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Congressional Tees Up for Classic

Parking, traffic offset by tournament's players.

Pete Cleaves moves around the 10th tee at Congressional Country Club with a sense of purpose. He talks briefly with Ted Wroth, director of operations for the Booz Allen Classic, the PGA Tour event that Congressional will host beginning June 6. He unhooks a walkie-talkie from his belt and gives directions. He plants tiny flags to mark the corners of where an officials’ tent will go.

Cleaves is working even though it’s Memorial Day. But he isn’t being paid overtime.

Actually, he isn’t being paid at all.

“I was here in ’64 for the Open and just about everything that’s happened since,” the former operations director and general chairman of the event said. Now, he said, “I’m just donating my time … just for the love of the company, the game, and Congressional.”

Cleaves’ attitude exemplifies a sense of dedication to the storied Congressional course shared by tournament officials, golf fans, and tour players, many of whom have extolled Congressional in interviews while putting down the Tournament Players Club at Avenel around the corner, which has hosted the event for the last 18 years.

The Booz Allen Classic — formerly the Kemper Open — is ostensibly on leave from Avenel for one year while the club makes improvements to its course, but its return is uncertain.

Congressional hosted the Kemper from 1980-1986 and has thrice hosted one of professional golf’s four major tournaments — most recently the U.S. Open in 1997. It will host the Open again in 2011.

“It’s two different style golf courses,” said John Lyberger, head golf professional at Congressional. “Congressional is an old classic-style golf course, where the TPC at Avenel is a newer stadium-type golf course that was designed to accommodate a lot of spectators around different greens.” The Congressional course is set up so that “when you’re playing a hole you don’t see a lot of other golfers out on the golf course,” he said.

Eight of the top 10 ranked golfers in the world are expected to compete at the 2005 Booz Allen, among 18 of the top 20. The tournament has drawn special attention this year because it immediately preceded the 2005 U.S. Open to be held at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina starting June 13.

“The only thing between us and a great tournament is the weather,” Cleaves said.

While weather may be unpredictable, there is one thing Potomac residents can be sure of: Traffic.

While on-site security and parking attendants for the tournament will be provided by private contractors, Montgomery County Police will manage traffic on public roads and work to minimize the impact on residents, said Derek Baliles, spokesman for Montgomery County Police.

And while backups on River Road, Falls Road and Oaklyn Drive are likely to reappear, traffic may be lighter with the tournament at Congressional. The Tournament Players Club at Avenel will handle all general parking (most of it in the horse pastures of the Avenel Equestrian Center) while the tournament is around the corner. The converse was not true when the tournament was at Avenel.

Still, with most of the parking on grass, rain can throw a wrench in even the best parking scheme.

“We have a contingency,” said Wroth, the tournament’s director of operations. “Knock on wood, we haven’t had too much rain so far. If you remember back in 2003 we had 20 out of 31 days of rain. So because of that I don’t believe our parking in the fields is going to be too wet to park in. It may be messy but it won’t be as wet as it was in 2003, because those fields got saturated.”

Cleave added that he expects the traffic plan to be a success, but reminded visitors to plan extra time.

“It’s going to work very well but there is an extra 10-15 minute bus ride in there that you’ve got to be cognizant of,” he said.

Arlene Mirkin was one of the original residents of Avenel. She said that tournament week is undoubtedly a hassle for residents, but that the excitement of the tournament makes the inconveniences worthwhile.

“It’s sort of like a Mardi Gras atmosphere” when the tournament comes, she said. “The downside is, yeah, getting in and out is really bad. If you want friends to come over for dinner or something while the tournament is on you have to meet them at the gate and escort them in. … There’s a lot of negatives but I guess the plusses outweigh it.”

Of course, with the action at Congressional and the traffic still anchored in Avenel, that balance is upset.

“They get all the good and they get all the bad,” Mirkin said. I think Avenel’s very sad that they lost it. … The residents that live here that are avid gofers — they’re sad to lose the tournament.”

ADVICE FOR SPECTATORS

Pete Wroth, director of operations for the Booz Allen Classic offered the following advice for spectators, especially those who have never attended a golf tournament before: “What I do as a spectator is I walk all 18 holes. I at least make sure I’ve seen every hole. If you’ve never been here before you want to at least make sure you’ve seen every hole out there.

“Then once I’ve done that then I pick a spot. This course has, because of its age and its design, a lot of the greens are elevated. … There are a few greens that the surrounding area is elevated, so it brings you back to the stadium-type atmosphere like Avenel. Seven is a good example of that. Six is a good viewing hole. 12 is a great viewing hole. 18 of course, where you get to see 17 and 18 at the same time.”

Congressional, he said, has “a lot more shade trees than Avenel, so they’ll be able to get out of the sun.”

“The field is fantastic. … We have many of the top 10 players, eight out of 10, somewhere in those numbers, but besides the top 10 everybody else is going to be fantastic as well. … A week before the U.S. open, I know the tour officials are anticipating the driving range being packed with players practicing, getting ready for Pinehurst.”

ANALYSIS FROM THE PRO

According to John Lyberger, head golf professional at Congressional, the Blue Course's biggest challenges come at the beginning and the end.

Getting through the first four holes is key he said. "You get through those holes at even par you’re dong pretty good."

Lyberger added these comments for spectators to bear in mind while watching the tournament:

"Seven, you want to make sure you’re a little below the hole. If you get above the hole it gets very fast.

"Eight is a hole where a lot of players will hit a long iron or a fairway wood off the tee just to keep it in play.

"Nine, there won't be many players if any going for that green in two. There's a huge ravine in front of the green. That’s a great place for spectators to sit, behind nine green.

"10 will be an excellent par four," normally played as a par five by Congerssional's members.

"When you get to 13," Lyberger said, "that’s really where the golf course begins. There's no let up holes as you get in. Every one's a grind."

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Monday, June 6

Stableford Pro-Am at Congressional Country Club (12 noon shotgun start)

Stableford Pro-Am Awards Reception at Congressional Country Club

Tuesday, June 7

Booz Allen Classic Am-Am

Booz Allen Classic Pro-Am Draw Party at Congressional Country Club

Booz Allen Classic Junior Clinic (2 p.m-4 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 8

Booz Allen Classic Pro-Am at Congressional Country Club

Booz Allen Classic Pro-Am Champion's Reception at Congressional Country Club

Thursday, June 9

First Round of Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club (first tee time 7 a.m.)

Friday, June 10

Second Round of Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club (first tee time 7 a.m.)

Saturday, June 11

Third Round of Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club (first tee time approximately 8:30 a.m.)

Sunday, June 12

Fourth Round of Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club (first tee time approximately 8:30 a.m.)