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Will The PGA Tour Return To Town This Year?

Posted on Wednesday 14 February 2007

Probably, assuming they can find a sponsor. Given that there’s already an extensive volunteer organization in place, along with an experienced management team and a proven fan base DC is likely a better candidate than the other towns being considered.

On the other hand, we’re talking about the weekend after the 4th of July. The weather around here is hot and humid; it is so uncomfortable that the Brits used to pay their embassy staff the same pay as those who were stationed in the tropics. It’s also prime vacation time, which means that the fan base, and the volunteer base, will be smaller. Of course, the best kept secret in Washington is that the there is no traffic in July and it’s the perfect time to go to the theater or that fabulous local restaurant, ’cause neither the tourists nor the Hill folks are in town.

OK, enough with the local knowledge. Who’ve you got in mind for a sponsor?
Doesn’t matter who I’ve got in mind, but there are plenty of good local candidates; my guess is that there’s a reasonably good list of national prospects in the Tour files, too. (If there isn’t, then somebody in Ponte Vedra should be polishing his or her resumé, because the job ain’t been getting done.)

The basic ingredients for a successful tournament are purse, course and date, then the management and volunteer organizations get layered on top. The three basic ingredients are a feedback loop: the Tour has to come up with a good venue and a good commitment for dates so they can attract a sponsor who’ll commit enough money to attract a good field for enough years to keep the sponsor’s (and the sponsor’s customers’) interest.

If the sponsor turns out to be a local company who is in any way connected to the local industry you can be sure the long term spot on the Tour schedule will not be while Congress is in recess. At least, not if those doing the negotiating for the sponsor have a clue about what they’re doing.

Where will they play this thing?
My money’s on Congressional for 2007, since they’ve already been approached and they’ve already agreed to host it, if you believe what you read in the papers. In this case, I do.

Why there and not Avenel?
Avenel is still a fan friendly course that the veteran players almost universally intensely dislike. See this post. Plus, if the Tour has its way the place’ll be ripe with large pieces of earth moving equipment come the middle of summer.

So will Congressional host it after this year?
Most likely not. Congo (as it’s affectionately known around here) is hosting the US Amateur in 2009 and the Open in 2011, and I imagine they’ll want to take 2008 off to make sure the course is ready. In fact, they’ll probably need to take ’08 off, especially if an ’08 Tour stop in DC is also in July. July is peak disease month for creeping bent grasses around here, and guess what the Congo has on its tees and fairways?

So is Congressional the only likely spot for a Tour stop other than Avenel?
Pretty much, at least if one makes a couple of assumptions. First, let’s rule out Baltimore. Great courses up there, but when the Booz folded, the talk wasn’t that the Tour would be out of the Baltimore-Washington market for the first time in 20-some years, was it? Second, let’s rule out RTJ. They don’t want a regular Tour stop. They want majors, or near majors, because they see themselves as being in the same league as Congo, Caves Valley etc., not the TPC at Avenel. And they’re right.

Are there other courses that are ‘big’ enough to handle Tour-caliber players? Sure there are: the Norman course at Lansdowne that I wrote about here, for one. But it is not without problems. Putting on a Tour event takes more than a big course; you also need to be able to handle big crowds, and handle the logistics to support both those crowds and the big circus that follows the tour. And one issue at Avenel, that all the course and clubhouse renovation in the world can’t fix, is the crowd logistics. It is just a flat out mess; for example, the nearest fan parking that can be relied on in bad weather is 20 miles away. Another glaring problem is player/caddy/player family/player entourage accommodations, which are not anywhere nearby; these folks don’t usually stay at the Red Roof Inn. These problems are made worse,not better, by moving to Leesburg. And the course in Leesburg isn’t likely to be appreciably better than the new course at Avenel, the protestations of its famous player-architect notwithstanding.

And let’s not forget the bottom line, literally. Avenel is a big moneymaker for the Tour. Not the tournament itself, but the year-round operation. They don’t want to mess that up, so I think they’ll find a way to get a tournament back there, warts and all.

When will Avenel be ready to host a Tour event again?
Frankly, I haven’t been by there since last summer, so I don’t know if the renovation has started or not. Let’s assume it has not, and that they get the course work done over the summer. (That’s not a slam dunk, by the way. Permitting in Montgomery County is never something that can be taken for granted.) They can in theory get the seeding and sodding done in late August and have a good grow-in before December. In my never humble opinion, there is no way it would in be ready for a Tour stop in 2008. 2009, sure, but not after only 6 months. Now, if they were to sod the entire course, and if the event were in July, 2008, they probably could host it in passable fashion. But if that happens, watch for lots of articles harkening back to the opening days of Avenel, when nearly everyone agreed that they held the old Kemper there at least one year too early. And that doesn’t even address the clubhouse and other building issues at Avenel, which are in just as desparate need of renovation to support an upgraded event as the course is.

