Ten years after Tiger Woods and his foundation essentially saved PGA Tour golf in Washington, his annual event here has no title sponsor, the Tour has terminated its contract with Congressional Country Club, and considerable uncertainty surrounds the future of professional golf's highest level in the nation's capital.
In an email to Congressional members sent Monday, club president Rick Sullivan said the lack of a title sponsor was the driving force behind the Tour exercising its right to bail on an existing deal, which called for Congressional to host the event in 2018 and 2020.
"Without a sponsor," Sullivan wrote, "the event would be a significant drain on their resources, instead of a source of funds."
But representatives of both Woods and his eponymous foundation said they are actively pursuing a sponsor for the tournament, which has been known as the AT&T National and, more recently, the Quicken Loans National. Neither Mark Steinberg, Woods's agent, nor Rick Singer, the president and chief executive of the Tiger Woods Foundation, ruled out establishing a new deal with Congressional should they land a sponsor.
That, though, hasn't yet happened. And if they can't entice a major sponsor, whether Washington will remain a stop on the PGA Tour at any venue will become a serious question.
"We've been here for so long, and the tournament is an important fundraiser for the foundation," Singer said in a telephone interview Monday. "We have a lot of important people looking at this. Selling a title isn't a simple task, but it's really important that we're here in D.C. We have a history here. Having a tournament cements our presence here."
When consulting firm Booz Allen dropped its sponsorship of Washington's tour stop following the 2006 event, Woods's team landed AT&T as a flagship sponsor for a tournament that appeared to have everything: an iconic figure as its host, a historic venue in Congressional — which has hosted U.S. Opens — and a national sponsor eager to be involved.
But the 2009 revelations of Woods's serial infidelity left him as a damaged figure off the course — and a less-compelling corporate partner — and injuries have sapped him of the ability to compete regularly. His event also has moved around — to suburban Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011, around Congressional's staging of the 2011 U.S. Open, as well as to Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County, Va., and, this year, to TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, across the street from Congressional.
Congressional's membership approved, by a narrow margin, the proposal to stage the event at Congressional from 2012 to 2014, and then, in March 2014, voted to host it in 2016, 2018 and 2020. But Sullivan's email to members did not mention renegotiating.
"With a great deal of disappointment, we want to inform you that the Tiger Woods Foundation (TWF) currently has no title sponsor for their PGA Tour golf tournament," Sullivan wrote in the letter, two copies of which were obtained by The Washington Post. "Because of that circumstance, the PGA Tour has exercised its right to terminate our Facilities Agreement with them for 2018 and 2020 while they seek a title sponsor for The National."
Should Woods's team be able to entice a sponsor, the event could return to TPC Potomac, where Kyle Stanley won in July. Woods's foundation must pay a site fee to stage the event at Congressional — which, at one time, was the highest on the PGA Tour — thus cutting into the profit the charity can put into funding its educational programs in the Washington area and beyond.
"There are definitely financial considerations," Singer said.
Singer and Steinberg said they remain in talks with Quicken Loans, which replaced AT&T as the sponsor in 2014. But that deal ended with this year's tournament. Dan Gilbert, who owns the mortgage firm (as well as the Cleveland Cavaliers), has been rumored to want a PGA Tour event near Detroit, where his company is headquartered. There are also potential difficulties involving the PGA Tour schedule, which will change significantly in 2019, when the PGA Championship moves from August to May.
"This is one of our highest priorities," Steinberg said by phone Monday. "The event, at this point, is not going away. I want to be clear about that. We are looking for a title sponsor in the D.C. area. Where that event would be played is still up in the air. We don't know the answer to that. We have to work on the economics and finances. But we're actively looking, and we have a number of good leads and sponsors and are talking to them daily."
Singer said he hopes to have a deal done in four to six weeks.
"We hope to be back," Singer said. "We have a couple of great golf courses in the area, a lot of us live here, and D.C. has become an important part of what the foundation is about. We see ourselves as a national organization, and D.C. fits that perfectly."
Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.