Tiger Woods’ commitment this week to play in the AT&T National golf tournament next month in Bethesda is a boost to local hotels, restaurants and other businesses, area executives say.
“We’ve seen a bump in bookings since Tiger announced he would play,” said Selim Soliman, general manager of the 270-room Doubletree Hotel Bethesda and a board member of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. “We are probably up about 10 percent from the same time when the AT&T tournament last played here.”
That would be 2009, when Woods himself won the event. The AT&T National, which started in 2007 in Bethesda, moved to Newtown Square, Pa., in 2010 and 2011 to allow Congressional Country Club to prepare for last year’s U.S. Open. This year’s event is scheduled for the last week in June.
Woods made the announcement at a news conference Monday at Congressional that was heavily attended by media and supporters of the Tiger Woods Foundation, the beneficiary of the tournament.
Woods said he was “headed in the right direction” after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, his first PGA-sanctioned tournament victory in almost three years. That was when stories about Woods’ extramarital affairs came out, and he has since been divorced and sustained some injuries.
Woods has the third most all-time PGA tournament wins with 72, one behind Jack Nicklaus and 10 behind the late Sam Snead.
“You have to understand, even when I’ve had some really good years, whether it was in the early 2000s or mid-2000s ... I still felt like I could improve,” said Woods, 36, looking composed and relaxed in a tie-less suit in a banquet room at Congressional. “If I get more efficient at what I’m doing, then I’m going to win golf tournaments.”
Despite his winning drought, Woods’ presence still generates excitement and big bucks. He ranked second on this year’s list by Forbes magazine of the highest-paid athletes, with $58 million in earnings from salaries, bonuses, prize money, appearance fees, and licensing and endorsement income between May 2011 and this month. Boxer Manny Pacquaio topped the list with $67 million, while NBA star LeBron James was third with $53 million.
The AT&T event in 2009 generated an estimated $29.1 million in direct and indirect spending in the county, with some 23,000 spectators, golfers and others staying overnight in the county, according to a study commissioned by the Montgomery County Department of Business and Economic Development.
In 2008, when Woods did not play and about 90,000 fewer spectators attended than in 2009, the total impact was estimated at $16.8 million.
The U.S. Open, which is being played in San Francisco this year, generated an economic impact of between $130 million and $150 million for Montgomery County hotels, restaurants, shops and other businesses last year, according to the U.S. Golf Association and Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County.
The U.S. Open also was at Congressional in 1997 and 1964. Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase hosted the event in 1921, while Baltimore Country Club was host in 1899.
“This is a busy time anyway for tourism,” said Ginanne Italiano, president and CEO of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chamber. “It’s great for the community to have this event back here. Montgomery County has so many golf courses, which are attractions in themselves. [The AT&T event] helps bring in fans to play on our courses, not just at Congressional.”
Besides hotels, restaurants and retailers, taxi and limousine companies generally receive a boost from the tournament, said Kelly Groff, executive director of the Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County.
Other tourney winners expected to return
This year’s AT&T National, which has a purse of $6.5 million, is expected to include four of the five previous champions: Woods; last year’s winner Nick Watney; 2010 champ Justin Rose; and 2007 victor K.J. Choi. Anthony Kim, who won in 2008, is taking “an indefinite leave” due to injuries, said Gregory McLaughlin, tournament director and president and CEO of the Tiger Woods Foundation in Irvine, Calif.
Other notable players who have committed to the tournament include Hunter Mahan, who is rated sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking as of May 20, one spot ahead of Woods; Adam Scott, ranked 13th; and Louis Oosthuizen, ranked 15th. Rose is rated 10th, Watney 26th and Choi 29th.
The Tiger Woods Foundation operates several learning centers to mentor underprivileged youth and introduce them to golf. Two are in Washington, D.C., with others in Philadelphia, Florida and California. The foundation also provides scholarships to students such as Darryl Robinson, a freshman at Georgetown University who was at Congressional this week.
The mentor provided by the foundation helped Robinson in chemistry and other courses, he said.
“The public schools [in the District] didn’t push me hard enough to be what I needed to be,” Robinson said. “I couldn’t understand the basic level of chemistry that was expected for every student in my course.”
Woods said he felt the same after attending public schools in California and then enrolling at Stanford University.
“The first couple of quarters were definitely eye-opening at the level of intensity and level of preparedness that one needed to enter college,” he said. “What we are trying to do with the Earl Woods Scholars … is much needed.”
Not being able to play at the U.S. Open in Congressional last year because of injuries was really hard on him, Woods said.
“I would have played if I could have,” he said. “But unfortunately, I was in a position where I really couldn’t play. It’s tough, because I missed out on a golf course that I know and that I’ve won on and that I like. So with those factors, it was difficult to sit back and watch. What [last year’s U.S. Open winner] Rory [McIlroy] did was just absolutely extraordinary.”
The Congressional course can be long, Woods said.
“It’s a big ballpark,” he said. “You have to drive the ball well to get into some of these flags, but once you get on the greens, there’s a lot of pitch to these greens, a lot of movement.”
Corporate partners of the AT&T tournament include Bethesda military and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and Pentagon Federal Credit Union, which has a branch in Hanover. Lockheed will have a tent during the tournament for active duty and retired military service members.