Valiant Competitor's Champions Tour has reversed it's Southern California stops this year, with the Toshiba Classic kicking things off followed by next week's AT&T something-or-other at Valencia. It's always amazing to witness the contrast between the two.
The Toshiba is played in the heart of Newport Beach at the sporty William F. Bell designed Newport Beach Country Club. The combination of the course's ideal location at the heart of a significant population base, it's ability to be played with relative ease (but it's no pushover) and a strong volunteer base make the event a real delight. It was day one of the pro-am and it would not be a stretch to call it festive.
Hanging out on the range today collecting quotes from select players, not only was most of the field out in force their pro-am rounds, but they were in great spirits. Hale Irwin smiled at me. Really, he smiles! Another highlight was Fuzzy Zoeller (not a surprise) heckling Tuesday qualifier Mac O'Grady about his hair, while Andy Bean (who knew?) strolling by the 10th tee and yelling out to Mac that his pro-am partner's swing was just fine and to leave him alone.
Then there's next week's event at Valencia, a monstrous Robert Trent Jones Sr. design next to the 5 freeway in that massive slice of over-development hell known as Santa Clarita, a solid 25 minute drive from a decent population base and 45 minutes from the heart of LA (mid-morning, with a police escort). The rough is always hideously dense, the course a brutal grind, the crowds tiny and the weather iffy. Players rarely hang around the range and every year I leave the place intensely depressed about what the game has become. Particularly since this same event was a huge success when played at Rancho Park and Wilshire Country Club in the city. You know, fun golf courses. Near where people live.
So just in case you were wondering, I probably won't be going out to Valencia this year.
According to Steve Eubanks, they expect 85,000 this week in Newport Beach, which would probably surpass what the regular tour drew at Riviera a few weeks ago.
Amazing how far a little fun will take you.