Ben Brundred's problems began last Saturday when a tornado ripped the roof off the CBS broadcast tower, flattened every tent along the 18th fairway and left the Tournament Players Club at Avenel "looking like a war had played through. A scoring tent tried to blow into my office through the window."

That's when the chairman of the Kemper Open began wondering if this might not be an unusual week. He never dreamed, however, that by yesterday afternoon he would be making an apology "to the general public and the community" for a traffic jam that delayed fans for two to three hours as they battled to reach Avenel. Usually the PGA Tour holds its long-driving contest on Wednesday. Yesterday it was held on Persimmon Tree Road. That little joke is only funny if you weren't one of the thousands caught in the snarl, watching the light at Bradley Boulevard change a dozen times as your engine decided whether or not to overheat and blow up.

By noon the River Road exit from the Capital Beltway had reached a state of total gridlock and Brundred had issued an amazing plea to the public. "Please do not come to the Kemper Open. There's no more room," begged public service spots on radio stations a full four hours before the leaders even teed off.

Has the boss of a major American sporting event ever before ordered the public not to come buy his $17.50 tickets? Please, leave those $25 clubhouse passes alone, too. Concessions? Gee, don't come buy 'em.

At least 20,000 fans tried to get into Avenel and either gave up or were turned away, according to Sgt. T.C. Lantzy, the top police officer in charge of overseeing the traffic mess. At first, he estimated 40,000 turnaways, but he reduced his guess, perhaps to ease feelings.

How did such a snafu come to pass? Who's to blame? And what happens next?

On Wednesday evening, torrential rains shortened the Kemper's pro-am. Then, on Thursday, the third heavy rain in a week turned two public parking lots of the first-year stadium golf course into quagmires. "We worked through the night on them," said Brundred. "We brought in about half the gravel within a 50-mile radius . . . Still, by morning, we had 30 acres of parking lots that were unusable. They're covered with first-year grass that's just not firm enough yet to take that much rain."

Still, Brundred figured there was no cause for worry. Avenel only ranks No. 1 in the world in one category. It has, according to PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman, the largest parking acreage of any course anywhere -- 80 acres. Enough for more than 15,000 cars.

So, when Brundred ordered those two muddy public lots to be closed, he figured he still had 50 acres of parking left. Enough for 10,000 cars. What's the worry? The biggest crowd that ever stormed the gates at the Kemper when it was at Congressional Country Club was 38,000 for last year's Sunday final.

"That day, we had between 6,000 and 7,000 cars," said Brundred. No sweat. A normal Friday crowd at the Kemper runs from 15,000 to 20,000 people.

After a little arithmetic, Brundred calculated a maximum of 5,000 cars for yesterday, even if every attendance record were shattered. Neither he nor police thought any novel rerouting of Avenel's only entrance, Persimmon Tree Road, was necessary, even though the shoulders were too wet to use as an extra lane.

This, however, was no normal Friday at the Kemper. Washington is a trendy, curious, hot-ticket town. It is a city that knows how to love a three-day weekend. The weather was gorgeous. There at the top of the Kemper scoreboard were such names as Greg Norman, Tom Kite, Payne Stewart, Larry Mize and Raymond Floyd -- the cream of the crop. And the Avenel course was a subject of wide debate among golf fans.

So, suddenly a Friday afternoon at Avenel seemed the perfect place to be. Everybody worries about holding a party and not having anybody come. But what happens if you hold an open house and everybody decides to show up?

That's the nightmare in broad daylight that Brundred began seeing soon after dawn. He was up at 5 a.m., since 78 players had to resume their rain-interrupted play at 6:45 a.m. By 8:15 a.m., there are been a traffic accident at the intersection of River and Bradley -- the worst possible place.

"At 9 o'clock, we hoped it was just a bad rush hour," said Brundred. "By 10, we knew we had a real problem. And by 11 o'clock, we met and decided to tell people not to come."

By then, the comedy was in full swing. Officer W.L. Foust III was listening to his cruiser radio when he heard a voice demanding, "How do I get into Avenel?"

Who might be asking? countered Foust. "This is the chief of police," snapped the voice. "Is there a back road?"

Well, in that case, Chief, just take River Road southeast from Potomac, then turn right on Persimmon Tree and golly, there's hardly any backup at all.

For those without police radio, the day was not so cheery. "It won't be like this tomorrow, I promise," said Brundred. "I won't say 'no problems,' but we'll have the situation alleviated. If our plan {for Saturday} works, it will not be worse than it ever was at Congressional and it may be better."

Ah, yes, the plan for today.

All parking lots will be in use. So, yesterday's time-wasting search for bizarre and remote parking places will not recur. "We parked cars everywhere but the clubhouse dining room," said Brundred.

Police will partially reroute traffic from River Road onto a back route. Sounds like a swell idea, fellows. Maybe a day late, too.

Still, nobody really knows what the day will bring. Actually, nobody even knows yet what yesterday brought. Montgomery County police estimate that 50,000 people tried to get into Avenel. Brundred thinks 30,000 succeeded, although his ticket count isn't final.

The large question is the weekend. If the Kemper can accommodate the huge crowds that are expected -- with more great weather and a fine field -- then this day of Avenel aggravation soon will be forgotten.

But that's a big "if."

How many cars and people can the Kemper handle? "Sixteen- to 20,000 cars and 60,000 to 70,000 people," said Brundred.

No PGA tournament has ever drawn that many. Could the Kemper?

"After today," said Brundred, "I'll believe anything."