The PGA moves to the California swing this week beginning in La Quinta, California with the Career Builder Challenge. Formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, this event was second only to the Crosby Clam Bake (now AT&T) in Monterrey in prestige for pro-am events. Movie stars and former Presidents were regulars in the field. The event was five days, with the amateurs playing at least three. The structure led to some long rounds, but everyone had fun. In recent years, the tournament has lost some luster. Played over three courses, which are constantly changing, it has been difficult to lure the big names. Patrick Reed is the only top-15 in the world rankings making an appearance. The tournament has now been reduced to four days. Invariably, the scores are very low, as these desert courses are designed for either recreational golfers, or retirees, and thus, are not difficult. The Stadium Course at PGA West, a Pete Dye design, is the only one of the three that can make life miserable on tour pros. This assumes they play the back tees. Years ago, the pros whined about the difficulty which resulted in the use of some “up” tees. Despite the diluted field, big names have tended to do well. The last three winners have been Jason Dufner, Bill Haas and Patrick Reed. Phil Michelson is a regular, and tends to play well.
This year’s event may have some weather issues. (I seriously considered playing in the pro-am, and am glad I passed.) Rain is predicted for Thursday, Friday and Sunday. A Monday finish seems inevitable, and, at best, I predict three rounds. Not only will there be rain, but the temperatures are likely to be well below normal. This is bad news for the snowbirds and visitors to the area. If I were President Obama, I would be rethinking my post-inauguration vacation with the family, as they are reportedly headed for the desert.
The fieldis large for this event. Given the size, early season and weather issues, it is difficult to handicap. My initial inclination is to go with Patrick Reed. I would expect good performances from Bill Haas, Kevin Na, Charles Howell, III and Phil Michelson. With the weather issues, do not discount Zach Johnson, who is coming off a strong round last week. My dark horses are Paul Casey, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman and Danny Lee. The latter two may have the most trouble with the weather. That said, there are a lot of talented golfers in the field who could take advantage of the easier nature of these desert courses.
The football figures to be pretty good this weekend, so you might save your golf viewing for later in the season, unless you are a crazy like myself. Instead, spend some time on-line planning a golf trip to the Coachella Valley. I have spent a lot of time in the area and strongly recommend the golf. In order, here are my favorite local courses you can play.
Shadow Ridge is affiliated with the Marriot chain. Faldo design has a lot of great holes.
Desert Willow has two courses, Mountain View and Firecliff; both of which are excellent, and centrally located.
SilverRock is one of the most challenging public course, in a great setting, with excellent facilities.
Classic Club is located north of Interstate 10, so windy days are a problem, but when the weather is good, this is a terrific venue.
My second tier of “go to” courses includes the Stadium Course at PGA West, Westin Mission Hills Pete Dye and Gary Player courses, and the Indian Wells courses. All of these facilities can be booked through local services such as GolfNow or TeeOff.com. These sites can provide excellent rates on last minute bookings. I recommend the swing season in May, or November/December. Rates for golf and lodging are much lower and there is greater availability. In season you will pay a premium and need to book well in advance.
Weekly Observation: I missed the mark with last week’s projections for the Sony Open. Casey and Varner III missed the cut. McGirt (T49), Na (T36) and Finau (T20) were disappointing. Spieth (3) and Berger (T45) rounded out my list. Should not have written off Justin Thomas (1) and was surprised the big names Rose (2), Z. Johnson (T6), W. Simpson and Bill Haas (both T13) all did well.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.