As clouds descended on the AT&T National golf tournament Thursday afternoon at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Jack Randall’s mood was anything but dark. He beamed as he displayed his placard containing autographs of Jim Furyk and other golfers he had obtained outside the clubhouse.
“This is my third year here,” Jack, 10, said.
His father, Darnestown resident Bob Randall, said he is getting his son to take up the game.
A member of Congressional, Randall said taking his son to the tournament and meeting a few players are good ways to get his son more excited about the sport.
“Now, if Tiger Woods came here and signed, that would really be great,” he said.
Woods, the world’s top-ranked golfer, is a spectator this year, nursing an elbow strain. He appeared at Wednesday’s opening ceremony and said he would be there through Sunday.
Tournament play began Thursday with former Georgia Tech All-American Roberto Castro taking an early lead at 5-under.
While some golfers said the crowd on the course seemed a little thin compared to last year, Randall thought it was pretty well-attended.
Last year, about 28,000 people attended the first round when Woods played, while almost 49,000 attended the final round. A figure for Thursday was not immediately available.
Some golfers said it was disappointing that Woods could not play.
“The crowds love him to death, and he does spice up the event a little bit,” said Billy Horschel, a former University of Florida All-American who was tied for second after his 3-under round.
Woods said Wednesday that he wants to continue having his signature Professional Golfers Association event at Congressional past 2014. A vote by Congressional members on the issue is due by the fall. Some members say the event cuts into their time on the course and in the swimming pools and other facilities for as long as two weeks.
The AT&T National, which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation, was at Congressional from 2007 to 2009, then moved to the Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011 while Congressional prepared for the 2011 U.S. Open.
The tournament returned last year to Bethesda, where it is slated to run until at least 2014.
“We would love to be back here,” Woods said. “It’s obviously up to the members and the board whether we come back here or not. ... We’re obviously going to have more in-depth discussion once the tournament is over.”
Randall, whose father has been a member since the 1960s, said he wants to see it continue at Congressional. “I think it’s a great event for the country club and the area,” he said. “I don’t see it as an inconvenience.”
The tournament means millions of dollars to Montgomery County hotels, restaurants and shops.
The AT&T event in 2009 generated an estimated $29.1 million in direct and indirect spending in the county, with some 23,000 spectators, golfers and others staying overnight in the county, according to a study commissioned by the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.
Marcia Haney was among those attending the AT&T National for the first time, traveling from Marlton, N.J. She stayed with her nephew in Bel Air, north of Baltimore. They left early this morning to drive to Bethesda.
She and her party planned to eat at a local restaurant later Thursday, perhaps in Bethesda.
“This is a really nice event,” Haney said. “The course is beautiful. And the weather today is perfect, not too hot.”
Parking can be an issue, with lots scattered around the area and shuttles taking attendees to and from their vehicles. Some homeowners on River Road put up parking signs, with many taking advantage of the offer to park on spacious lawns or driveways for a fee.
Neither Randall nor Haney said they had a problem finding parking and taking the shuttles.