When Tiger Woods and his foundation helped save professional golf in Washington seven years ago, they did so by marrying a national brand, AT&T, with the best venue the nation’s capital has to offer, Congressional Country Club. Next year, though, both the sponsor and the course will be different, and the result is that Washington could end up sharing its annual PGA Tour event with another market.
Congressional, the Bethesda club that has hosted three U.S. Opens, was the original site of the AT&T National in 2007. Last fall, its membership was supposed to consider an extension that would have kept the tournament there from 2015 to 2017. But a combination of factors, including the projected late-July date of the 2015 event, made that plan unpalatable, so Congressional is instead considering a proposal to host the event in 2016, ’18 and ’20.
That leaves officials from the Tiger Woods Foundation, which both stages and benefits from the event, searching for another course at least for the odd years — and perhaps annually.
Alternating courses isn’t unprecedented, either for this event or on the PGA Tour. The Barclays, a New Jersey-based tournament, rotates among four courses in the New York metropolitan area. The AT&T National took a hiatus from Washington in 2010 and ’11 while Congressional redid its greens in preparation for the 2011 U.S. Open. During those years, Woods’s foundation held the event at Aronimink Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia.
The move to Philadelphia shows the willingness and ability to stage the tournament elsewhere. But last year, Paul Cody, Aronimink’s president, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Aronimink is more interested in pursuing a major championship than it is in hosting Woods’s regular tour stop again. In an e-mail earlier this month, Cody said, “Aronimink has not changed its interest or position since then.”
Still, Philadelphia has several other worthy courses. Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., which this summer is hosting a new LPGA Tour event and sits just outside Baltimore, is another possibility.
Washington has other potential sites, too, including TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, which sits across the street from Congressional and hosted the area’s PGA Tour stop every year but one from 1987 to 2006. It also underwent a renovation since it last hosted a PGA Tour event in 2006. Woods, though, has preferred the prestige of Congressional for his tournament.
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville has hosted the Presidents Cup four times, so Woods is familiar with it. Officials from Woods’s foundation and the PGA Tour also have visited Trump National in Sterling, which sits on the Potomac River.
Whatever the venue, the event will have a new name next year. AT&T’s sponsorship deal runs out with this year’s event, and earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Woods’s foundation was nearing a deal with Quicken Loans to take over as a sponsor, perhaps beginning with this summer’s tournament. An AT&T spokesman declined to comment on the arrangement. The company already sponsors the tour’s annual stop at Pebble Beach and has signed on as a sponsor of the annual Byron Nelson Classic beginning in 2015, an event staged in AT&T’s home city of Dallas.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Tuesday that the tour is closing in on solidifying the standing of Woods’s event.
“We are well into the process to define the future there sponsorship-wise and venue-wise,” Finchem said during a conference call with reporters announcing an extension between the tour and Wells Fargo to continue sponsoring its Charlotte stop. “It’d be premature for me to answer specifically at this moment, but we should be able to clarify all of that for you in the very near future, maybe as soon as in the next 10 days.”
With the 2015 event preliminarily scheduled to be held in late July or early August, both the Tiger Woods Foundation and Congressional began looking for alternatives. That part of the summer coincides with some of Congressional’s heaviest member play, and the heat of summer is less than ideal for maintaining prime course conditions.
Some Congressional members, too, have been wary of giving up the famed Blue Course annually, particularly after the club hosted the 2011 U.S. Open. That endeavor also prevented play on the intermingling Gold Course, which housed corporate suites and other infrastructure, for much of the summer.
But Congressional’s board has been urging the membership to approve the every-other-year proposal, in large part because club receives a site fee of $1.275 million, the highest on tour, every year it hosts the event.
“We consider this to be a strong financial benefit for the club,” Congressional President Steve Durante said that night, according to a transcript of the meeting. “We also think that the change to the alternate-year format is a comforting change.”
Greg McLaughlin, the CEO of the Tiger Woods Foundation and the tournament’s director, made a presentation at that meeting. Woods has since announced that McLaughlin is leaving his post at the foundation for a job with the PGA Tour.
The measure needs a simple majority of Congressional’s membership to pass, with the mail-in ballots due March 30. A previous extension to host the tournament from 2012 to 2014 passed by a narrow margin.