Leonard Shapiro, Sports Columnist

Tour Makes Right Call in Pulling Plug on D.C.

By Leonard Shapiro
Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 11, 2006; 7:49 PM

Tim Finchem's announcement last week that the PGA Tour had decided not to hold a golf tournament in Washington in the fall of 2007 came as something of a relief, as well as a mild surprise.

The relief?

Washington is the capital of the free world, if you will. Holding a third-rate golf tournament with a bunch of mostly no-name pros competing so they can earn enough money to keep their playing cards for the following season seemed mostly like a slap in the face to the market and an utter waste of time for thousands of Washington golf fans who have loyally supported the PGA Tour's local event for 27 years.

In most years since the old Kemper Open moved from North Carolina in 1980, and then switched from Congressional to TPC Avenel in 1987, we've had consistent mega-crowds behind the gallery ropes, even if the fields they were watching were less than stellar, to say the very least.

So the prospect of a fall event, at a time of year when the Washington Redskins are the talk of the town, when baseball pennant races are in their final days, when Maryland football even creates a bit of buzz, seemed ludicrous from the minute Finchem announced last January that the tour was even considering such a silly thing.

The surprise?

Only two weeks before last week's announcement, in a conference call with reporters covering the final Booz Allen Classic, Finchem had said the tour was prepared to go at least until September before making a decision on a fall event for Washington. By that time, he said, he thought a sponsor for a fall event in 2007 could be signed up.

What changed over the next two weeks to force a total about-face only Finchem knows for sure, but it shouldn't be all that difficult to figure out.

I think the commissioner heard loud and clear that Washington was not about to accept a second-class golf event played at what has become a second-class venue at TPC Avenel. He heard it from his own players, from the press, from talk radio, from letters to the editor, from e-mails on the internet and other correspondence to his office in Ponte Vedra. And finally, I believe he got the point.

Now it seems as if the tour may also finally be getting serious about fixing up Avenel, ostensibly the reason there will be no tournament here in 2007, and probably 2008 as well. If the tour is going to spend what they say is $18 to $20 million and what others say likely will balloon to the $25 million range, they want to do it right.

They really can't re-route the golf course, but they can certainly move enough earth to make it a more challenging venue, and perhaps also upgrade the infrastructure Avenel never has had to support the thousands of golf fans who have flocked to the course year after year.

I suspect the tour also does not want to make the same mistake it made in 1987, when Avenel was opened far too soon. The grass was threadbare back then on fairways and greens, and most of the problems with players not wanting to come back in ensuing years can be directly traced to a course some now say opened at least two years too early.


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