The Professional Golf Association announced last Thursday that the PGA Tour will not return to the Tournament Players Club at Avenel next year. The announcement ends speculation on whether the tournament would move to a fall date in 2007 after a 26-year run as a spring tournament in the Potomac area. It also means, at the very least, a suspension of the annual PGA tournament that Avenel had hosted for 19 of the past 20 years.
The PGA Tour intends to begin a "comprehensive set of improvements" to the golf course and clubhouse at Avenel, as soon as it obtains necessary approvals, according to a PGA Tour press release. The project is currently in the permitting phase, and the Tour hopes that work will begin late this year or early in 2007, and scheduled for completion in 2008.
"In light of our construction timetable, and after a comprehensive review of all our options, we have determined that a Tour event in the fall of 2007 will not be feasible," said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem in Thursday’s press release.
"I think [Tour officials] heard loud and clear the reaction of the Washington golf community … that it made sense to bring a top-tier event," said Steve Skinner, president of Kemper Sports Management, which ran the tournament. Skinner didn't rule out a return in 2008, but said it "probably too optimistic" to expect a PGA tournament to return anytime before 2009.
The PGA tournament, known as the Kemper Open through 2002 and the Booz Allen Classic for the past three years, moved from Congressional Country Club to TPC Avenel, then a brand-new course, in 1987. The tournament was popular with area fans, but in recent years golf professionals were dissatisfied with the course. Many spoke with their absence at Avenel — and their presence at last year’s Booz Allen Classic, which returned to Congressional and drew eight of the PGA Tour’s top 10 golfers.
The Tour’s one-year return to Congressional in 2005 was prompted in part by plans for renovations at Avenel which still have not progressed beyond the permitting phase.
Renovation plans at Avenel include a complete remodeling of the clubhouse, and changing the landscape of some of the course's more flood-prone areas, Skinner said. "Since it was built, the game of golf has changed," Skinner said, and he expects changes to Avenel will factor in the pros' ability to drive the ball further.
"As we move ahead with our improvements at TPC Avenel, we would like to thank our fans and sponsors for their support," Finchem said. "The Tour remains committed to the Washington, D.C. market and we look forward to returning in the future with top-level PGA Tour golf competition."
SINCE THE TOURNAMENT came to the Potomac area in 1980, it has raised nearly $10 million for local and national charities. As title sponsor in the past three years, Booz Allen Hamilton underwrote Birdies for Charity, a program whose popularity grew sharply. Donations grew from $38,000 in 2004 to $250,000 in 2005 to $805,000 this year.
"Only time will tell if it's morphed into something else," said Lynne Filderman, Birdies for Charity's program director. "Hopefully its success will live on in some [shape] or form. … The charities still have the relationships with the donors that they walk away with."