Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Avenel hoping $20 million overhaul will lure back Tour

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Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
TPC Avenel in Potomac has been plagued by drainage problems. Owned by the PGA Tour, Avenel plansto refurbish in time to attract future AT&T Nationals.
As the now-defunct Booz Allen Classic limped to its soggy end last year, critics of TPC Avenel in Potomac, the tournament’s home for nearly 20 years, had reason to feel justified.

Four days of rain not only forced the first Tuesday finish on the PGA Tour in 26 years, but as Ben Curtis walked down the 18th fairway on his way to victory, his shoes squeaked under a water-logged course unable to handle the elements.

But that may change soon enough.

‘‘We look good to start renovations,” said TPC Avenel superintendent Chad Adcock. ‘‘We are in the process of finishing the permitting.”

The course, which is owned by the PGA Tour, will have a hearing on July 12 before the Montgomery County Planning Board. If those plans are approved, renovations should begin in August.

The fact that most of the major changes to the course come in the final nine holes, may be a nod to the need to compete with Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, where the AT&T National, hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation, is being played next week.

After winning the Booz Allen Classic in 2005, Sergio Garcia called the back nine on the famed Blue Course at Congressional, where the event was played that year, ‘‘probably the best nine holes in a row that I have played in my life.”

The hope at Avenel is that in two years, PGA Tour players may say the same thing about its course. With Congressional hosting the U.S. Amateur in 2009 and the U.S. Open in 2011, a refurbished Avenel may be open in time to lure the AT&T National. Renovations are scheduled to take 12-14 months.

‘‘It will be a much better layout,” Adcock said. ‘‘I know that Tiger said that he would like to stay at Congressional, but if they can’t host the [AT&T National] in ’09 and ’11, and they look for another venue, we would like to be that venue.

‘‘I know that the membership here was proud of their Tour stop, and was disappointed to lose it,” he said. ‘‘They want it back.”

One of the major changes to the course will be to its ability to handle extreme weather.

‘‘We are going to restore Rock Run Stream [which runs through the course] to the size and status that it had a few hundred years ago,” Adcock said. ‘‘We are also going to add about 12 to 14 acres of wetlands, so that the course can handle the once-in-a-generation storm, like the one we had last year.”

The PGA Tour has set aside $20 million to make extensive changes to a course that has received poor reviews from several PGA Tour players since it opened in 1987. The Booz Allen Classic — once known as the Kemper Open and FBR Capital Classic for a year — was held at Avenel annually from 1987 to 2006 with the exception of 2005.

Due to the lack of enthusiasm, Avenel’s signature event, the Booz Allen Classic, failed each year to draw many of the top players in golf. That lack of star power was one of the contributing factors to the tournament’s demise.

‘‘The game changed considerably over the last 20 years,” Dennis Ingram, the former superintendent at Avenel told The Gazette last year. ‘‘The landing areas, as they were designed to be, are basically obsolete. ... It becomes an unfair advantage for longer players versus the normal players.

‘‘What we’re trying to do, like all other championship courses, is modernize it and fit it to today’s golfers,” he said.

As a result, Adcock, who joined the club at the beginning of the year, after serving for a stint as superintendent of Canon Ridge Golf Club in Virginia, is overseeing a total rehab of many of the holes on the course.

For starters, all of the greens will be torn up and replaced by bent grass, which will provide a truer roll. In another radical change, the par-3 11th hole will be incorporated into a new 10th hole, which will become a more challenging par 5.

‘‘In a lot of ways that old 11th hole was seen as an afterthought,” Adcock said. ‘‘Also, it had a lot of tee boxes, and it often caused a bottleneck on the course. ... Making it part of a new 10th hole will allow for a better flow of play.”

Another hole that often came under scrutiny was the 13th hole, a short par 5 that had two fairways running through it.

The 13th hole will become a par 3, while the 14th hole, becomes a longer par 4.

‘‘We are swapping a par 3 and a par 4 early [in the back nine] for a par 5,” Adcock said, ‘‘and we are getting rid of a par 5 later. It should allow for a more satisfying finish.”