The Kemper Open will attract a wider field next year when it moves from Congressional Country Club to the new TPC course across the street at Avenel, according to tournament organizers. How many of the big names will keep coming back is the question.
"They'll all come next year," tournament chairman Ben Brundred said. "But the guy who shoots 82 won't ever like it again. So it depends on how many like the course."
Not too many liked long and humid Congressional, and the last field to play the course Thursday through Sunday was typical of the tournament's tenure there. As usual, a couple of big names and a lot of unknowns made up the tournament won by Greg Norman in a six-hole playoff with Larry Mize.
Nevertheless, the final Congressional Kemper was the best. What with new single-day and weekly attendance records and the white-knuckle finish, it was by all accounts the biggest success in seven years.
The seventh and last Kemper at Congressional drew 132,000 spectators for the week to break last year's record of 106,000. The Sunday crowd of 38,000 that was rewarded with six extra holes was better than last year by 4,000.
For all of Congressional's charm, however, it generally has lacked glamorous fields. This year's could have been its best, if not for the withdrawal of Andy Bean and Calvin Peete, and it still would have been relatively uninspiring. That is what could be gained at Avenel, and officials are relying on the curiosity factor to draw players such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino. The trick is keeping them.
"We have an opportunity for a better field because it will be one of their own courses," Brundred said. "But without question the same thing that happened at Congressional will happen there. Someone who doesn't do well won't like it."
What Avenel unquestionably offers, however, is a spectator draw. The Congressional crowds could pale in comparison with the crowds at the new course; in keeping with the trend in TPC designs, it offers amphitheaters on virtually every hole, but unlike some of the others, they will be more natural to the terrain. The course built by Ed Sneed has long been the subject of great curiosity, and PGA officials are already predicting a huge increase in attendance.
"You can see every hole and every shot, no matter what the size of the crowds," PGA Commissioner Deane Beman said. "Especially on 16, 17, and 18, you can have as many as 100,000 people. In an area like Washington, with the interest in golf and the population, the only limits are the facilities."
Nevertheless, many had regrets about leaving Congressional. Norman certainly did, what with his two victories in three years. He leaves Washington as the hottest player on tour, and the richest. Since his second place at the Masters, he has two victories (Kemper and Las Vegas) and another second (Heritage). He is the tour's leading money-winner, with $447,109 in earnings.
The Kemper also has sentimental value for him; his 1984 victory was his first on the PGA Tour and proved he could live up to his European reputation. "I might like the next course better," he said, "but it's sad to leave this one."
Even Mize said he would miss the course, despite two frustrating finishes in two years: bogeying the 18th last year to lose to Bill Glasson and hitting in the water twice Sunday on the sixth hole of the playoff. "I have good memories here," he said. "I haven't won, but I've played well here, so it's disappointing to leave."