This is our reward for the last 18 years.
The pleasures, punishments and, at times, Biblical pestilences visited upon TPC at Avenel since 1987, Washington area golf fans now finally get what they deserve. This week, some of the largest and most loyal crowds in the entire golf world will get to wander the grounds of opulent Congressional Country Club while watching the best players on earth.
Instead of studying past humble winners at Avenel such as Rory Sabbatini, Bob Estes and Frank Lickliter, the throngs here will be able to evaluate Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. In a nice overlap, last year's winner of the Booz Allen Classic, Adam Scott, is now ranked No. 8 in the world and is one of the sport's must-see young stars.
Mostly, the weather is expected to be warm and sunny with the occasional thunderstorm. So far, no tornado or torrential 48-hour downpour is predicted. Parking lots will not turn into swamps. Two-hour traffic delays will not become the norm. For one blessed year, if you drive your car to Washington's annual PGA Tour event, you won't have to bring your own tow truck.
No plague of locusts is predicted, either, although we can't be absolutely sure. After all, Avenel is only a mile away and you never know when the buzzard luck that attends that place will drift a bit and contaminate the proceedings.
Of course, there will be some traffic jams. Advance sales of tickets are 25 to 30 percent ahead of last year, as befits an event where the absence of Tiger Woods is barely noticeable. Roughly as many fans are expected per day at the Booz Allen Classic as will be at RFK Stadium for the Nationals. For those over all the years who sneered, "There'll be baseball back in the District when the PGA has a tour stop at Congressional," that day has come.
Luckily, traffic flow, like cash flow, just seems to move more smoothly the closer you get to Congressional. So don't budget too much wait-in-line time. Instead, prepare to treat the nearly 200 acres of Congressional as your private all-day bird sanctuary and outdoor golf cathedral. Bring binoculars. At Congressional, you may see blue heron, Canada geese, beaver, deer, red fox, groundhogs, rabbit, raccoon and turtles in the creeks as well as all manner of woodpeckers in the trees and geezers by the 19th hole. At Avenel, you only needed to know the distinctive markings of the nouveau riche and the hoi polloi.
"Avenel is not a bad golf course," Davis Love III once said, "unless you have to drive past Congressional to get there."
(This quote comes to you courtesy of John Feinstein, who once lived at Avenel and says to remind readers that, while he's forgotten exactly where in "A Good Walk Spoiled" (1995) it appears, it's "still available in paperback.")
As if to remind fans of the type of winner Avenel usually produced, as well as to provide an introductory treat, journeyman Matt Gogel shot a course-record 63 yesterday morning.
"The course is in absolutely perfect shape. . . . The greens are absolutely, you know, as perfect as you can get. They just roll so smooth," said Gogel, who did not actually get down and roll on them but was probably tempted.
"This is a huge treat for us," Gogel said of the week-to-week Tour getting to tread Congressional where the whole scale of the property, the sweep of its vistas and its unashamed pursuit of grandeur, is simply on another level than any other Washington-area course. "In today's day and age, you look at where we're playing golf courses. Either the Tour is building [TPC] courses or we're going to a new [real estate] development where they want us to promote the area or the course.
"The only classic courses we play on Tour now are Riviera, Westchester and Pebble Beach. This year in Canada we're at Shaughnessy. . . . When I was coming on Tour in 2000, these type of courses were starting to fall off the schedule. The members are being very generous to allow us to play here this week.
"Especially the swimming pool. Half the membership could care less about playing in the 100-degree heat, but you bet they want their pool back."
Congressional, which will hold the U.S. Open in 2011, has always been one of the few elite clubs that actively tries to promote golf in its area, especially in allowing its course to be used during the prime golfing season. Congressional held the Kemper Open for seven straight years from 1980 through 1986, firmly establishing the PGA Tour in the Washington market. Three years ago, when Kemper Insurance hit the financial skids, a new sponsor was needed for this event. Congressional played its part again, offering to host this year's tournament on the presumption that -- at this very minute -- major improvements would be in progress at second-rate Avenel, upgrades that might attract better fields and ensured the future health of this Tour stop.
The PGA Tour, however, has not done its part. Not an inch of earth has been moved at Avenel. Finally, last month, representatives of the Tour showed Booz Allen executives their plans to do a $25 million renovation of Avenel that would remake, reroute or blow up five holes and improve the clubhouse.
The Tour shouldn't skimp on this essential project. Washington has been pumping money and civic effort into the sport and its charities with annual crowds at Avenel around 120,000. And we've asked precious little in return. Fields at Avenel have often been weaker than the town's support deserved. In addition to the delays in the Avenel face-lift, the Booz Allen has been given the worst date on the Tour calendar -- the week after the U.S. Open -- in both '04 and '06. Open. As compensation, Washington has been granted this one-time-only week at Congressional with a star-studded field.
Booz Allen's sponsorship runs out after '06 and discussions are ongoing. The Tour hopes for an eight-year extension.
Tour officials should remember that, since 1980, Washington (and Congressional) have done far more for the PGA Tour and its sport than vice versa In the still cordial chats between Booz Allen and the Tour, the onus is almost entirely on pro golf to shape up and -- finally -- treat the Washington area and its golf fans with the respect they deserve.
First, the Tour needs to grasp that, as high-end day-fee courses have proliferated, Avenel no longer looks like a glamorous golf course, as it might have in 1987. If anything, it's now at the homely end of the spectrum. All of that $25 million is needed.
Just as important, the Washington golf community needs to make it clear to the PGA Tour that putting the Booz Allen a week after the U.S. Open is utterly unacceptable to a town that has supported the sport so long and so well.
The Tour has plenty on its plate these days -- including negotiations on a new TV deal and possible rescheduling of some big events, such as the Players Championship, which may move from March to May.
However, in its wheeling and dealing, the PGA Tour better not forget Washington. This week, Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem reiterated how strongly his sport wanted to keep its presence in this market. Better hold that thought, Tim. Otherwise, someday, when the glow of this perfect week at Congressional has faded, Washington may gradually start to forget the Tour.