Local golfers got their first crack yesterday at what may become the best course in the area and one of national stature.
The Tournament Players Course at Avenel in Potomac, to be the home of the Kemper Open beginning in 1987, tested about 170 players, and vice versa. Of those asked, all left with a sense of respect.
"The course is going to be spectacular," said Mike Duff, a 20-handicapper who shot 95 from the white tees. "It will be the best course in the area. All it needs is seasoning."
The course is not completely finished. Sod is still taking hold, there are some rough spots and many of the water hazards are just plain hazards at this point.
The layout is another in the line of stadium courses, designed to allow more spectators to have better sightlines, with many holes in the mode of an amphitheater. PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman, who had played parts of the course before and was among those who played yesterday, said he believes it possible for Avenel to accommodate 100,000 fans.
"It's ideal for stadium golf," Beman said of the hilly terrain.
"All you had to do was put the tees and greens in the right places. We didn't have to build up anything."
The best vantage point may turn out to be a large semicircle-shaped knoll that wraps around the 16th green and 17th tee, separating the tee from the 18th fairway. From there, a fan can watch the final 2 1/2 holes without leaving his or her blanket. It will be one of the first spots taken.
"On 16, you have to drive to the top of the hill; it's an outstanding hole. On 17, it tests you on the par 3, and 18, depending on the wind, it ought to be difficult," said Dennis Meyer, who was in the first group of finishers and is one of the developers of the land the course is on. "They ought to be great finishing holes for the Kemper."
"Coming in on 18," joked Renn Patch, "I could envision the crowds on the embankment cheering me on."
Keith Morgan, who played with Patch, said the course "is fair to everybody. It will be a challenge for the good players without frustrating the weekend golfer."
It already has yielded a hole in one. Daniel Cronin got it with a 9-iron, from 115 yards, at the 11th hole.
The par-71 course measures 6,864 yards from the TPC tees, 6,377 from the blue tees, 5,916 from the white tees and 4,888 from the red tees.
"It's not designed to be a long, back-breaking course," Beman said. "The greens are smaller. Length isn't a factor to the best players."
Big hitters who have trouble finding the green will have problems. We're talking deep bunkers, here.
"I think this course will attract more pros to the Kemper ," Duff said. "The complaint about Congressional was that it is so long, and its condition. This course will be deceptively short, but with a lot of trouble spots. Shot placement will be the key . . . . I played at Congressional once and you have to hit it really long. Here will require more finesse. You get in some of those bunkers and it could take you two or three shots to get out. That's one thing that people who play here will have to get used to -- playing in the bunkers."
Since this was the first official day of play on the course, the course record was established and then broken numerous times. T.J. Carter and Ron Miller got it, finally, with 76s.
Tony Natelli, also one of the developers and a member of that first group, received the honor of setting the standard. Sort of. Natelli, you see, plays only three or four times a year, and he left quite a bit room for improvement: 149. His record lasted about 28 seconds.
"An average day," said Natelli, who took it all in good fun, "on a beautiful course."