Woods Is the Driving Force

By Tarik El-Bashir and Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 1, 2007

There wasn't enough space for one more person to squeeze into the Holman Lounge at the National Press Club on March 7. Dozens of reporters and photographers and scores of others who simply wanted to say they were there jostled by the stage, where PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, AT&T chief executive Ed Whitacre and Tiger Woods sat in mahogany lounge chairs.

The three men had come to announce the return of professional golf to the Washington area, and the newly christened AT&T National that would become Woods's signature event on the PGA Tour.

As the top-ranked golfer in the world explained how this tournament was the fulfillment of a dream shared with his late father, the man in charge of executing Woods's vision listened from a folding chair in the front row.

Greg McLaughlin, a 47-year-old native of Cincinnati who is president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, needed to produce a golf tournament worthy of its creator's name, and one day, his legacy. He had nearly 20 years worth of experience as a golf tournament director, but this time was going to be different.

It usually takes a year or more to put on a PGA Tour event. McLaughlin had 116 days.

"The first concern I had was whether or not we were going to be able to execute this in four months," McLaughlin said. "That was kind of the challenge in taking the project on. Could we do it? It was a huge risk. There was Tiger's name. Suppose it's not presented properly or it's not successful? That was the risk -- embarrassment."

Tens of thousands of spectators are expected to attend the inaugural AT&T National at Congressional Country Club this week, which will feature five of the six top-ranked golfers in the world, including Woods, who has never played in a regular PGA Tour event in the Washington area, and his top rival, Phil Mickelson.

An extraordinary confluence of events delivered golf's biggest draws to Bethesda just a year after the PGA Tour dropped the Washington area from its schedule following the collapse of the Booz Allen Classic. But as McLaughlin sat at the National Press Club in March, he faced so many hurdles that it was difficult to know where to begin.

He had lined up AT&T as the title sponsor on Feb. 24 -- a crucial first step. But he still had to convince Congressional's members to host the tournament.

On top of that, there were 45 hospitality areas to construct, 200 portable toilets to order, 100,000 tickets to print, a tournament logo to design, a parking plan involving 125 shuttles and 18 satellite parking lots to coordinate, caterers to hire, generators to rent, 60,000 feet of ropes, 2,000 stakes and 5,000 feet of fencing to put into the ground. Not to mention all the licenses and permits that needed to be secured from Montgomery County.

"When I woke up the morning after the announcement, the enormity of it all hit me," McLaughlin said. "I wondered, what had I done?"

The greatest irony of McLaughlin's challenge was that, just months earlier, few believed Washington would again host a PGA Tour event -- let alone one backed by the greatest golfer alive. For the PGA Tour to return, it first had to make a controversial departure.

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