"We couldn't be happier with the TOUR's newest title sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton," said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. "Since moving to the Washington, D.C. area in 1980, this tournament has established itself as one of the TOUR's outstanding events. And with the history of charitable giving that is the hallmark of both the D.C. event and its new title sponsor, we expect great success on all fronts from the Booz Allen Open." - PGA Tour Staff, August 12, 2003
The commissioner has signed his scorecard. You might say it’s a keeper.
The announcement Wednesday culminates a major shake-up in the structure of the PGA Tour, which also revamped its schedule to create a season-long points race and a blockbuster finish designed to get Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other stars to play together more often.
And while financial terms with CBS Sports and NBC Sports were not disclosed, commissioner Tim Finchem conceded that prize money that was escalating at a bullish rate will flatten over the next six years.
Two of the most surprising moves are Greensboro, the city where I was born and raised, and Washington, our home for the past dozen years. Golf fans in the heart of the Tar Heel State are very pleased while Mid-Atlantic golfers feel something like an ambassador just given an assignment to the South Pole.
Starting in 2007, Greensboro is on tap for an unexpected promotion from the silly season to an August date that would make it the final qualifying event before the new “Championship Series.” (a “lucrative four-event “playoff” for the FedEx Cup that ends with THE TOUR Championship”).
Tournament officials here were handcuffed and taken to the commissioner’s holding tank. If sponsor Booz Allen is lucky, Finchem will give them a date on the Tour’s new fall series called the “Quest for the Card.” (a “series of about seven tournaments on the Golf Channel that will give players a chance to finish in the top 125 on the money list and keep their cards”). If not, the tournament could be dropped.
The fortunes of a city/region and their professional golf tournament can come and go like a player’s game. The tournament’s management, sponsor, history, course, TV coverage, facilities, purse and date on the schedule are all factors in trying to lure the best possible field. But which matter the most and how did Greensboro end up in the middle of the fairway while Washington finds itself deep in the rough?
The Greensboro tournament has a long and rich history. Officially called the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro for the past several years and the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic from 1996 to 2002, some of its fans avoid the confusion and still call it “the GGO.” The tournament is, to say the least, an institution in the Gate City.
(For more on the tournament and its history, read Randy Harris's blog)
The Greater Greensboro Open made its debut in 1938. The first stop on a tour that featured 10 tourneys, it paid a purse of $5,000. Tournaments love big name winners and Greensboro proudly claims The Big Three of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead as early champions. You can call it Sammy’s tournament if you like. The Slammer won it a record eight times.
In the 1960s, golf became more than just a game for the country club set. The exciting play of Arnold Palmer and television coverage brought about a golfing boom. I picked up my first stick around this time. Nothing fancy. Just a used chipping iron my brother-in-law gave me and the backyard course I designed. Then on to Pines Par 3 on the outskirts of the city and weekend afternoons spent watching the pros on TV. There was something fascinating about the way they could hit that little white ball with both power and finesse.
The GGO moved from Starmount Country Club to Sedgefield, an appealing suburban layout designed by Donald Ross in 1925. We lived just a couple of miles away. I think my first tournament was sometime around 1968. I remember the excitement of walking with Arnie’s Army. Lee’s Flea had fun listening to Trevino crack jokes. Gary Player brought his big grin and international appeal and won it in 1969 and 1970. Charlie Sifford made courageous history in 1961 when he became the first African-American to tee it up on the PGA Tour at Greensboro.
The tournament drew some excellent fields. It was held the week before the Masters so that meant we didn’t know Jack. (The Golden Bear made a rare appearance in 1964). And the late March, early April date (the tournament was moved to October in 2003), sometimes brought cold temps. But the date also worked in Greensboro’s favor. If a winless player won there, it gave him a ticket for the caravan to The Masters. (This special qualifier ended several years ago but the tour is thinking about bringing it back).
Like a lot of regular tournaments, Greensboro has had periods with good fields and some not so good. The purses have typically been very good but that doesn’t guarantee the top players will come. Sponsor’s Kmart and Chrysler have helped some and Kenny and CBS were always there. But still, it was tough to draw in the marquee names.
In 2002, tournament officials in Greensboro (the tourney is listed on the 2007 schedule as the Carolina Classic of Greensboro) got on the ball and hired Davis Love III for a redesign of Forest Oaks Country Club. Not an easy thing to tear up all that turf and not know exactly what will come out.
But the Jaycees gave thumbs up for DLIII’s nice work. They then made two smart moves detailed in this article by Justin Catanoso.
But PGA officials have been giving Greensboro a serious second look. They've been impressed with a newly constituted board of directors made up of the city's most affluent and influential corporate leaders, from VF Corp., United Guaranty and Jefferson-Pilot, among others.
And those leaders have pulled a coup of sorts, leveraging the clout of one of the most influential people in professional golf to lobby on their behalf -- Mark Steinberg, a top executive with sports-consultant giant IMG. He is best known as Tiger Woods' agent.
Geoff Shackelford noted the importance of the new leadership. (Be sure to check out Geoff’s golf blog).
I think the story on Greensboro and what they were told to do, pretty much sums up how the lineup came to fruition. The requirements had everything to do with business and nothing to do with market, history, course, tradition, etc... Which is understandable to some degree considering the position the Tour was in, but short sighted in the long term.
Tournament officials still have to acquire a new sponsor (Chrysler pulled out last week) but with their new date, it shouldn’t be a problem. And compared to the situation in Washington, Greensboro is sitting in the catbird seat.
