Last week's 2006version of the PGA Tour stop outside Washington, D.C., the Booz Allen Classic,will be remembered more for its great irony than for the great iron play of BenCurtis, who held a huge lead going into the last hole of the final round, whichbecause of rain was scheduled to be concluded on Tuesday. The tournamentformerly known as the Kemper Open had been held in Charlotte from 1969 until1980, when Tour commissioner Deane Beman moved the event to his home turf (theD.C. area) and, seven years later, to his pet project, the Tour-ownedTournament Players Club at Avenel in Potomac, Md. ¬∂ Twenty-six years later thecircle is complete. Now the Tour is at best downgrading and at worst abandoningthe nation's capital, offering only a post--FedEx Cup October spot on the 2007schedule, a date deemed unacceptable by sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton. And whilethe players continue to vote on Avenel by taking the week off, Charlotte'sfour-year-old Wachovia Championship, played in prime time in May on a classiccourse (Quail Hollow) loved by the players, has become the gold standard forTour events.
The thought ofsuch a Mongolian Reversal, as Fred Couples might say, befuddles the players."We own this place, and we're not coming back? I mean, it's ourcourse," says 1991 Kemper champ Billy Andrade. "The reality reallystinks."
Hall of Famer TomKite, who won the first Kemper at Avenel, in 1987, but missed the cut lastweek, says, "It's a travesty. It doesn't make sense."
Says Fred Funk,who coached the Maryland team before joining the Tour, "I'm really upset.D.C. is a market we should be playing in at nearly any cost."
The WashingtonPost set the tone for the '06 Booz Allen in its tournament preview, whichfeatured a tombstone bearing the words r.i.p. golf in d.c. Then on Friday,after Tour commissioner Tim Finchem failed to show for a Wednesday pressconference due to bad weather in Columbus, Ohio, and instead fielded questionsby phone, Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote, "What's the matter, Tim?Didn't they have flights from Columbus to Washington [on Thursday] morning?Finchem doesn't want to face the music here. He just wants to take ourmoney--more than a quarter of a century of it--and run to Memphis," theheadquarters of Federal Express, the sponsor of the FedEx Cup series.
There was nothingfond about Avenel's potential farewell. For starters, the tournament was stuckwith an extremely weak field after Sergio García and Adam Scott, the last twoBooz Allen champions, withdrew. Nothing bespoke the players' lack of enthusiasmfor Avenel more than this stat: Seven of the last nine winners failed to show.That's almost unimaginable because Tour players religiously return to the siteswhere they've had success. Even worse, the field boasted only one player amongthe top 30 on the money list--if you guessed No. 13 Brett Wetterich, you're thewinner--and no one from the top 20 in the World Ranking. (No. 23 PadraigHarrington was the highest-ranked player in attendance.)
What went wrong inD.C.? Sponsorship wasn't the problem. Booz Allen Hamilton simply wanted to havea world-class tournament, and according to Ralph Shrader, the chairman and CEOof the management consulting company, "The two things I always said we hadto have were a venue and a date." The Tour's promise to provide both wasthe reason Booz Allen took over from FBR Capital in 2004, but as things turnedout, the Tour provided neither.
While being wooedby the Tour, Shrader was shown what he calls "exciting" plans for animminent $25 million renovation of Avenel. The tournament would have to bemoved for a year during construction, and favors were called in so that in 2005the Booz Allen could be played at nearby Congressional Country Club, which hashosted two U.S. Opens. Last year's Classic, played the week before the Open andwon by García, was a huge success, but in the meantime not a teaspoon of dirtwas turned at Avenel. Finchem blamed delays in getting the needed permits dueto Avenel's environmentally sensitive wetland areas, an inexcusable planninglapse if true.
"We knew thereputation of Avenel, and our rationale was that even though we knew it wouldbe a bad date the week after the Open in 2006, we'd have a new course,"says Shrader. "We thought that could be the beginning of a new era andwould have a certain panache that would perhaps attract a few additionalplayers."
When no renovationwork took place, Shrader was left in an awkward position. The one-year switchto Congressional had served no purpose. "I was approached by media whoasked, 'Isn't that a broken promise?'" Shrader says. "What could I say?We moved because we expected something would be done."
Shrader wasequally frustrated in his quest for a preferred date. Shrader wanted the weekbefore the U.S. Open every year, if possible. "One thing we learned in 2004was that the week after the Open doesn't work here," he says."Washington is one of those towns where, once the kids are out of school,everybody goes somewhere else and this place shuts down. The Tour said, 'Hey,get in line. A lot of people want to play that [pre-Open] week.'"
But six monthsbefore the '05 Classic, Shrader says he got a letter from Finchem. According toShrader, "[Finchem] said, 'We haven't finalized the schedule, but I'mconfident in assuring you that you can have your tournament before the Openthree out of four years. Two of those years would be the week before the Open,the third year would probably be another date sometime before the Open, but thefourth year would have to be the week after. We are well aware of yourconcerns, and we are going forward with our plans for the course.'"
Shrader says hehad several conversations with the Tour in succeeding weeks and met with Tourexecs during the Presidents Cup in September. Another session was scheduled fortwo weeks later but was canceled by the Tour. Shrader says he received asubsequent letter from the Tour saying, "Give us another 30 days." SaysShrader, "The next conversation I had was on a Friday morning in Januarywhen [Finchem] called two hours before the FedEx Cup and the 2007 schedule wasannounced. He said, 'We've decided to move your tournament to the fall.' I wassurprised, obviously. It was totally different than anything I'd beenpresented."
