Plenty of Reasons to Be Teed Off

By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

When Deane Beman, former commissioner of golf, acquired the land for the Tournament Players Club at Avenel, he said, "This is the greatest parcel of land left on the East Coast to build a world-class golf course." A Washingtonian, Beman touted the chance to create a course that might someday rival its neighbor, Congressional. He played down the fancy political and real estate footwork that allowed the PGA Tour to buy the entire property for $1. Beman talked aesthetics while his Tour counted the cash.

Before any earth was moved, architectural consultant Ed Sneed drove around the property in a cart explaining how Avenel would be his homage to Augusta National and the design ideas of Bobby Jones. There'd be natural amphitheaters on every hole: a spectator's paradise. The sixth hole at Avenel would be a mirror image of the 13th hole at the Masters. What a sylvan idyll.

After Avenel opened, I asked Tom Kite to evaluate what had been done with "the greatest parcel of land left on the East Coast" and the dreams of creating a course that would be a poor man's Tour-stop version of the Masters.

"It's not a bad course," he said, "except for the 10,000 trees they cut down that never should have been touched."

So, before any pro ever hit a golf shot at Avenel, the Tour's deeds shouted far louder than its words. Why not strip-mine a virgin forest? After all, bulldozers are cheap. And the folks who live in the development around the course get a better view.

For the last 20 years, the Tour has proved it would always suck the last buck out of the enthusiastic Washington golf public rather than put one extra cent back into the Avenel complex. Every time fans endured quagmire parking lots, or were stuck in traffic for hours, the Tour promised remedies. But it never did anything -- except pray it would never rain again in Washington in June.

As long as we shelled out big dollars to see "champions" like Morris Hatalsky and Frank Lickliter II, that's exactly what we got the next year, too. No matter how many pros said Avenel was a tricked-up dog track, not fit for their games, with bumpy greens that ruined their putting strokes, the Tour did little except trim the grass. And sell another 100,000 tickets the next year.

The PGA Tour may be technically "nonprofit" in its financial structure, because it has a charity component, but its true purpose is to maximize the income of its members -- the pro tour players. When the Tour first came to Washington in 1980, the 125th man on the money list made $20,000. By last year, the 125th man made $627,000. Not bad for charity work.

So we should have suspected -- long ago -- that the callow, ungrateful PGA Tour would betray the trust of Washington's legion of ultra-loyal golf fans one last spectacular time. But Commissioner Tim Finchem truly outdid himself.

As recently as last week, sponsors of the Booz Allen Classic still thought they were in good-faith negotiations with the Tour. If pro golf would invest $25 million in its substandard Avenel factory, then Booz Allen would make a six-year commitment (with a value of more than $40 million in purses and ad time) to remain the sponsor of the Washington event through 2013.

Then, on Friday, the Tour dropped a bomb out of the blue on Washington golf. Finchem, who worked here for years and knows every detail of this city's quarter-century contributions to golf, notified Booz Allen Hamilton that, starting in '07, the Avenel event would be held after the Tour Championship that is played in late September.

In other words, pro golf would henceforth come to Washington around the start of October, not around the start of June.

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