In 1995, my wife and I moved from our tour of duty in Oman to our home here in suburban Washington. We’ve enjoyed playing on a variety of courses and at TopGolf Kingstowne, the first TopGolf facility (computerized target golf) in the country. The spectating has been outstanding too. We’ve attended three of the four Presidents Cup at the Robert Trent Jones course in Manassas (it’s a shame they can’t play the Booz Allen there), the U.S. Open at Congressional (or alternate) and several Kemper Open/Booz Allen Classics at Avenel.
Big time tournament golf in the region can be traced back to the early 30s. This was a time as Rhonda Glenn (Golf’s Golden Age) describes it when, “the headlines shifted from amateur golf to the professional tour, which was in its infancy.” In Washington, the National Capital Open was created in 1931. Legends such as Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Hogan played in the tournament.
In 1954, Washington hosted the National Celebrities Open. The purse was one of the highest on tour and the event capped off the summer season. But the tournament lasted just one year as other cities sweetened the pots with larger purses.
The men’s tour returned to Washington in 1980. Congressional, site of the U.S. Open in 1964 and 1997 and the PGA in 1976, hosted the Kemper Open from 1980 to 1986. Early winners include Craig Stadler, Fred Couples and Greg Norman. Jack, Tom and Seve collected runner-up checks. The combination of the prestigious course and the name players brought in huge galleries. The Kemper’s move from Charlotte was a smashing success.
Congressional, however, was a temporary solution. In 1987, the event moved across Persimmon Tree Road in Potomac, Maryland to the newly built TPC at Avenel. Designed by one of their own and owned by the players, the course had the appeal of amphitheatre viewing. Thomas Boswell praised it and the course even got one of those incredibly lucky christenings when Arnie made back to back aces in the Senior’s Tour 1986 Chrysler Cup competition.
The love affair with Avenel did not last very long. Some of the players said the course had opened a year or two too soon. Some of the holes came under scrutiny. The downhill, par 3, 9th seemed fit for a lot of fun. But in the 1987 tournament, Norman hurt his chances there with a double bogey. Responding to a goading question, the Shark said, “they should blow it up.”
Improvements were made to the greens and some favorable comments returned (usually from the winner) but it seems the damage was done.
Booz Allen (they’re a Northern Virginia-based global consulting firm) began their sponsorship of the tournament in 2004. They knew the challenges including the “Three On, One Off factor,” if you will. As the temps start to heat up, the top players will typically play one or two mid-May tournaments (for the longest time that was Byron and Ben’s Texas tourneys), Jack’s wonderful Memorial and then skip Washington to rest up/practice for the U.S. Open.
The Booz Allen has also been held after the Open, a less desirable date. This past year the tournament was the week before the Open. The venue shifted to Congressional, site of the 2011 U.S. Open. AAOTTS (Almost all of the top stars except Tiger - who like Nicklaus does not play the week before the Open) came here for the tune up (And as it turns out, to say “Thank you Washington, keep us posted on the course redesign and any new D.C. attractions.”)
Tournament officials here were led to believe that that D.C. still figured in the tour’s summer plans.
Booz Allen CEO Schrader:
When we entered into an agreement to be the title sponsor, we anticipated that certain things would happen according to a certain schedule," Booz Allen Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ralph Shrader said yesterday. "As time has gone by, that schedule has slipped, and that's disappointed us. I want to emphasize the fact that no contractual obligations have been violated, only our understanding of how things would evolve.
Perhaps no player has ever mouthed the words, but on the PGA Tour, there’s a certain “What have you done for me lately?” attitude. Billionaire Joe Hardy is re-writing the pamphlet on that one. He spared no expense to try and lure the top players to the three-year old 84 Lumber Classic, held at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa in Farmington, PA, (about 50 miles SE of Pittsburgh). Hardy built a “world-class resort” that includes the top rated Mystic Rock course, four-star lodging, and a luxury RV park (Hi John, the range is all yours). The player percs are amazing and Hardy has built relationships with the likes of Vijay Singh.
The tournament had been held in September but it will move to a mid June week in 2007. The Tour usually does not say that one tournament replaces another but it appears that the 84 Lumber Classic has done just that to the Washington stop.
Booz Allen officials must now decide if they want to continue as sponsors and accept a fall slot on the “Quest for the Card” series. The Commissioner tried to spin the change as something not so bad. It could be exciting to watch the hungry players but Washington has this NFL team called the Redskins. Even when they are lousy, as they were before the Joe Gibbs Rescue Tour arrived two years ago, 90,000 of Daniel Snyder’s best friends fill Fed-Ex Field and plenty more Washingtonians watch on TV. And if the Nationals are still in the hunt when the golfers arrive, Avenel might become known as “Have a Nail?”
I’m happy for my hometown. Greensboro got it together and was rightly rewarded for their efforts. Here in Washington it’s another story. The area has a booming population and economy, a history of hosting major golf events, a very good record with the men’s tour and a local sponsor that was praised by the commissioner.
Evidently, that was not enough. Washington did not make the cut.
Jay Roberts, once a 14 handicapper, hacks it around with his wife on 9 hole courses in Fairfax County, Virginia. He has attended tournaments in Greensboro, Pinehurst, Washington, Phoenix, Pebble Beach, Orlando, three U.S. Opens, three Presidents Cups and one British Open. He’d like to note that during his Greensboro research he got some serious cravings for a platter of Stamey’s BBQ and a cold bottle of Cheerwine.