Golf. There aren’t a lot of fans hitting backstrokes at Wimbledon or getting put into the wall by Kyle Busch at 187 mph. Yet when the big boys’ tour kicks off again next month, the early part of the season tends to hit courses any of us can play. Here’re four:
The Stage: Torrey Pines South (and North), Farmers Insurance Open, San Diego, CA, Jan. 27-30, 2011
Why it’s Cool: Torrey hosted a U.S. Open won by a guy with a bum knee and a broken leg, and kismet being as reliable as Ben Roethlisberger on a date, he wasn’t the dude who shoulda won it. It’s a public course, truly, owned by the citizens of San Diego. A good bit of the way around players skirt plummeting barrancas and Pacific headland. And South is a brute, particularly for the machismo crowd playing from the wrong tees and hacking out of the Medusa’s hair-like kikuyu rough.
The Sage Speaks: “Because I grew up playing public golf courses, it’s very rewarding to play in PGA Tour events at places like Torrey Pines,” offers 2009 winner Nick Watney, “courses that I actually played before I turned professional, so winning on a public course seemed fitting.”
The Moral: The course map should be imprinted with “Terra Incognita” to denote places from whence previous golfer-explorers nay returned.
The Tab: $246-$292 for non-residents to play South. Yes, it’s in the running with certain Vegas tracks for most asininely priced course in the Great Republic, and unlike a certain seaside offering up the cost, this one cannot be rationalized at rack.
The Stage: TPC Scottsdale Stadium, Waste Management Phoenix Open, Scottsdale, AZ, Feb. 3-6, 2011
Why it’s Cool: This course was purpose-built to host a PGA Tour event though it’s owned by the city. For sheer mania it’s16, a short par 3 that come tourney time is ringed in bleachers, skyboxes and 20,000 guys who’d like nothing more than to work in quality control at Anheuser-Busch, and any tee shot hit not to their collective satisfaction is greeted like the Dodgers entering AT&T Park, times some multiplier. As with 17 at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, the pros start thinking about 16 on the first tee.
The Sage Speaks: Four-time tour winner Andrew Magee, who once aced the par-4 17th for the only such albatross in tour history, chimes in on the party hole: “Ah, 16, the raucous 16th that everyone is so scared of. If you can’t hit an 8 iron on the green from 160 yards you shouldn’t be on tour, anyway. That’s the only hole of its kind in the world and I love it. It’s the Wild West out there.”
The Moral: Those of us who think Seppuku is the name of a bargain-brand ball should be thankful that when we prepare to spit the bit we’re not in front of legions of “fans” who in Roman days would be cheering for the lions.
The Tab: $63-$299.
The Stage: Pebble Beach Golf Links, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Pebble Beach, CA, Feb. 10-14, 2011
Why it’s Cool: Perhaps America’s most beloved course, Pebble is as robed in knee-buckling beauty as it is history—Bing Crosby’s “Clambake,” five U.S. Opens—and no slight to Gmac, the four previous Open winners here were named Nicklaus, Watson, Kite and Woods. Seabluff-huggers eight, nine and 10 are the greatest par 4s in succession in the world. Hell, the universe.
The Sage Speaks: The Monarch of Monterey, five-time AT&T winner Mark O’Meara, says, “Pebble Beach’s aesthetic value is second-to-none in the world and this has allowed Pebble to be one of those courses that every golfer dreams about playing. No other place in golf offers such great views.”
The Moral: You will NOT hit a Snappy-the-Clown on 18 and have the Sapporo-bound orb carom off a wave-smashed rock and land in the fairway. You will NOT then birdie the hole to force a playoff and win the Pro-Am. That was Hale Irwin in 1984. You are NOT Hale Irwin. Trust me, I tried. Snappy likes sushi.
The Tab: $495, for starters, as anything more than a one-day-in-advance reservation, typically a scarce commodity, requires a two-night stay and rack begins at arm+leg+third appendage-of-your-choice range.
The Stage: El Camaleon Golf Club, Mayakoba Golf Classic, Riviera Maya, Mexico, Jan. 24-27, 2011
Why it’s Cool: Well, for starters, it’s in Mexico, and that’s the Caribbean over there, not some trench gouged in the desert filled with water stolen from the Rockies. Greg Norman designed it so take heed those who lack his have-we-seen-better? skills with a driver. VooDoo wasn’t practiced here, but the Maya weren’t shy about blood sport, and the water-filled sinkholes that dot the joint—cenotes, in local parlance—swallow balls and the souls of the departed, or some such bit of lore.
The Sage Speaks: Defending champ Cameron Beckman says, “The golf course here at Mayakoba is one I always enjoy playing whether it’s in competition or not. I’ve played in the Mayakoba Golf Classic every year since the beginning and that’s no coincidence. All of us TOUR pros love coming here because it is such a fantastic venue where we can really enjoy the great atmosphere everywhere from the golf course to the hotels to the beach.”
The Moral: It took time, but the Yucatan is getting some bueno golf, and the Chameleon is one of the buenoest. It’s a course that really grows on you with subsequent plays as knowing what to (try to) do is almost as important as doing it. And it’s drop-dead gorgeous here as you play out through subtropical woodland and mangrove to the edge of the Carib and back. I dare you to drive the edge of 17 and beat my 6. (JR, was it a 7?)
The Tab: $105-$240.