Tiger Woods’s annual pre-tournament appearance at Congressional Country Club came Monday, and the scene that played out — Woods, with a microphone, sitting comfortably before a throng of media members, club officials and others in a large hall at the center of the opulent clubhouse — felt at many levels customary. Woods helped save PGA Tour golf in the Washington area by bringing the AT&T National to Congressional in 2007, and his affiliation with the event and the Bethesda club has helped the tournament become a fixture on the District’s sporting calendar.
“It’s really gone by quickly,” said Greg McLaughlin, the president and chief executive of the Tiger Woods Foundation, which the tournament supports.
Woods won the 2012 title, and he’ll come to this year’s event re-established as the world’s No. 1 player, winner of four events on tour this year. But even as he arrived at Congressional Monday in his finest form since the AT&T National first played in Washington, Woods knows the future of his foundation’s signature event is approaching a crossroads. The seventh AT&T National will be staged June 27-30 at Congressional, and there will be an eighth there next summer. Beyond that, much is to be determined.
“That’s something that we are obviously addressing now, and we’re certainly going to continue with that,” Woods said Monday. “We like being here. This has been a fantastic venue for us, and it certainly has allowed us to contribute to the communities and fund some programs around the country. I think it’s a wonderful showcase to have a course that has hosted five major championships, as difficult as it is. We’d like to stay here. As I said, it’s an ongoing conversation.”
The conversation has many prongs. Congressional, which hosted its third U.S. Open in 2011, is unquestionably the most prestigious venue for tournament golf in the region. As McLaughlin said Monday, “The whole idea when Tiger and I were talking about this early on when we had the opportunity to put it together, it was the only place that really came to his mind that he would consider playing was at Congressional, and we were lucky enough to get it.”
This fall, though, Congressional’s membership — roughly 1,800 strong — will vote on whether to bring the tournament back from 2015 to ’17, a three-year option written into the contract between the club and Woods’s foundation. AT&T’s sponsorship agreement with the event expires after 2014. So there is much to determine before Woods’s stay here becomes more permanent.
“I’m not in the prediction business,” said Greg Lamb, Congressional’s president. “There are a lot of members who love hosting this event. And there are others who feel, ‘Oh, you’re taking our golf course away,’ which I understand, too. And it’s not just a financial decision.”
The finances, though, are significant on both ends. Congressional receives the highest site fee of any event on tour, according to industry sources. That helps the club, but it also impacts the benefit to Woods’s foundation, which could commit more money to programming and charitable support — the foundation maintains two campuses of the Tiger Woods Learning Center at District schools and doles out college scholarships to area students — if it paid less money to a host course.
From that standpoint, TPC Avenel at Potomac Farms, located across the street from Congressional, could be a perfect fit. The PGA Tour owns the facility, which was much maligned when it hosted the area’s tour stop every year but one from 1987 to 2006. But it has since undergone a massive $32 million renovation that might make it more palatable as an annual stop, and the rent would be cheaper for Woods’s foundation.
Beyond that, there are no facilities within a few miles of the Beltway that would likely be deemed appropriate. Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville has hosted the Presidents Cup, but it’s more than 35 miles from downtown Washington. Trump National Golf Club in Sterling underwent a complete overhaul when Donald Trump bought the facility, right on the Potomac River, but that is 25 miles from downtown. Congressional, by contrast, is just a dozen miles from downtown and is directly off the Beltway, providing by far the easiest access for a majority of spectators.
Still, Woods knows that other options must be considered. When Congressional needed a two-year hiatus in 2010 and ’11 — first to redo its greens, then to host the U.S. Open — Woods’s foundation staged the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., just outside Philadelphia. Players raved about the Donald Ross design, but the foundation has long preferred Washington as a market.
“There’s certainly options out there, whether it’s in Philly or it’s in the D.C.-Baltimore area,” Woods said. “There’s certainly opportunities out there. That’s something that we’re going to have to work through.”
The club, too, is working through its internal thinking. The vote to host the original tournament, organized hastily in 2007, was close. But after staging the U.S. Open — an enormous undertaking that not only took a toll on the Blue Course but took the adjacent Gold Course out of play for months because merchandise tents and other infrastructure were built on it — the membership had a different perspective when the AT&T National returned last year, Lamb said.
“Last year, right after, you could kind of compare both of them, and you can say, ‘Wow, this is not bad,’” Lamb said. AT&T National organizers “do such a great job of set-up and tear-down. Thirty days after the tournament, they’re gone. . . . It just doesn’t have the impact that a major has. Now, we want to host another major.”
That, however, is unlikely to happen before 2026 — when the U.S. Golf Association has some interest in bringing back the Open to the nation’s capital for the country’s 250th birthday. Before that, Congressional, Woods and both their teams must decide whether they’re a long-term fit as partners to keep PGA Tour golf in Washington.