The nation’s capital has always deserved better than the PGA Tour

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The PGA Tour returned to town this week after a four-year absence. When – or if – he will return is an open question, with no one from the tour giving any indication that he is a priority.

This is, after all, the nation’s capital. It’s also a hotbed of golf and a place that, in the past, drew huge crowds, regardless of the quality of the championship courses. However, thanks to countless mistakes and a lack of sponsorship, the next PGA Tour event scheduled in this region is the PGA Championship – in 2031.

The only reason Wells Fargo is here this week is because its regular location, Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, hosts the Presidents Cup in the fall, and the tour—which loves to sell people on the idea that the Presidents Cup is somehow important—I don’t want two events there in the same year.

This region has come a long way – in the wrong direction – over the past 42 years.

When Deane Beman was the tour commissioner, he desperately wanted to hold an annual event in this area. There were two reasons: Beeman believed the Tour should have a presence in the nation’s capital, grew up in the area, and graduated from the University of Maryland before going on to win four times on the Tour.

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Beeman was the main reason the Tour came to Maryland in 1980, when the Kemper Open was transferred from Charlotte to the Congress Country Club.

The pitches were strong, the attendance was excellent and everything was fine. In fact, five of the top six winners were major champions, including Greg Norman, who won 1984 and 1986.

But then, Beeman and the round jumped on the shark. Beeman’s dream of building a golf course near where he grew up, as part of his network of championship players, came true when TBC Avenil opened in 1986. A year later, the Kimber Open moved to Avenil, a decision that turned out to be Penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Since Flight owned Avenel, there was no rental. But the golf course was faulty and nearly not ready for the PGA Tour event. The best summation of the players’ attitude towards Avenel was Davis Love III. He said, “Avenil isn’t a bad golf course, unless you have to bypass Congress to get here.”

The fields got worse and worse, though the attendance remained splendid. Norman stopped coming after he said the ninth hole of Avenil “must be blown up.”

When Chicago-based Kemper abandoned the event after the 2002 tournament, two local companies stepped in to keep him alive: Friedman, Billings, Ramsay for a year, followed by Booz Allen. But in 2005, when the tour overhauled its schedule, Booz Allen was offered an October date – meaning she wouldn’t be part of the new FedEx Cup schedule. The fall date – in the middle of the football season and without real incentive for the top players – was untenable. Booz Allen said no thanks, and the last Booz Allen Classic was held in 2006.

Appropriately, that tournament ended on Tuesday after several days of heavy rain, with the public not allowed to see the result. The rainy empty golf course was a reflection of the extent of the tournament’s downfall. The one thing it has in common with the scintillating event once hosted by Congress is that the winner – Ben Curtis – was a major hero.

Just when it looked like the Tour was leaving the metropolitan area for good, fate—and care—came to the rescue. The International, an event held outside of Denver, was also suffering from sponsorship. Believing his event wasn’t sufficiently supported by the PGA Tour, tournament founder Jack Vickers folded it.

By that time, Tiger Woods was the dominant golfer. He wanted his own event, none other than Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Commissioner Tim Finchem thought this was a brilliant idea, and Congress was willing to host again for the highest rental fee for the tour and Woods’ presence.

But the relationship between the Tour, Woods and the club had begun to run south even before the infamous Woods car accident in November of 2009. At a “city council meeting” to discuss contract renewal in 2008, a number of members expressed concern that the club would give up for a week in the middle of summer. When the school is out, regardless of rent fees. Finchim said the tournament’s sponsor, AT&T, held an event in Atlanta in May that was about to leave and the tournament would likely be moved earlier in the year. Atlanta is gone, but the capital’s history hasn’t been moved until before Memorial Day.

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But the moment that more or less sealed the relationship between Woods and membership came when someone asked Woods why the club wanted to host a midsummer event. Woods looked shocked. “Why wouldn’t you like to host this event?” answered.

For the record, I am a member of Congress. I voted to renew the contract and it was barely renewed — by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

Woods’ relationship with the club began to unravel after the incident. AT&T withdrew from the role of lead sponsor in 2014 and was replaced by Quicken Loans. The last time the tournament was held in Congress was in 2016. A year later, after the event returned to the redesigned Avenil (now known as TBC Potomac at Avignal Farms), Quicken Loans notified the tour that it would no longer be a title sponsor, which The tournament has not been moved to the company’s headquarters in Detroit. The tournament was held another year in Avenell – without a title sponsor – and then disappeared.

That year, I asked new PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan if he thought there would be a tournament in Washington in 2019. “Yes, I think we’ll find a sponsor,” Monahan said. He smiled and said, “I can sell anything.”

Apparently, Monahan was unable to sell the nation’s capital to American corporations. The tour goes where the sponsorship money leads. Perhaps the polarized political climate makes the region inhospitable to companies who want nothing more than good news and talk of their charitable work during television broadcasts of the tours.

It’s also possible that the tour doesn’t care much about leisure here as long as it has a full schedule. Except for the pre-Avenil and early Woods years – all in Congress – the tour treated the metropolitan area as an AAA city.

Much of the problem is due to a premature move to Avignel in 1987. The Love streak still remains in the touring driving ranges. The irony is that it was Love who redesigned the golf course in 2008. Most of those who have played the reconstructed course love it.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Rory McIlroy after running on Tuesday for the first time. “It’s tough, but fair. I think playing here every year would be a good thing for the tour.”

McIlroy is a member of the Tour Policy Council. Perhaps he can get Monahan and his sales team to push harder to find a title sponsor.

In the meantime, judging the district over a rainy weekend with a decent but not surprising stadium – McIlroy is the top 10 participating players – would be unfair. Then again, the tour has rarely been fair to Washington.

The tour will leave town on Sunday. It may not come back for a long time.

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