By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeff Janas
POTOMAC, MD – For those familiar with the annual June PGA Tour event in the Washington DC area, you’ve probably noticed some changes occurring in the last couple years.
First off, the name’s different. Known as ‘The Kemper Open’ for a quarter-century, last year it was called the ‘FBR Capital Open,’ and for 2004 and the near future, it’ll be the ‘Booz Allen Classic.’ And while PGA Tour events sometimes switch monikers and title-sponsors in rapid-fire fashion, it’s rare when you draw a title sponsor with little name-recognition (at least to those outside the management consulting world), and perhaps even more atypical when that new title sponsor’s willing to risk so much to make those necessary alterations to the event in the first place.
|Stuart Appleby at the 2003 event.|
But the fact is, some changes were in order for the ‘Kemper’ tournament to remain in the Washington area and help it move with the times.
Golf fans attending recent years’ events probably haven’t noticed the need for change – attendance has remained in the 180-200,000 range for the four competitive days, which places it nicely amongst the high averages on Tour. But to the more serious observer, the ‘Kemper’ has been losing ground in the ever-competitive world of men’s professional golf, in terms of ‘name’ field participation and perhaps the most important statistic of all, charitable donations.
Steve Lesnik, Chief Executive Officer of Kemper Sports Management (which has operated the Washington area event since 1979) says the main ‘theme’ of the 2004 Booz Allen Classic will be change – and improvement. “Any title change, by definition, is traumatic,” Lesnik said. “On the other hand, after a quarter century, the move to Washington Golf Charities (the new host organization) and Booz Allen Hamilton has been a breath of fresh air – and they’ve basically revolutionized the tournament.”
“For all intents and purposes, it’s going to be a different tournament than it’s been in the past. It’s going to look and feel different. And from an entertainment standpoint, it’s going to a whole new level,” Lesnik added.
|TPC Avenel is a good place to watch golf -- here, the 2002 final pairing, Bob Burns (white) and winner Bob Estes.|
The greatest departure from the old days will occur in an area where most of the actual tournament-goers won’t even notice – in charitable giving. The ‘Kemper Open’ in the past several years has generated around $500,000 a year for charitable organizations – not a small number in itself, but when you divide that money between the local charities and Chicago’s (where Kemper Insurance is based), that’s a ‘paltry’ quarter-million for community outreach in our neck-of-the-woods.
That number was moving towards the lower end on the PGA Tour charitable giving scale, and took a certain level of prestige for the tournament down with it. In contrast, Washington Golf Charities and Booz Allen Hamilton are setting a $1 million annual fundraising goal, every cent of which stays right here in town. If you’re missing your calculator, that’s a 400% increase, hardly a small consideration.
The philosophical changes started at the top. According to Lesnik, the Booz Allen Classic has an interested, active, supportive title sponsor for the first time in a number of years. Booz Allen Hamilton is a large company, with over 15,000 employees worldwide and annual revenue of $2.7 billion – and its man in charge is Dr. Ralph Shrader, Chairman and CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton.
|Ireland's Padraig Harrington trudges through the mud at last year's event -- an all time record for rainfall in its 25-year history.|
Shrader says he’s often asked why Booz Allen is involved with a professional golf event, and he himself admits it’s something completely new and different for a company that’s never done any high profile publicity of this type, or any national advertising. He narrows it down to two words when synopsizing his firm’s motivations – ‘here’ and ‘better.’
“’Here’ means 9,000 or more of our total employees are based in the Washington, DC area,” Shrader said. “Our people are deeply involved in community activities, wherever they are -- but given this is our collective corporate home, we obviously put a lot of emphasis on the Washington area. So the ‘here’ part was an opportunity to do something for our local communities, where we could give back as an institution to this area and help build success right where we live.”
The ‘better’ part took no less consideration. Again, Shrader expounds: “As far as ‘better,’ we saw an opportunity to put a whole new face on this event from the charitable point-of-view. No longer would the funds raised be shared between this area and other areas – the money stays here. We’ve made a very serious commitment to look at how we could benefit Washington and how we could make this event even better, even more attractive, so we could do even more for the local communities in general.”
