majors, not a regular tour stop. The course is hosting the US Amateur in 2009 and the Open in 2011, which seems to be just fine with them. You can rule out RTJ, too. They seem to value their reputation as a very exclusive place, and hosting the occasional Presidents Cup seems just fine with them. Caves Valley, northwest of Baltimore? Held a magnificent US Senior Open in 2002 but like RTJ is very private and the members seem to prefer it that way. Bulle Rock, in Havre de Grace? Not only is it already hosting a women’s major but it’s also a bit of a hike from metropolitan Washington. Other than those three spots there doesn’t seem to be any location with the scale, location and facilities needed to host a regular tour event.

Except one. I think the Tour has it’s eye on a place across the river, a new course designed by Greg Norman at Lansdowne. Norman has made no secret that he designed the course for a Tour event. He even promotes it as featuring “Golf’s Toughest Mile”; the closing four holes measure 1,760 yards from the championship tees. Given Norman’s harsh criticism of Avenel it would be a delicious bit of irony if his course did wind up hosting a tournament.

What other bits would lead me to such speculation? Well, there’s the Kemper connection. Kemper Sports managed the development of the Norman course; guess who is the tournament management company for the DC Tour stop? Yes, that same Kemper Sports. And guess who hasn’t been able to line up a title sponsor, or even a consortium, for a fall Tour event? Yep, Kemper.

This year’s event is on tenuous ground, if the preparation at the course is any indication. The skybox at #17 tee, long a fixture, is gone. The Pavillion Club tent, once huge, is now midsized. Perhaps most telling of all, it looks as through there are going to be only a half dozen corporate tents around the 18th green, down remarkably from even 2004. There have been stories in the papers about the difficulties of finding volunteers, and obviously Kemper’s had a tough time selling sponsorships both large and small, too.

[Update: after visiting the course again on June 8 I counted seven tents around 18 green and saw the platform for a small skybox at 17 tee.]

I think the situation is set up just the way the PGA Tour wants: pull out of DC for a couple of years, citing poor fan and corporate support. Evaluate how the (regular season) FedEx Cup tournaments are doing starting next year. As they study attendance, field, TV viewership and sponsorships the Tour will be able to spot the winners and losers in the new schedule. That analysis should make it reasonably simple to figure out where to put a DC event back on the schedule.

And we’ll all know what’s going to happen soon enough: the Tour has said it will announce the 2007 schedule during the week of the Booz Allen Classic. Now wouldn’t that be ironic, if there’s no DC event next year?

Disclaimer: I have had no discussions whatsoever along these lines with anyone associated with the event, the courses, or the PGA Tour. My comments are my own, and are not based on contacts with anybody involved, or even remotely connected, with any entity associated with this topic. You are free to consider them the incoherent ramblings of somebody with too much time on his hands, if you like. 🙂

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