There are no dunes, no gorse and no devilishly deep pot bunkers anywhere on Congressional Country Club's two lush golf courses. Still, a little piece of the British Open came to the Maryland suburbs yesterday, even if nearly half the players who had registered for the first 36-hole U.S. qualifier ever staged for the world's oldest major championship decided not to come at all.
By day's end, 15 players, headed by the 9-under-par scores by medalists Spike McRoy, Carl Pettersson and Mathias Gronberg, advanced into next month's Open at Royal Troon in Scotland. The more significant number was that 68 of the 120 entered players actually competed for those seemingly precious spots.
The truancy reflected part of what the Royal & Ancient governing body was trying to address in holding qualifiers outside of the United Kingdom this year for the first time: For some American professionals, the British Open, the oldest of golf's four major championships, doesn't matter that much. The reasons vary -- some Americans don't care for the weather or the links-style courses on which British Opens are held -- but in a sport where a paycheck is not guaranteed until a player makes the cut, most decisions center on money and time.
"I was talking to Hank Kuehne's caddie the other day and he told me he didn't think he'd play [at Congressional] because he hadn't wrapped up his [PGA Tour] card" for next season, said Robert Gamez, who missed the cut in the Booz Allen Classic at nearby TPC at Avenel on Friday but stayed around to try, and eventually fail, to qualify for Royal Troon.
"He'd basically have to take three weeks to do [the British Open] right: a week to change your game and your ball flight, the week of the tournament and maybe another week to get your game back. It's expensive. With the dollar the way it is, if you take your wife, it could cost you $15,000 to $20,000. So guys may not take the chance on missing events here, and then spending the money."
Facing such sentiments, the R&A, which conducts the British Open and is celebrating its 250th anniversary, decided to hold international qualifying to give more players around the world an opportunity to play in the event. Qualifiers already have been held in Melbourne, Australia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Cape Town, South Africa. Each site advanced four players. A fourth qualifier was held yesterday at Sunningdale in England, for 17 spots, and all 120 who signed up there showed up, said R&A director Michael Tate.
Tate took the proper Englishman's approach when asked about all the no-shows at Congressional, including eight players who didn't inform tournament officials they wouldn't be making their scheduled morning tee times.
"Yes, a lot of people dropped out, and that is disappointing," Tate said, sitting on a clubhouse patio. "We'll reflect more on it afterward. We'll try to ascertain why this has happened. We can't make it any more convenient than this, but we'll have no criticism of any player. We're simply delighted that  have come to play and 15 will go to Troon.
"We decided to do it this way because so many players have such heavy schedules. It was becoming fairly obvious to us that to ask players to come to the UK for a Sunday-Monday qualifier was asking quite a lot. Life changes, and we've never been afraid of change."
Privately, several Congressional members involved in organizing and staffing the event said R&A officials were particularly upset about players who failed to show the common courtesy of at least calling the club to say they'd decided not to play, for whatever reason. That group included six members of the PGA Tour -- Kevin Na, Paul Stankowski, John Rollins, Patrick Moore, James McLean and Dan Olsen -- and their absences forced officials to scramble to change pairings so that everyone would play in twosomes.
Rory Sabbatini, who won the FBR Capital Open last year and finished third on Sunday, had actually parked the bus he uses to travel the PGA Tour on the Congressional premises last week. He was entered, but called Sunday night to report that he had hurt his foot and would take a pass on qualifying.
"That's a guy who could have actually won the British Open," one longtime Congressional board member said. "Why wouldn't he try to get in?"
"I have no idea," said veteran Steve Pate, who also tried and failed to qualify after staying in town since missing the Booz Allen cut Friday. "For me, this was easy. The British Open is my favorite event. Maybe some guys don't like the tournament as much as I do."
Likewise, Gamez had no regrets despite the disappointment of following up a morning round of 69 with 75 in the afternoon.
"It's crazy not to" try, Gamez said. "I can understand players not wanting to go over there to qualify like you used to have to. But if it's right here, and you just played here? I just hope they don't decide not to do this again. All those withdrawals are disappointing. I guess these are some of the guys who thought they'd have played better earlier in the year and are more worried now about keeping their cards" to stay exempt on the PGA Tour for next season.
Jeff Quinney, the 2000 U.S. Amateur champion who plays on the Nationwide Tour, said he debated whether to try to qualify. He had finished fourth in a Nationwide event in upstate New York on Sunday, drove to Washington that night and had a 7:16 a.m. tee time Monday. He, too, missed the cut-off for Royal Troon, a 6-under 137 posted by six players.
"It would be a $5,000 trip for me, maybe more, and I'm still chasing on the Nationwide list," Quinney said between rounds. "I'd miss at least two events, but you know what? If I did get in, I'd have a hard time turning this down. It's funny, a lot of guys on our tour didn't even know you could [qualify at Congressional]. They said they hadn't heard about it and were asking about the deadline."
Congressional was originally recommended to the R&A by David Fay, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association. The Bethesda club, the leading contender to land the 2011 U.S. Open, agreed to host the qualifier this year and in 2006.
The club's Blue and Gold courses were roped off for spectators, and about 1,500 took advantage of the gorgeous weather and free admission to wander the grounds, even if some were forced to pay as much as $30 to park in surrounding neighborhoods.
"It doesn't feel anything like the British Open," Quinney said. "But this is a major championship golf course, and some major championship pin placements, too. Everyone here can play: Just look at the scores. It doesn't bother me all those guys who decided not to come. It just means the rest of us have a better chance to qualify."
The last man to make it into the final 15 was American Cameron Beckman, who played Congressional's Blue course, used in the two Opens here, in the afternoon and shot a 66, despite making bogey on his 36th hole.
"When I did that, I thought I'd missed making it," said Beckman, who birdied his previous two holes. "It's nice to get in the tournament. I didn't make it into the U.S. Open, and I've never played British Open-style golf. I've watched it for years on television. And now I'll be in it."