As play begins, event's future uncertain

Booz Allen Classic

June 22, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

POTOMAC -- After going to Congressional Country Club in 1980, the Kemper Open became a must-play event on the PGA Tour schedule. Though the move seven years later to the nearby Tournament Players Club at Avenel lessened its popularity among the players, it still seemed to be one of the tour's more stable events.

Now it's teetering on extinction.

Uncertainty is the dominant theme going into today's opening round of the Booz Allen Classic, the third year under that corporate logo after one year as the short-lived FBR Capital Open. The sub-plot is a noticeable lack of big names, with no players among the top 20 in the world rankings.

In a teleconference with reporters yesterday, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said that he remains hopeful that an event close to the nation's capital will be on the schedule next fall and, if a title sponsor can't be found in time, then in the near future. Finchem said a May 15 deadline to secure a sponsor has been extended.

"We haven't set a drop-dead date," Finchem said. "It's hard to imagine a situation that would go past the middle of September at the very latest."

Finchem added that a proposed $18 million-to-$20 million plan to renovate the course and facilities should begin after the tour secures the proper permits at a Montgomery County zoning meeting scheduled next month. Finchem said the tour is not solely responsible for the event either being moved to the fall next year or eliminated.

"The bottom line is that we were not comfortable, and neither was Booz Allen in continuing a date structure that has historically led to an event that would not be the kind of event on a number of levels that we'd like to see over the long term in the nation's capital," Finchem said. "We wanted the opportunity to do something better."

Booz Allen officials had balked at the tour's plan to move the event to the fall, after the conclusion of the FedEx Cup series that beginning next year will lead up to the Tour Championship, and decided not to renew its contract.

If this is the last tour event in the nation's capital for the foreseeable future, its regular participants will be sorry to see it go.

"We're a very big market here," said Fred Funk, who grew up in College Park, where he later played for and coached at the University of Maryland. "We should be in our nation's capital. I don't think you have to say anything more than that."

Former PGA champion Rich Beem, who won his first tour event at Avenel in 1999, was even more blunt.

"If we don't get another tournament back here, I will be extremely disappointed in our leadership at the PGA Tour," Beem said. "I think it would take away some of my confidence in their ability to effectively lead this tour."

Meanwhile, this year's tournament begins with little fanfare today. With defending champion Sergio Garcia of Spain withdrawing Monday because of a recurring back injury, thus joining former champion Adam Scott and Chris DiMarco among the more prominent pullouts, it leaves Funk and former champion Tom Kite, already a member of the Champions Tour, as two of the biggest draws in the field.

Only two players are ranked in the world's top 25, Padraig Harrington and Kenny Perry.

"I get tired of hearing that," said Funk, who turned 50 last week. "We go to different venues around the country that aren't blessed with Phil, Vijay, Tiger. There's a great group of players here. I don't consider any field on the tour a weak field. A winning score is going to be pretty much the same whether it's [ones of the big names] or they're not here."

Funk has come close to winning at Avenel once, taking a lead into the final round in 1998 before fading. Perhaps the uncertainty of this year's event will help a player on the verge of making his Champions Tour debut.

"Seems like my history of tournaments I've won, they've either gotten rid of the tournament or they moved the date," said Funk, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year's Players Championship. "So I should win this week by default."

don.markus@baltsun.com

Booz Allen Classic

When --Today-Sunday

Where --TPC at Avenel, Potomac

Directions from Baltimore --Take I-95 south to I-495 west toward Silver Spring. Take Exit 39 toward Potomac and turn left onto Bradley Boulevard. Continue on Oaklyn Drive and follow signs for parking.

Tickets --Daily starting at $40, weeklong starting at $150

Information -- boozallenclassic.com or 301-469-3737

TEE TIMES

First round

First hole

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