The date thatShrader had wanted was lost when FedEx poured $40 million into the FedEx Cup--aseasonlong points race culminating in a four-tournament championship series inSeptember--and dropped sponsorship of the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis. Aspart of that deal the new Stanford St. Jude Championship was given the pre-Opendate.
Shrader turneddown the fall spot on the schedule. "I don't like it when anybody tries toimply that we were hard-nosed about our position and left no room forflexibility," he says. "I had an assurance about something that, if ithad been the final offer, we'd have looked at it pretty hard to make itwork."
Booz AllenHamilton will kick in $1 million to support a post--FedEx Cup tournament inOctober '07, if one is held, but is out as title sponsor. The Tour says it islooking for a replacement, but finding people willing to put up $8 million to$10 million a year to sponsor an event that's likely to have a weak field andwill be shown exclusively on the Golf Channel is no easy task. As for Avenel,Finchem said last week that an $18 million to $20 million renovation will occurat an undetermined future date.
As a finalindignity, the '06 Booz Allen went out with a whimper. Heavy rain delayed andeventually forced the suspension of the final round, and after more bad weatherdisrupted play on Monday, the Tour decided to try again on Tuesday. When playwas halted on Monday evening Curtis, whose group had made it all the way to the71st green, was an impressive 21 under par and seven shots ahead of fourplayers tied for second. During one of the many delays, a reporter standingnear the quiet clubhouse said, "This feels like a wake."
That's exactlywhat it was. R.I.P, golf in D.C.
Can a Yank Win the U.S. Women's Open? page G9 • MY SHOTThe Hole in My Life page G12
The 27 PGA Tour events and three U.S. Opens held in theD.C. area have produced a multitude of memories. Here are SI's top 10
1 1964 U.S. OPEN Beating back the effects of heatexhaustion, Ken Venturi (left) stumbles home in 100° heat and 97% humidityduring the final 18 of the 36-hole wrap-up at Congressional to win his onlymajor championship.
2 1983 KEMPER OPEN Fred Couples earns his first Tourwin and survives the victory leap of his then wife, Deborah, who wraps her legsaround his waist on the 18th green.
3 2005 BOOZ ALLEN CLASSIC Frustrated by the slow playof playing partner and tournament winner Ben Crane, Rory Sabbatini (far left)hits his approach to 17, putts out and walks to the 18th tee while Cranefiddles with his grip on the 17th fairway. Was it a breach of etiquette bySabbatini or a long overdue message for Crane? Both.
4 1984 KEMPER OPEN The Shark attack officially beginsas 27-year-old Greg Norman (above) beats Mark O'Meara by five strokes for hisfirst Tour win.
5 1997 U.S. OPEN Colin Montgomerie (below), the bestplayer in the field, lets hecklers get to him during the third round and thenext day famously waits for the fans to quiet down on an adjacent hole beforeattempting--and missing--a crucial par putt at the 71st green. He finishessecond.
6 2000 KEMPER INSURANCE OPEN Casey Martin (right), whohas sued the Tour for the right to use a cart, is given a buggy thatmalfunctions on the first hole of the tournament, forcing him to limp down thefairway. Tied for fifth after three rounds, Martin, by then riding a properlyfunctioning vehicle, closes with a 78 and finishes 47th.
7 1993 KEMPER OPEN John Daly, the tournament's onlymarquee name in a lean year, shoots a 77 in the opening round, then angrilyblows past the scoring area without signing his card despite pleas fromtournament officials. Daly goes directly to the parking lot, leaves the courseand is DQ'd.
8 1982 KEMPER OPEN Craig Stadler makes it two in a row,winning by seven strokes over runner-up Seve Ballesteros and by eight over JackNicklaus a year after finishing six shots ahead of Tom Watson and TomWeiskopf.
9 1986 KEMPER OPEN Norman beats Larry Mize in aplayoff, nine months before Mize returns the favor at a little tournament inAugusta.
10 1997 KEMPER OPEN Norman, who finishes third, getsinto two flaps--one on Saturday with the 1st-tee announcer, who makes a jokeabout President Clinton's recent fall at Norman's house, and the other onSunday with a heckler, which ends with Norman giving the fan a one-fingersalute.
The one-year switch from Avenel to Congressional hadserved no purpose. "I was approached by media who asked, 'ISN'T THAT ABROKEN PROMISE?'" Shrader says. "What could I say?"
Photograph by John Healey
LONG TIME COMING Ben Curtis, the 2003 British Open champ, was ahead by seven shots when the finish of the Booz Allen was pushed back to Tuesday.
JIM ROGASH/WIREIMAGE.COM (FLOODING)
UP THE CREEK The stormy Booz Allen was the first Tour event since the 1980 Tucson Open still going on a Tuesday.
SURPRISE! Shrader learned of a move to fall two hours before Finchem unveiled the FedEx Cup.
WALTER IOOSS JR. (VENTURI); NICK WASS/AP (SABBATINI AND CRANE); J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE (NORMAN); CRAIG JONES/GETTY IMAGES (MONTGOMERIE); SIMON BRUTY (MARTIN)