Tiger Woods, the top-ranked golfer in the world, likely will be the main attraction of a PGA Tour event in the Washington area in the first week in July, a rousing return to the professional golf scene for an area that was dropped from the schedule just months ago.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced yesterday that the tour had reached a long-term agreement with the Tiger Woods Foundation, the educational charity established by Woods and his father in 1996, to be the host organization and beneficiary of a tournament in the Washington area July 5-8. The site of the event is undetermined, but the tour is in negotiations with Congressional Country Club, site of the 2011 U.S. Open, to host the event in 2007 and 2008.
Woods is expected to be a regular presence at the tournament, though his participation this year might be affected by the birth of his first child. Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, have not announced a due date, but he has said he might not play in the British Open July 19-22 because the baby is due around that time.
"When Tiger's foundation is involved, he has a pretty good track record of playing in the event," his longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, said yesterday. "This year, it may be something of a wild card because his wife is expecting at around that time, so everything is pretty much up in the air. But I can tell you he's very excited about the Washington event."
Woods's association with the tournament gives the PGA Tour's stop in Washington a stature it long has lacked. Woods, whose 12 professional major championships are second in history only to Jack Nicklaus's 18, is one of the world's most famous athletes, and the tournaments in which he plays generally draw stronger fields, higher television ratings and larger galleries.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to expand awareness and interest in the work we're doing for millions of kids across the country," Woods said in a statement on his Web site. "I'm grateful the PGA Tour selected us as partners and am very excited my Foundation will host another amazing event, this time in our nation's capital."
Finchem and Woods declined further comment through their spokesmen. They are scheduled to hold a news conference in Washington on March 7 to discuss details on the new tournament, including the site, title sponsor and purse.
Congressional club president Stuart Long, a Washington lawyer and businessman, said yesterday he has been in discussions with tour officials about the July date. He said the Bethesda club's members will vote on a proposal by mail in mid-March after what he described as a "town hall meeting" at the club March 14 to discuss the tournament. A simple majority is necessary for approval.
"That's where the tour wants to play," Long said. "Congressional is a democracy. We get together, we have a meeting and then we vote. That's what we expect to do. The tour would only do it for two years at Congressional. We're not interested in being a yearly tour stop. At the end of the day, I would hope [the members] will approve it."
TPC Avenel in Potomac, which hosted Washington's annual tour stop from 1987 until last year, is scheduled to undergo a major renovation starting this summer, and Finchem said two weeks ago the tournament would not be played there this year. A tour source said Avenel, a course the tour owns and operates, likely would be the site of the new tournament starting in 2009, though the tour was keeping all its options open on a future venue.
The tour will have only four months to stage the tournament, an unusually short lead time for a professional golf event. The tour had the same amount of time in 1994 before the inaugural Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, yet pulled it off with few major problems.
"The tour and our club are very experienced in running these kinds of events," Long said. "It's not going to be a problem."
The Washington area has hosted an annual PGA Tour event since 1980, when Kemper Insurance, sponsor of the Kemper Open, moved the tournament from Charlotte. Congressional was the site of the Kemper Open until 1987, when the tour moved the event to Avenel. Renamed the Booz Allen Classic after a change of sponsors, the tournament also was staged at Congressional in 2005 and drew one of the best fields in its history, though Woods chose not to play because the event was held a week before the U.S. Open.
In recent years, many top players have skipped the Washington tour stop because they either didn't like Avenel or because the date was not compatible with their schedules. Last summer, it was played the week after the U.S. Open, when most of the world's best players take the week off. Despite generally weak fields, the tournament was well supported by Washington golf fans, with weekend crowds often exceeding 35,000 a day.
For the last three years, the tournament -- traditionally played in late May or early June -- had been sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton, an international consulting firm based in McLean. The company did not renew its sponsorship after the 2006 event when the tour proposed moving it to the fall schedule. When a replacement title sponsor could not be found, Washington fell off the schedule entirely.
This year's July slot came open three weeks ago when Denver oilman Jack Vickers pulled out of sponsoring the International, the event he founded in Castle Rock, Colo. Vickers said at the time that he was bowing out because he was unable to secure a title sponsor, and he also was unhappy that Woods had not played the event in recent years. A PGA Tour title sponsor generally puts up $8 million, most of which is used for prize money and television advertising. Booz Allen estimated it spent closer to $10 million a year over its three-year deal.
Woods has not played in a regular PGA Tour event in the Washington area since he turned professional in 1996. He did play in the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional, where he tied for 19th. He also played in the last two Presidents Cup events held at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, in 2000 and 2005.
Woods and his late father, Earl, started his foundation in 1996. Since then, more than $30 million has been raised and dispersed in a variety of educational programs, including grants, scholarships and the Tiger Woods Learning Center, a 35,000-square-foot complex in Anaheim, Calif., geared toward youngsters in grades 5-12. The foundation currently is the beneficiary of the Target World Challenge tournament in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in December and the Deutsche Bank Championship near Boston in September.