Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Local golf icon Ben Brundred passes away

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Ben Brundred, the man responsible for establishing the county's first PGA Tour event, died Friday of a heart attack. Brundred, who was 83 years old, was laid to rest Wednesday, but his accomplishments in the local golf world live on.

‘‘When you think of Babe Ruth, you think of baseball. When you think of Ben Brundred, you think of golf,” said Charlie Brotman of Brotman Winter Fried Communications, who spent many years working with Brundred in promoting and running the county's PGA Tour tournament. ‘‘He is the man. Without him, we wouldn't have gotten anything here. He's just spectacular. We're all grieving because of this. He's an extension of every golfer in the area.”

Brundred began his affiliation with the Tour's local stop, known as the Kemper Open (1980-2002), then the FBR Capital Open (2003) and finally the Booz Allen Classic (2004-2006) before Booz Allen pulled its sponsorship and the event folded, in 1980. It was a culmination of his foray into the Washington-area golf scene after heading east from his native Pasadena, Calif., to Potomac in 1960 because of a job opportunity.

During those 20 years, Brundred became the president of the Maryland State Golf Association and was also a chairman of the 1976 PGA Championship played at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. In the meantime, Brundred, an avid golfer from age 6, became a member of Congressional in 1964 and eventually became the club's president in 1979. A year later, he helped facilitate the move of the PGA Tour's Kemper Open from Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte, N.C. to Congressional in 1980. The tournament remained there until it was moved next door to the newly built Tournament Players Club at Avenel in 1987.

In 1986, at the behest of Jim Kemper, founder of Kemper National Insurance Companies in Long Grove, Ill. and a longtime Brundred friend, and Steven H. Lesnik, the founder, chairman and principal stockholder of KemperSports Management and KemperLesnik Communications, Brundred became the tournament's general chairman a month prior to the 1986 Kemper.

During his tenure as the tournament's general chairman, Brundred helped smooth the transition from historic Congressional to Avenel, including the challenging 1987 tournament plagued by poor course conditions brought on by the newness of the course and nightmarish weather conditions, and helped transform the event, which raised thousands of dollars for charity each year, into something the entire Washington region looked forward to every May.

Brundred stepped down as the general chairman in 2000, but stayed very much involved with the event, using his influence and people skills to secure player commitments to both the tournament and to tournament functions such as the Pro-Ams. He also continued to help market the tournament.

‘‘He was the nicest man,” said Aubrey Warren, who worked under Brundred for 12 years at the tournament. ‘‘Everyone loved Ben. He coaxed many golfers to come who came just because they liked him as a human being. It's very hard for all us.”