BETHESDA, Md. – 'It was like a movie.'
That's how AT&T National tournament director Greg McLaughlin described the scene before him around 11 p.m. last night as he pulled up to the gates at Congressional CC.
What he thought was one tree – it turned out to be four – blocked the entrance to the host club for the AT&T National. Almost 10 hours later, the tournament and PGA Tour staff made the call to play the third round on Saturday.
About 10 full-time tournament staffers, the Congressional maintenance crew and a small cast of others worked through the night to clear the course of fallen trees, large debris, downed structures and other trash to make the course ready for the 80-man Saturday field.
'We actually had to get some furniture out of the (clubhouse) pools,' said McLaughlin, who got three hours' sleep last night, with a laugh. 'We were making the place presentable.'
It was more than a litter operation, however. McLaughlin had to communicate with volunteers, sponsors, tournament staff and the media to first share the delay, then the decision to play – albeit with a skeleton staff and zero spectators.
“It has been an extraordinary 24 hours at the 2012 AT&T National. I am so impressed by the hard work and dedication from everyone involved with this tournament, from the Congressional Country Club members and staff; the team from my Foundation and the PGA Tour. It's really great to see everyone pull together and ready the course for play. I'm very thankful for their efforts and look forward to welcoming the fans back on Sunday,' said Tiger Woods in a statement prior to Round 3.
The decision to go on without fans was made early, well before the staff believed they could get the third round in today. Under normal circumstances, the tournament would have expected 25,000-30,000 people on Saturday, along with 2,000 volunteers. Imagine that many people showing up when the gates opened to clutter an already hectic clean-up.
'We didn't have an hour to decide (last night what to do with fans), so we made that our initial thought to take them off the table,' he said.
The next decision was whether or not anyone else should bother to show.
'We knew there would be good conditions,' he said. 'We also knew we couldn't get in 36 holes in this heat, so if we didn't play today, we would have a Monday finish.'
The initial thought was it would be a Monday finale. At 6:30 a.m., McLaughlin first talked with tour staff, thinking it would be 'really hard to play.' The remarkable work of the Congressional grounds crew, however, had the Tour confident by 9 a.m. they could play today.
McLaughlin, who has been working at tournaments since 1988, doesn't think that would have been the case at many other venues.
'That's why you come to Congressional,' he said. 'They host majors.'