Beginning Monday at 8 a.m. and continuing through the rest of the week, leading golfers of the 1981 PGA tour will tee off in the Kemper Open at Bethesda's Congressional County club in what tournament officials see as a crucial test of whether the Washington area will become a permanent home for the Kemper.
"This year is the key year. Last year it was a novelty . . . This year should determine whether it is drudgery or pure fun," says Ben Brundred, the former Congressional president who has served as general chairman of the $400,000 Kemper for the two years since it moved here from Charlotte, N.C.
For starters, Brundred says he's looking for a 20 percent boost in attendance, from just under 100,000 a year ago to 120,000 or more this year. Advance ticket sales have already reached $500,000, he said, well ahead of last year, when total gate receipts were about $650,000 and the tournament "just about" broke even.
No matter what the eventual outcome, Steve Lesnick, president of Kemper Sports Management in Chicago, the subsidiary of the insurance company that sponsors the tournament, says he's already concluded that the decision to leave Charlotte was a wise one.
One of the three top money tournaments on the PGA tour, the Kemper this year features 1981 Masters champion Tom Watson, golf's leading money winner the past four seasons; Washington's Lee Elder; three-time Kemper winner Tom Weiskopf; Gary Player, three-time winner of the Masters Tournament; Ray Floyd, winner of the Kemper in 1975 and the winner this year of the Tournament Players Championship; Lou Graham, winner of the 1975 U.S. Open; David Graham, 1979 PGA champion; Japanese standout Isao Aoki; Dave Stockton, who won the 1976 PGA tournament at Congressional; defending Kemper champion John Mahaffey and George Burns, Lon Hinkle, Johnny Miller, Gil Morgan, Andy North, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Jim Simons, Howard Twitty, Craig Stadler, J.C. Snead, and Lanny Wadkins.
Hale Irwin has not yet decided, and must do so by this evening at 6.
Absent will be Arnold Palmer, who Brundred believes is still the leading crowd attraction in professional golf; stars Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus, both attending graduations; 1981's leading money winner, Bruce Lietzke; Jerry Pate (attending Lietzke's wedding to Pate's sister-in-law); Fuzzy Zoeller, 1979 Masters champion; Ben Crenshaw; and Andy Bean.
Those touring pros here will meet Tuesday to discuss the future of the tour, which may include eliminating the Monday qualifying rounds as early as next year.
The tournament this year falls three weeks before the U.S. Open, instead of the usual two -- one factor, Brundred and others believe, in the absence of some of the game's elite. Next year, the Kemper will return to its normal position two weeks before the Open, which is now a week later.
Beginning with practice and qualifying rounds on Monday, the pro-am Wednesday and the start of the four-day, 72-hole tournament Thursday, this year's Kemper contestants will be competing over a 7,054-yard, par-70 course rated by Golf Digest as among the nation's top 40. It will play tougher this year because the rough will be longer.
"If they get in the rough, it will cause them a few problems," said Brundred, admitting that the commitee had erred last year in cutting the rough too short to close to the start of the tournament. This year, there will be an eight- or nine-foot apron at the edge of the fairways where the grass will be 1 1/2 to two inches high, with an area beyond that with 4 1/2- to five-inch grass.
His prediction for the winning score and $72,000 winner's share of the purse: "278 with four days of perfect weather." That would be three strokes behind Mahaffey's five-under-par course record set last year.
In Dublin, Ohio, for the Memorial tournament, Watson said: "If they don't want anybody to shoot five under, than nobody will unless the greens get awfully soft. What'll win? Well, if the rough's up, 280, 282."
Mahaffey, a straight driver, said: "Well, I would think that means if I hit it straight like last year, that will be to my advantage."
The consenus was, however, that Congressional officials should worry about getting the course in better playing condition than last year, instead of worring about maintaining the integrity of par. One top player, Mark Hayes, said he was not playing this year because of the poor course conditions.
Brundred says the course is in its best condition in the 17 years he has been a Congressional member. The course, he said, is so long that distance is somewhat negated and the players with the best short games excel. Because of that, Aoki has to be considered a leading contender, he said.
Mahaffey, Stockton and Ken Venturi, winner of the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional, are not long off the tee but all excel, or excelled in the case of the retired Venturi, at the short game, he noted. "This course is so long," he said, "even the longest hitters are bound to miss some greens."
A field of 156 will start play Thursday, with the low 70 and ties surviving after Friday's second round.
With a $1,500 entry fee fro the pro-am, that tournament is expected to raise $100,000 for charity, $50,000 designated by Kemper to the Boys Clubs of America and $50,000 designated by Congressional to nine Washington area charities selected from 60 applicants. Sharing that $50,000 will be the Boys Clubs of Greater Washington, the Cabin John Fire Department, the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, the Girl Scout Counsil of the Nation's Capital, Heroes Inc., the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County, Send a Kid to Camp, the YMCA and The Washington Home.
As general chairman of the tournament, Brundred, 55, is, in effect, the chief executive officer of a 950-member volunteer organization with an annual operating budget of approximately $1.1 million.
The proprietor of a Bethesda based export marketing business, Brundred has, in fact, been a full-time golf tournament director for the last few months. As early as last fall he was spending an hour at the beginning and end of the day on Kemper Open business.
Last year the tournament just about broke even, Brundred said, but in Chicago, Kemper's Lesnick declined to discuss financial details of the tournament, which is Kemper Sports Management's premier event of the year.
"It's a sporting event," said Lesnick. We think the sports pages carry too much news about sports finances."
Among the finances generated by the Kemper tournament and supplementing other revenues toward the break-even point was $240,000 from CBS-TV, which will telecast play on Saturday from 4 to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. (WDVM-channel 9).
The tournament program, which sells for $2, costs about $60,000 to print, and Brundred estimates it will contain $250,000 worth of advertising.
Kemper pays a flat use fee, plus a percentage of any profits, to Congressional, which under terms of its contract with Kemper is guaranteed a profit of $250,000 plus revenues from food and beverage sales.
To get the 950 volunteers required for the tournament, Brundred has enlisted the services of 16 other country clubs in the Washington area. They'll provide about half the volunteers, Congressional the rest. Duties range from staffing day-care centers for players children to getting drunken spectators off the course. Most volunteers will be repeats from last year.
There has been an opportunity to learn from last year's mistakes. For example, there were problems last year when all volunteers were dressed alike and the marshals could not be distinguished from other committee members.
"The committee members were going in front of the ropes," Brundred said.
This year the marshals will wear red shirts and navy blue pants; other male committee members will wear red pants and navy blue shirts