As events unfolded this weekend at the AT&T National in Washington, D.C., you might expect an obligatory treatise on Tiger being back. While there is an unwritten rule in golf coverage that every conversation must begin and end with Woods, I instead want to flash back to an earlier event here in St. Louis.
The storms that swept through the nation’s capitol wreaked havoc at host Congressional Country Club early Saturday morning. This was more of a wind than water event, but the end result was toppled trees and branches throughout the course. ‘Loose impediments’ were as far as the eye could see. Power at the course and surrounding community was scarce. At dawn the PGA Tour faced the dilemma of having a course that was eminently playable for the field but hazardous to the spectators. So the decision was made to proceed with the third round without corporate sponsors, without volunteers and without galleries. All sports these days are somewhat made for television. This one was entirely that way.
The players took it in good spirits, waving to the non-existent galleries and applauding their own birdies. Woods played before fewer fans than showed up on the steps of the nearby Supreme Court two days earlier. The PGA Tour’s cell phone policy worked flawlessly for one day.
As I watched the day proceed, I was reminded of the wisdom of St. Louis’ most quoted philosopher – Maharshi Yogi Berra – who once said it was a case of “déjà vu all over again.”
While the golf scribes in DC scrambled to frame this unprecedented third round devoid of “patrons,” I drifted back to the final round of the 2000 Boone Valley Classic on the Champions Tour.
The event that year was going to be a signature moment for Doug Albrecht and the team at Boone. For the first time they had successfully lured Arnold Palmer into the field, and he even was staying on the grounds in the recently built cabins. Hale Irwin was returning as champion, and local favorite Jim Holtgrieve was in the field. The tournament had sold out for the first time in its five-year history. Even the weather looked good at the start of play on Friday -”looked” being the operative word.
You have to realize that Boone Valley is a St. Louis area club like Mizzou is our local college football team. Comfortably hidden away in Augusta, MO, the club literally had to rebuild a one-lane bridge to the property before they could stage the first event in 1996. They had secured the use of surrounding fields to accommodate spectator parking for tournament week. Everything was first ticket at Boone Valley – a Champions Tour stop with the finish of a major.
Between the conclusion of play Friday and the start of the round on Saturday, heavy rains washed through Augusta but skies cleared by the next morning. Built on hilly terrain, the course drains exceedingly well; as it turned out perhaps too well. The grounds crew had little trouble getting the course ready for play, but spectators were discovering that water runs down hill. The fields that had been converted to spectator parking took on swamp-like qualities, and by midday on Saturday the highway patrol was turning away people headed to the course because the free parking now needed the addition of free towing.
When round two had ended and the last vehicle had been coaxed to traction, officials at Boone had scrambled to find every truck load of gravel you could convoy to the mud lots and hopes were high, with a little weather cooperation, the third round could be staged as planned. You even had the bonus of a final group pairing of three former US Open Champions – Tom Watson, Larry Nelson and David Graham. It would be inaccurate to describe the weather Saturday night as “cooperative,” but “biblical” might be okay. By Sunday morning the rain gauge for the weekend had topped the five-inch mark and those gravel paved fields were now ponds with an attractive stone base.
The course again handled the water with no problem, but the officials had to make the go/no go decision on final round play. The distant location, the narrow roads, the lack of any convenient staging area for buses, left Albrecht and company with the choice of proceeding with no one but players and caddies or……. Well there was no other “or.” So the Boone Valley Classic became a very ‘pastoral’ professional event. Corporate boxes stood empty. Gallery ropes looked silly. I joked to former Bellerive head professional Jerry Tucker in the field that he could tell friends and relatives for years to come that he drew as large a following on the final day at Boone Valley as Arnold Palmer.
Ironically, probably the single greatest moment in the tournament’s history took place at the seventeenth hole in the final group. Trailing by a stroke Watson holed his 100 foot monster chip from off the green for eagle three to take a one-stroke lead over Nelson. Moments later Nelson chipped in from a shorter distance for an eagle of his own to recapture the lead and go on to win when Watson dumped his second in the water at eighteen. The eagle/eagle drama played out without a sound emanating from the course. It was just two old guys playing golf together on a Sunday afternoon for $225,000.
The event never recovered from the weather disaster. The following year it was changed to a match play championship, and the final day match of Leonard Thompson against Vincente Fernandez had about the same gallery as Watson and Nelson had the year before. By years end Boone Valley became a former stop on the Champion’s Tour.