6 Comments for 'Will The PGA Tour Return To Town This Year?'

    February 15, 2007 | 8:28 am

    Jack – I like your Caves Valley thought. The problem with Congo is that the old 18th [par 3] has now become the new 10th – which while it makes a great finishing hole [the old 17th] – is probably not going to be ready for tournament play. PLUS, Congo is totally gutting the pool area for its members [but really so the tee on the 11th [old 10th] can be pushed back som 30-40 yards for the Open].
    On the other hand, the Constellation Sr. is going to be at Balto. CC and McDonald’s LPGA at Bulle Rock this year. So, maybe Congo can try to squeeze one in for extra revenue before the ’09 Am.
    But, you might have underestimated the TOUR. They are HUNGRY for money and if a sponsor in the DC area says – “let’s go!” – they can deliver a no name field, as they are doing this year at the rest of the events – to Avenel, from which they would take the lion’s share of the profit.
    For your info, check out; http://www.tpcavenelupdate.com/

    February 15, 2007 | 3:27 pm

    Thanks for the referral to the Avenel update site, Todd, I hadn’t seen it. Overall I’m reasonably impressed with the proposed design even though it looks like they’ve had to sacrifice one of my two favorite holes, #6, to the restoration of the creek. It’s probably best in the long run, but that hole is really terrific. It looks, though, like the new #10 (assuming they can build it the way it’s drawn on this plan) might come close to playing very similarly to the way #6 does now – that is, very high risk/reward ratio. My other favorite, #14, looks like it will survive the redo mostly intact.

    WRT The Congo, my sources (who, I hasten to add, are highly reliable, have personal knowledge of the situation over there but are not employees of any club) tell me that the construction of the new #10 is complete, and the members will be playing on it this spring. That tells me that they must have sodded the green, which means bent grass. What that means is that #10 green will putt differently than every other green on the Blue Course, since the rest of them are nearly 100%poa annua. They weren’t always poa; during the Sr. Open in 1995 they were almost 100% bent, and they only had patches of poa during the ’97 Open. But by the ’05 Booz the poa was nearly perfect. 🙂

    As to hosting an event this summer, I think a DC sponsor, knowing that the Congo has said they’d host it, would insist on it. And any DC sponsor would already have its own connections there, so they wouldn’t have to take the Tour’s word for it, either. Plus, given the timetable that the Tour’s looking at for the Avenel project they can’t afford to push the start back any longer than possible ?? even a week. I think they’d be willing to give up the difference in the bottom line between hosting at Avenel vs. Congressional if it meant a long term sponsorship for a first class event in Washington and that they could keep to their construction schedule.

    February 28, 2007 | 8:12 pm

    Avenel’s current timetable is for the renovated course to open in Sept. 2008 (with the renovated clubhouse and practice facility opening a few months earlier). Assuming normal construction delays as always happen, I would be concerned that 2009 would be premature to host a tournament there — 2010 would be better.

    March 1, 2007 | 8:02 am

    Well, when it comes to growing grass, the superintendents will usually tell you that longer is always better. 🙂 But consider a couple of things about the new course. Do we know what grasses they’ve specified for the course yet? Different grasses will be ready after different grow-in periods. Do we know what parts they’re going to seed vs. sod? Sod will be ready to play on sooner, but seed will be better in the long run. Most importantly, the staff at Avenel won’t open the renovated course for regular play until they can do so with minimal damage, and my guess is they’ll be extra-conservative, knowing they’ve got a tour event coming in 10 months. Plus, let’s say it reopens for regular play on September 15; assuming normal fall weather they’ll have nearly three good months of growth before winter really sets in. Then by the middle of March the plants are fired up again and in full out mode by mid April. Sure, delays during the process could cause problems, but I think the bigger problem could be getting the permits to start.

    The real issue is that Congressional will not/can not host a Tour event in 2009 because they have the US Amateur. I still think the Tour will do everything they can to host the event at Avenel in 2009. And given that Tiger’s so deeply involved, that’s going to mean spending whatever it takes to make sure the place is immaculate.

    March 1, 2007 | 9:26 am

    I don’t know about seeding versus sodding, but one of the zoning staff reports issued before Montgomery County recently granted its zoning exemption for the project (the report is linked at http://www.tpcavenelupdate.com) refers to “Maximization of the use of sod to quickly re-establish stable ground cover adjacent to stream restoration and renovation work.” Although ambiguous, that language could be read to suggest a preference for seeding except adjacent to the stream restoration work. Apparently it’s going be Bentgrass on the tees, greens, and fairways.

    March 1, 2007 | 4:56 pm

    The superintendents will nearly always choose to seed when and where they can get away with it because it results in better turf in the long run. There are just too many unknowns with sod unless they’ve been able to grow most of it themselves. And it’s just plain out of the budget for most places.

    The watershed guys’ll make them do everything possible to protect the stream from muddy runoff, so wide areas of sod, bordered by silt fence and/or hay bales would surprise me. I imagine that they’re going to be pretty sticky about the grades around the stream, anyway.

    What’s really interesting now, of course, is the extra incentive the Tour has to make the course really outstanding, given their new partner for the DC event. Should be fun to watch how the course evolves.

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