Facing Makeover, Avenel Eyeing Woods's Event

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 31, 2007

On the same day Tiger Woods was expressing interest in keeping his new AT&T National tournament at Congressional essentially in perpetuity, two high-ranking PGA Tour officials were meeting with the general manager of TPC at Avenel to discuss the upcoming $20 million renovation to the course and the clubhouse.

David Pillsbury, president of the tour's golf course properties division, and Charles Zink, co-chief operating officer of the tour, spent part of the day Tuesday with Mike Sullivan, Avenel's general manager. Those two, and Commissioner Tim Finchem, would like to think that once the renovations are completed at Avenel, a course that opened in 1987 to poor reviews from many PGA Tour players, it will be suitable to host Woods's event.

"Our hope is to build the best possible golf course we can," Pillsbury said. "To be a candidate [to host AT&T National] depends on how good a course we can make it. We think we can do that. That's our main focus right now."

Woods said on Tuesday that he wants to keep playing his event at Congressional, and whatever Woods wants, he usually gets. But in this case, the club's membership has agreed to only two years. With a U.S. Amateur scheduled at Congressional in 2009 and a U.S. Open set there in 2011, Woods may not get his wish.

Avenel probably will be his best alternative. At the moment, the course is getting permits approved. The next step is a meeting before the planning board on July 12.

The PGA Tour, Sullivan said, has set the money aside. They'll pour $8 million into the clubhouse, including expansions to dining areas, upgrading locker rooms and new fixtures and furniture. Another $12 million will go into the course, with what Sullivan described as "significant changes in design of tee boxes, bunkers and green complexes, as well as all new bentgrass on the fairways and greens."

If the permits all go through, Sullivan said work likely will begin in August. The clubhouse renovation should take about 10 months. The course, he said, should be ready for play in 12 to 14 months. That means it likely could be ready for use as a tournament site in the spring of 2009, the first year Congressional won't be available for the Woods event.

"No one is making any commitments to us" on bringing Woods's tournament over to Avenel, Sullivan said. "I'm sure they're waiting and seeing what it looks like before they do anything. There are very few places in this area that could handle an event like that, and we're one of them. At least now we're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel."

Melwood's Draw

The inaugural Melwood Prince George's County Open staged last week at the Country Club at Woodmore attracted about 30,000 fans over the week of the tournament to the lush, well-conditioned course not far from FedEx Field.

Tournament Chairman Teo Sodeman, a former Woodmore club president, said many of his fellow members were thrilled to hear so many Nationwide Tour players rave about their 7,100-yard golf course. He also indicated the club almost certainly will be the site for the tournament next year.

The PGA Tour, which owns the Nationwide circuit, signed a five-year contract with Melwood, the main sponsor and charitable beneficiary, but Woodmore only signed a deal to be the venue for the first year. Sodeman said members wanted to see how the course held up and whether the event was economically feasible before committing to a longer term.

He indicated the revenue generated, a sum he declined to provide, matched his and the tour's projections for the event. He also indicated the tournament would be able to contribute $100,000 to Melwood, which works with developmentally challenged adults.

Complimentary Tickets

The AT&T National event at Congressional announced this week that it has set aside 30,000 complimentary tickets for members of the military and their family and friends. The tickets will be distributed through the Pentagon-based Morale, Welfare and Recreation office. . . .

Michelle Wie returns to competition this week after resting a right wrist she hurt in a fall while jogging in February. She'll tee it up in an LPGA event in South Carolina, and also is expected to play at the McDonald's LPGA Championship the following week at Bulle Rock near Havre de Grace, Md. . . .

Denis Watson's victory last week at the Senior PGA on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., was his first on the Champions Tour. He also became the first player from Zimbabwe to win on the senior circuit.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company