In the past, Kemper Open chairman Ben Brundred knelt by his phone awaiting the last-minute calls of such gentlemen as Hal Sutton, Bob Tway, Calvin Peete and Ben Crenshaw as they consulted their aches and pains, their schedules and whims, before deciding whether to bring their clubs to Washington for a week. Right now, Brundred doesn't much care which way they decide. If they want to show up, swell -- the more the merrier. If not, the Kemper -- now at the new Avenel stadium course, not old Congressional Country Club -- still has a field that looks more like a U.S. Open than a regular tour stop.

Maybe all we need to know about this Kemper is the list of players entered in Tuesday afternoon's $3,000 no-holds-barred, etiquette-be-damned nine-hole Shootout of the stars. Greg Norman, defending Kemper champion and reigning British Open winner. Larry Mize, Masters victor. Ray Floyd, U.S. Open winner. Sandy Lyle, holder of the TPC title. Lee Trevino, himself. Payne Stewart and Mark Calcavecchia, the No. 2 and 3 money winners on the tour this season. Fred Couples, a past Kemper winner who's fresh off a win at the Byron Nelson.

The last spot in the field is still open. Could be Sutton, Corey Pavin, Lanny Wadkins or Curtis Strange, all of whom are in the top dozen on the money list. Could be a familiar name like Tom Kite, Andy Bean, Mark O'Meara, John Mahaffey, George Burns, Jay Haas or Vardon Trophy winner Scott Hoch. Such quality players as Peter Jacobsen, Hubert Green, Hale Irwin, Bobby Wadkins, Gil Morgan, Nick Price, Bobby Clampett, Bill Rogers, Gary Hallberg and a dozen other Scott Verplanks and T.C. Chens don't really have to ask because, sorry guys, you're not good enough. Not this year, anyway. Maybe for Thursday's first round, not for the Shootout.

If we want irony, we don't have to look any further than Tuesday's 2 p.m. Shootout. It's a goofy, corporate-sponsored pretournament gimmick that's new on the tour this year. Ten players. One gets eliminated each hole. Winner takes the whole $3,000. Players can heckle each other, and do. There's no getting around it, this Shootout has a more prestigious field than any of the seven Kempers at Congressional.

If we needed a measure of the tour players' disenchantment with Congressional's back-breaking length, blind shots and inconsistent greens; or, conversely, if we wanted a barometer of the pros' curiosity about the short, sporty and controversial Avenel track, then we only need to read this week's list of entrants. Apparently, the big-name guys disliked Congressional even more than they said, and they're even more fascinated with Avenel (and its $700,000 purse) than sponsors hoped.

First impressions are enormously important for new golf courses. If Avenel ever needed to put on a party dress, it's this week. Everybody comes to a grand opening, but how many come back? Brundred at least believes that the new Kemper site will have a fighting chance.

"Avenel is in magnificent condition for a first-year course, and it's already in as good shape as any course in the Washington area, of any age, including Congressional," he said. "The rough's a little spotty, but the tees, fairways and greens are great. As long as we don't get a week of burn-out 95-degree weather, we'll be delighted."

More than $500,000 in tickets have been sold, breaking the old Kemper record; the week's attendance total could easily top 150,000, continuing the Kemper's progression of 106,000 (in 1985) and 138,000 (in '86).

Avenel should get an entertaining send-off Tuesday with its Shootout.

"I went up to Hartford {Conn.} to see how it works," said Brundred. "All 10 play the first hole. Worst score is eliminated. If there's a tie -- say two guys have double bogeys -- then the tournament chairman designates a one-shot, closest-to-the-hole sudden-death elimination. {For instance, a long, two-tiered lag putt}. You do the same thing each hole until, coming up the ninth, only two players are left.

"At Hartford, Norman, Floyd and Bernhard Langer were tied after the eighth hole. They were given a long, tough sand shot as their closest-to-the hole elimination shot. Floyd blasted it to nine inches, and he and his caddie started walking to the ninth tee. Well, Langer knocked his ball in the hole and Norman blew it out to one inch. Floyd was eliminated."

The Shootout shenanigans have already raised a few hairs. "At Hartford, Tom Watson was on the first tee and {Hubert} Green and {Fuzzy} Zoeller just started walking down the tee right in front of him. Watson wound up and whacked it anyway. Didn't miss Zoeller's tail by a foot. But he kept on walking like he never saw it. Guess they really know where they're hittin' it. I hope."

So far, just about everything has worked out to help the '87 Kemper. Avenel's course maturity is well ahead of schedule. Fans may be surprised by a construction site atmosphere in some places, but the pros are accustomed to that at new stadium courses and will see past it when deciding whether to return. General beautification will take another year or two.

Those accustomed to using periscopes to see the action at Congressional will presumably be delighted by the amphitheater architecture of Avenel, where huge galleries can follow the leaders with unobstructed views; as many as 100,000 people might, hypothetically, watch the closing three holes, which are scooped out of a wide-open, Scottish-looking central portion of the course.

Some will be disappointed that Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson are not on hand. Nobody thought Nicklaus would come since his own Memorial Tournament concludes today. Watson might have been mourned in other years, but he's no longer in the tour's top 30 in money and hasn't won a tournament since 1984. Three quarters of the people who count in the golf world are committed to this Kemper -- including 16 of the top 22 money winners (with two others still probable).

Everything has been answered. Except the biggest question of all. Will the Avenel course, touted so bravely by PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman and co-architect Ed Sneed, live up to its advanced billing?

Avenel has been designed for the shotmaker, the gambler, the guy who wants to drive a 301-yard creek-locked par-4 in one shot and then putt for an eagle. Will Avenel's many weird betwixt-and-between length holes -- like a 615-yard par five and a 239-yard par-three, back-to-back into prevailing head winds -- prove to be exciting and valid challenges? Or will they -- and the almost driveable down-wind 340-yard fifth hole or the tiny 136-yard 11th or the dastardly, skinny two-tiered 182-yard ninth -- be considered failed freaks? Is the 479-yard sixth hole (a mirror image of the famous No. 13 at Augusta National) a lovely ode to Bobby Jones or a copycat mistake?

Is Avenel a pastoral and pleasant site that will draw forth the best from the best? Or will it prove too open, not scenic enough and too easy? Will the same man shoot 65 when he's on his stick but 75 when he's not? Or will this be a birdie haven that punishes no one and rewards luck as much as skill?

Avenel is as ready for its first test as anyone could wish it to be. And the proper professionals will be there to administer the examination.