Avenel ain't Congressional. Not yet. Maybe never. It's something entirely different. And something that will require time to judge and enjoy.

If Washington's new stadium course and its designers thought they'd get a free ride this year at the Kemper Open, they were rapidly disabused of the notion yesterday. Greg Norman, the reigning Kemper champ and the sport's best player, said it loud and clear.

"I'd rather be at Congressional. We're losing our good golf courses. I'd like to play the traditional courses as much as possible. Congressional was a true classic. The great courses seem to be disappearing off our list," said the Australian, blunt as always.

"I'd like to see 6- to 8-under-par win a tournament or even 1 over par. The first round is fairly crucial on a golf course where it looks like the guys are going to blitz it," added Norman who believes that with hot weather and hard fairways the winning score this week will be 20 under par, or even lower, on the par-71, 6,864-yard course on Persimmon Tree Road.

Of all athletes, golfers are perhaps the most prone to be entirely self-serving, or, to be more generous, entirely self-centered observations. They live in a one-person world; what's best for the guy in their spikes is what's best for golf. Long, brutal Congressional suited Norman down to the ground; hard as it may be to believe, the 32-year-old has only won four PGA Tour events (the same as Mark McCumber) and half of them were won on Congressional. So, he mourns its passing. Avenel seems built for accurate drivers who hit precise irons and seldom uncork a wild shot. In short, little Avenel may prove to be Shark-repellent.

Except for Preston Trail in Dallas and Congressional, the tour hasn't bid adieu to many world-class layouts in its pursuit of stadium golf. The tour was never certain how long Congressional's somewhat reluctant membership would continue its warm welcome of the Kemper; wouldn't it have been foolhardy fiscal policy for the tour to bypass Avenel's potential and long-range security?

Also, as Gil Morgan pointed out, Congressional's annual rent from the tour was $300,000; most of that money now goes in the pros' pockets by way of the Kemper's new $700,000 purse. "Some guys are willing to give up {amenities} for some of that {money}," Morgan said with a chuckle.

Still, Norman has a point. The majesty and serenity of Congressional is never going to be duplicated at busy worker-bee Avenel with its vast central parking areas, its tract mansions under construction and its crowd-as-scenery theory of amphitheater golf. Congressional was a wildlife refuge. The only wild life at Avenel yesterday was a fan in a "My, Oh Mize" T-shirt.

Many, like Norman, will be quick to draw conclusions about Avenel vs. Congressional this week. That's unfortunate, because it's too soon to tell. Probably by a full year or two. Avenel is a short course and needs soft mature fairways where drives hit and hold; now, with new hard turf and fast conditions, the course may play several hundred yards shorter than it will by 1989. The pros will never have a better chance to eat Avenel alive than right now. All the gambles that Ed Sneed built into his best holes may seem like sure things.

Commissioner Deane Beman and his staff, however, should not kid themselves into thinking that all Avenel needs is time and turf management. This layout needs enormous expenditures on every kind of horticultural frill and fancy. Right now, Avenel looks a whole lot more like the Laytonsville publinks than it looks like Augusta National.

No more houses, Deane. Or else plant trees in front of them. Big trees. Fast. Enough with the "Scottish look." It's also called empty space. Far too much of it. How about a nice lake. Or three. As for azaleas and the like, just start ordering them by caravan load, then worry about how many you need later. When you get 230 acres of prime real estate for $1, you ought to be able to spring for the tulips. Think of how embarrassing it's going to be if Avenel still looks this raw and graceless in a couple of years, when judgments get locked in place.

If the verdict on Avenel as a quality golf course is out, and should remain so whether the winning score is 259 or 279 and whether the pros cheer all week or moan to the heavens, that doesn't mean conclusions could be reached this afternoon.

If the proliferation of stadium golf courses (15 eventually) is the tour's most controversial idea, then there is little question about the tour's best new idea of 1987. It's the Tuesday shootout of the stars. Why, even Norman loves it, calling it, "A great idea . . . the only time we can give each other a bit of a needle."

Tuesday's always been a yawn on tour, especially for veterans. Get off the plane, pray your clubs haven't been lost en route, then find the hotel and hope you can scrounge up a foursome for an afternoon practice round.

Now, all that's changed. Ten of the best players in the field are invited to battle in a nine-hole tournament with one player eliminated on every hole. First prize is a modest $3,000 so that the spirit of fun doesn't get squashed, with $2,000 for second, $1,000 for third and so on. Not enough cash to fuss over, but enough to sharpen the repartee.

"The third leading money winner of all time . . ." intoned the public address announcer yesterday.

"That's gotta be me," said Lee Trevino, bouncing up to the tee.

"And here is the man who led all four major championships entering the fourth round last season," said the P.A. man as Norman pretended to be miffed, waving for him to stop announcing all the leads he'd failed to hold.

The shootout is a perfect time to find out that Payne Stewart sometimes wears long pants, or that Norman can outdrive Trevino by almost 100 yards or that John Mahaffey is no longer a modest hitter but a pretty long dude. As might be expected, Trevino was the best gamesman. As Stewart lined up a four-foot putt to stay alive, Trevino nodded toward Mahaffey and said, "Payne, I'd give that little one to ya, but John here won't let me." Stewart lipped out. Trevino snickered.

A gallery of several thousand followed the shootout proceedings -- yes, everybody could see very nicely, thanks, but the course is hilly and a hard walk. They were sorry to see Norman disqualify himself at the third hole because a fan dramatically improved his lie in the woods.

In the end, Morgan fluffed a sand shot and Mize won the top cash. "Sure is nice," said the self-deprecating Mize. "It's my first win since the Masters."