It has been a long winter in Kansas City. Last weekend’s ten-inch snow mocked the arrival of “spring” and prevented me from tuning up on the silky fairways of the Heart of America Golf Academy Par-3 (No. 55). “You need a vacation” said my wife, watching in admiration as I practiced full swings in the TV room, leaving perfect, dollar-bill sized scuff marks on the Persian rug. “I bought you a discount ticket on Southwest Airlines. I packed your suitcase. The car service will be here in ten minutes.”
My vacations, of course, are of the working variety. I am typing this in the media center of the La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., site of this week’s LPGA Tour event, the KIA Classic.* If I can find time between my course-rating activities and my sideline as a free-lance dowser, I will file a game story to Sports Illustrated Golf Plus on Monday morning.
*La Costa’s theater-style press room, with its digital video screens, multi-media work stations and ergonomically-correct executive chairs, is No. 5 in the most recent World Press Facility Ranking Presented by Frito-Lay.
Word of my presence has spread quickly, judging from the press-room buzz about La Costa’s Dick Wilson/Joe Lee-designed composite course. Rolex points leader Ai Miyazato took a bashful stab at course rating yesterday when she was asked to compare La Costa’s tournament track to the more famous South Course at nearby Torrey Pines. “Well, I would say the grass is different,” she said through an interpreter. “I think over here is more thick so that makes it a little less distance, but the greens are much softer over here, so it’s kind of half and half.”
I carry the Top 50 data base on 42 keychain flash drives, so I was able to compare the Japanese star’s impressions with the reports of my course raters. They were all in agreement: “half and half.”
“But Torrey Pines,” Miyazato continued, “was like almost no wind, and it seems like over here is more windy. So La Costa is more difficult.”
I would have to disagree with Ai on that point. The ocean cliffs of Torrey Pines are far more exposed than the condo canyons of La Costa, and the latter is lined with giant gum trees, to which the wind must inevitably stick. Conclusion: Torrey Pines is more difficult.
More difficult, I shouldn’t have to add, does not mean better.
Top 50 on TV: Dick Wilson’s highly-regarded eighteen at Florida’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge (No. 56) is the site of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, a PGA Tour event. Palmer, a course designer himself, likes to tweak Wilson’s old track from time to time. Most of his changes are inconsequential, such as this year’s lengthening of the already-unplayable par-4 18th by ten yards. But Palmer has shown true genius by moving the tournament tee on the par-4 15th to the other side of heavily-trafficked Bay Hill Boulevard, forcing the pros to smack their drives over a pair of neatly-trimmed hedges. As one who has long argued for the inclusion of steeplechase elements in golf design, I can only say, “Well done, Arnie — and pay no attention to the neighsayers.”