Also part of the ‘better,’ as Lesnik alluded to above, is upgrading the entertainment presentation at the Booz Allen Classic -- patrons and players will experience a different atmosphere than what they’ve seen in the past. “From the minute people step onto the property, it’s going to look different. We’ve built entrances that spectators will walk through to come onto the property. The concessions will be handled by Wolfgang Puck. Every aspect of the tournament aspires to be World Class. What has always been the Pavilion Club – we went so far as to level off the top of the hill so we could flatten it out and floor it, and build something spectacular. It’s just a whole new way of presenting the tournament.”
|Justin Leonard in 2002.|
More than that, there’s a commitment to making the changes permanent. Both Lesnik and Shrader reiterated that this is not a one-and-done deal. Booz Allen is signed on as title sponsor for three years, so there’s a solid foundation to build on.
Future considerations include improving the tournament’s reputation amongst the best Tour players as well as the fans. Last year, for example, the FBR Capital Open was held the week prior to the US Open. For that reason, players looking to maintain a competitive edge committed to the event – such as Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III, both world top-10 ranked players.
This year, however, with the first Booz Allen Classic coming the week after the US Open, the big names are staying away. Shrader, Lesnik and Washington Golf Charities are determined to build the tournament into an event that the major stars will want to attend and participate, regardless of its calendar dates.
|Chris DiMarco in 2003.|
Building that success, according to Shrader, is maintaining a connection to the past. “The key to building success for this event as the Booz Allen Classic means not divorcing ourselves from the success that was the Kemper Open -- but adding to it. This is a very important event – we have a tremendous passion for golf in the Washington area, which was established by the Kemper Open.”
Shrader continues, “One of the things we’re doing from a name recognition standpoint is moving away from the ‘Open’ in favor of ‘The Classic.’ And I think if we do well this year, and have good weather, and we have the event I think we’re going to have, then the Booz Allen Classic will be well established, and people will be talking about the ‘Classic’ going forward. The community’s going to understand that it’s a new name, logo and even the trophy – and they’re going to accept that. Our key is not to drive home the name, but the event as being the big charity experience in Washington.”
In addition to building on the Kemper’s reputation, the parties involved are willing to do some other types of ‘building’ as well. TPC Avenel, though a fine and challenging layout, lacks some of the aesthetic qualities of other Tour venues, and the facilities aren’t up to the standards of what draws today’s top players.
According to Lesnik, that too, is set for a change: “Two things affect who commits to coming and playing here – one is the position on the schedule, and the other is the venue – comprised of the golf course itself and the amenities available to the participants and their wives. It’s our goal and the goal of Booz Allen to try and improve the dates and the venue, in order to attract better and better fields of players.”
|Greg Norman was the leader going into the weekend in 2002.|
“The PGA Tour (which owns TPC Avenel) has assured us that they’re going to overhaul the club, on both counts – the golf course itself, so it’ll be more attractive to the players, but also the amenities, like access to the golf course, private areas for the players, locker room facilities, practice areas and interview areas. All in all, it’s going to be a place where they’ll want to come and play,” Lesnik said.
Shrader says he’s working with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem on dates, too: “In talking with the Commissioner on dates, he’s indicated to me that the Washington DC area is an extremely important market for the PGA Tour going forward. He gave me a commitment that he’ll work with us on those dates to ensure the success of this event. Next year, we’re back to the week before the US Open, which should help – and the fact the Open will be at Pinehurst is another good thing for us.”
“I’ve made the point to him (Finchem) that we’re going to do our best, and that Booz Allen will never be committed to anything mediocre. Only things that are outstanding, to things that are the best -- and we’re going to need his help to get there, and I believe the PGA Tour will cooperate with us on that,” Shrader said.
|2004 European Ryder Cup Captain Bernhard Langer played in Washington DC in 2003.|
Plans are in place to move the 2005 (and possibly the 2006) Booz Allen Classic to Congressional Country Club if Avenel is unavailable due to renovations work. Congressional is no stranger to the event, having hosted it for years before TPC Avenel was ready for play, as well as having held the US Open on its Blue Course in 1997.
