In Booz Allen, matter of course

Hallowed Congressional, called `true test' of game, draws 8 of world's top 10

Golf

June 09, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

BETHESDA - To many pros in this week's Booz Allen Classic, there's a single word that explains why this year's tournament has drawn eight of the top 10 golfers in the world and 17 of the top 25.

Congressional.

The 81-year-old country club in Montgomery County has played host to some of the sport's grandest events.

Using words such as "classic," "traditional" and "wonderful," several players agreed that the move of the tournament to Congressional from TPC at Avenel in Potomac is what attracted its strongest field in recent memory.

"I've always said that having a great golf course ensures a strong field," said Nick Price, who last played in the Booz Allen in 1997, when it was known as the Kemper Open and played at Avenel.

"Scheduling is one thing, but if you play tournaments on good golf courses, the good players will come, and I think that's very evident this week. ... I think if you go and ask the guys, `How much are we playing for this week?' they won't be able to tell you.

"That just gives you an indication that guys really aren't concerned about the money. It's more about the quality of the golf course."

Said reigning U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, who will be playing in the Booz Allen for the first time: "I think a lot of guys are very happy that this [tournament] is at this course. I think guys would love to play on this type of course more often. This is a true test of your golf, and you cannot really get away with any bad part of your game."

Since the PGA Tour announced last year that the Booz Allen would be moving to Congressional and would be held a week before the U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C., anticipation among the players has grown steadily.

While Congressional - which hosted the Kemper Open from 1980 to 1986 - and Avenel -- which has been the site of the Kemper and Booz Allen since then - share similar features such as thick rough and deep bunkers, many pros said the differences are great.

For one thing, many of the fairways on the par-71, 7,232-yard Blue Course at Congressional are narrower and some are thickly lined by trees that force players to think carefully on the tee. The par-71, 7,005-yard Avenel layout is more open.

Four of the 11 par-4 holes at Avenel are less than 400 yards in length. Only one of Congressional's 11 par-4 holes doesn't reach the 400-yard mark.

"Avenel is more of a ball-beater's course," said Billy Mayfair, who recorded back-to-back top-10 finishes in this event in 1993 and 1994. "The guy that hits the farthest there has a big advantage because he can carry it farther and hit shorter irons. With only three par-5s here, it's not really for the long hitter. It's not as big of an advantage as you would have at Avenel."

The players also said that the greens at Congressional have a greater slope and are tougher than those at Avenel.

"I think the greens are a lot more difficult here," said Steve Stricker, who won this event in 1996 at Avenel. "If you get it on the wrong side here on some of these pins, you're going to have a tough time getting up and down."

For the veteran players, competing at Congressional is a chance to revisit the site of the 1964 and 1997 U.S. Opens, the 1976 PGA Championship, the 1995 U.S. Senior Open and seven Kemper Opens from 1980 to 1986.

Ernie Els, the world's third-ranked golfer, who won the 1997 Open, said the course won't yield as many birdies as Avenel.

"This one is an old-style beast," he said. "You have to grind it out."

Congressional has also created fans among the younger generation of pros, such as Adam Scott, the tournament's 2004 champion, who is making his first visit.

"It's a challenging, championship golf course," he said. "It's obviously a week you want to come and play. You want to play Congressional. If they're holding a U.S. Open here [in 2011], you know there's something special about it."

At a glance

What: Booz Allen Classic

Site: Congressional Country Club, Bethesda

When: Today through Sunday

TV: USA (today, tomorrow); chs. 2, 7 (Saturday, Sunday).

Purse: $5 million, with $900,000 to winner

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