The road to next month's British Open starts at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda for a field of 120 today, when the course hosts a 36-hole, one-day qualifying event that will send a minimum of 15 players to the Open at Royal Troon in Scotland.

Several alternates also will be selected. The Open will be played July 12-18.

Congressional, the site of three previous American major championships -- the 1964 and '97 U.S. Opens and the 1976 PGA Championship -- was selected last year as one of five international qualifying sites. Both of its courses will be used for the qualifier.

Officials of the organizing Royal & Ancient were concerned that a number of top international players were not attempting to qualify for the oldest major in the world.

In years past, British Open qualifying has been held the weekend or Sunday and Monday before the start of the regular championship at several courses within easy driving distance of the Open site. This year, qualifying sites were selected in England, Australia, Japan, South Africa and the United States.

There are 88 players exempt into the field.

"I do find it a little odd," said American Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open winner, also at Troon, and exempt into the championship based on that victory. "I understand players are worried about the expense and travel, especially if you don't qualify. But to go and qualify the week before the event is probably a better measure of who should be playing that week."

Most of the players entered this morning at Congressional have been in town all week competing in the Booz Allen Classic at TPC at Avenel, about two miles from Congressional's main entrance on River Road. Four past major champions will attempt to qualify today -- U.S. Open winners Lee Janzen and Corey Pavin and PGA Championship winners Mark Brooks and Steve Elkington.

The tournament will be run by several R&A officials who will be at Congressional, and they will use rules officials from the PGA Tour and several nearby state and regional golf associations to handle any on-course problems.

The tournament is free and open to the general public, but the club has announced that no spectators will be allowed to park on the property. There is Metrobus service to the golf course, and some pay parking likely will be available in nearby residential neighborhoods. The morning round begins at 7 a.m., the afternoon session at 12:30 p.m.