It’s great to see that people like Shrader and Lesnik are hard at work on the Booz Allen Classic – this year’s tournament and those in the coming seasons. It may seem odd for now, but there’ll come a time in the not so distant future when we’ll think of PGA Tour golf in the Washington area, and not think ‘Kemper.’ Shrader, Lesnik and the many fine folks behind the Booz Allen Classic will make sure of it.
The Golfer behind Booz Allen Hamilton
In talking with Ralph Shrader, his passion for the ‘new’ golf event is clearly evident, and his sincerity to assist in charitable fundraising is also obvious.
|Duffy Waldorf would've tied for the lead last year, but instead was penalized two strokes on the 12th hole.|
What lies closely below the surface, however, is his love for the game of golf itself. Though hardly a strong motivating factor in steering Booz Allen towards sponsoring the Washington DC PGA Tour event, his interests in golf may have helped point him in that direction.
Shrader describes himself as a golf ‘enthusiast,’ having taken up the game seven years ago – mainly because his colleagues thought he should. Like all of us, he particularly enjoys the camaraderie between players during a round.
“We’ve built a lot of things at Booz Allen around the whole idea of golf,” Shrader said. “And when the opportunity to sponsor this event presented itself, it was comfortable because we had a great familiarity and understanding of the game. Golf created an atmosphere and environment where we were receptive to the idea.”
|2004 United States Ryder Cup Captain Hal Sutton also played here in 2003.|
He continues, “I’ve had a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot from playing golf. I’ve been fascinated by how much you can learn about people when you play in the same foursome – not only what they say, but what they do and how they act – it’s a great window into really understanding someone.”
For Shrader, golf’s brought people together, having participated in group golf trips to Ireland and Scotland – and all the other activities involved in such ventures, the dinners, bus rides to the next course, the friendships made and fostered. Golf’s the central point for a lot of what life’s about, a magnet that draws people together.
That ‘intangible’ quality is perhaps the hardest thing for non-golfers to understand, and Shrader himself admits back in the days before he started playing, he didn’t get it either. “Coming to golf late in life, I’m fascinated by the way I used to watch these great players and wonder why they sometimes came up short. You wonder, ‘what’s wrong with those guys?’, then, when you start playing, you understand and develop a much better appreciation for how challenging this game is on so many levels, and that anything can happen.”
And many of golf’s mysteries continue to elude him, much to his frustration… and delight. “Another thing I’ve learned from golf, and have been totally frustrated by – it’s the only sport, and I’ve been very active in sports my whole life… it’s the only sport I’ve seen where, just because you practice, you don’t necessarily get better.”
|TPC Avenel's 18th green is surrounded by one of the best amphitheaters in golf. Not a bad way to finish up.|
“Playing golf is a frustrating and humbling experience. I can’t just relentlessly practice and know that tomorrow I’m going to be better than I was today,” Shrader chuckled.
That says a lot for a man who’s reached the heights of success on many different levels, and at many different endeavors. It also says something about golf itself – the game doesn’t care who you are, it’s just as cruel to all of us.
That's why we love it.
Note: Many thanks to Dr. Ralph Shrader and Steve Lesnik for their candid thoughts on this year’s Booz Allen Classic, as well as their thoughts on golf – and life.
2004 Booz Allen Classic
June 21st – 27th, 2004.
Schedule of events: http://www.boozallenclassic.com/view.asp?id=173&page=2963
Ticket Information is available at the tournament’s website – click on the above link, or the banner in the left-hand column.
Notes: There will be double the number of buses servicing this year’s event, and there will be a second entrance into/out of TPC Avenel. Buses will also be twice the size, so there’s four times the capacity as before – which will make getting to the tournament much easier.
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