INSIDE THE ROPES
By TOM LaMARRE
The Sports Xchange
On paper, as the pundits like to say, the 39th Ryder Cup this week at Medinah looks like one of the most competitive and compelling in the series, which dates to 1927.
Not that the matches have lacked for drama since the Europeans turned the tide in the mid-1980s. But when the rosters became official for this year’s event, the talk began that these might be the two deepest teams to meet in the history of the biennial spectacle.
That aforementioned piece of paper would be the World Golf Rankings. Twenty-four players on the two teams come from the top 35 on the list as of last week, including nine in the top 10.
“I’ve always said that I don’t see any favorites in this Ryder Cup; both teams are playing very strong,” said Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, captain of the European team.
“The U.S. team is always strong, they’ve played great, they won the Masters (Bubba Watson) this year, the U.S. Open (Webb Simpson), they’ve won a bunch of tournaments, (four) rookies in that team so far have played extraordinarily well.
“In that regard both teams are strong. I don’t see any favorites at all.”
For much of the season, the U.S. team seemed to be gaining the upper hand, with Tiger Woods winning three times and Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner, a Ryder Cup rookie, each claiming two titles.
Phil Mickelson had an early victory with a dominant performance at Pebble Beach, Steve Stricker won the season opener in Kapalua and Brandt Snedeker posted an early victory at Torrey Pines before coming back from a rib injury in midseason to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup on Sunday.
Matt Kuchar claimed the biggest title of his career at the Players Championship and Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson came on strong with victories later in the season, leaving Jim Furyk as the only player on the American side without a victory this season.
Said captain Davis Love III: “(The Europeans are) going to be tough; they are every year. (But) I’ll tell you this: I love my team.”
One European golf writer wrote ominously awhile back that the Euros should pay attention to the “strong American team that is forming just over the next hill.”
Then Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland captured the PGA Championship to start a run of three victories in a span of four tournaments that cemented his status as the best player in the world right now.
Not only that, veteran Paul Lawrie of Scotland claimed his second victory of the year, while Sergio Garcia of Spain, Peter Hanson of Sweden and Nicholas Colsaerts of Belgium, the only rookie on the European team, also won recently.
“We have definitely turned it around,” said CBS commentator Nick Faldo, captain of the European team in 2008 at Valhalla. “Lee Westwood has found some form again recently, and I like our dark horses, too, people like Paul Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts.
“The Americans will set up the course for long hitters and we’ve got Rory, Westwood and Colsaerts as our long hitters so, as I say, everyone looks evenly matched.”
For the record, and for what it’s worth, the only players on the European team without victories this year are Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, and Martin Kaymer of Germany, the 2010 PGA champion, and Ian Poulter of England.
However, all of them are intense competitors and strong match players, as all of the Euros have proved to be over the years.
Even though the Americans hold a commanding 25-11-2 lead in the series, the Euros have an 8-4-1 edge since 1985, have won six of the last eight times and have prevailed twice on U.S. soil during that time.
Medinah, where Woods captured the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships, might favor the long-hitting U.S. team at 7,657 yards, with Watson, Dustin Johnson, Bradley, Mickelson and Woods all capable of hitting the long ball.
“I’ve had a little bit of success there, so personally speaking, I like the place,” Woods said. “I haven’t played it since the new redo. They’ve gone in and redone 11 greens. Completely redid 15, so that’s going to be different for us.
” … As far as a match-play golf course, I think that it’s set up for the ability to make a lot of birdies. The two times that we’ve played the PGA there, they set it up pretty hard and we still made a bunch of birdies. If we get the right kind of weather coming in there, and then being match play where we naturally can be more aggressive, the format lends itself to that. I can see there being just a boatload of birdies there.”
However, the Euros might have a secret weapon because European stalwart Donald lives most of the year in the Chicago area and knows the course well, so he can offer up its secrets to his teammates.
“I’ve lived in Chicago for 15 years,” said Donald, a graduate of Northwestern. “I love it here and I’ve built up a bit of a following. At least I hope they won’t be booing.”
McIlroy, Donald and Westwood give the Europeans three of the top four players in the world, broken up only by Woods at No. 2, but the Americans have 11 of the top 20.
However, once the first tee ball is hit Friday, you can take that piece of paper and tear it up.
PGA TOUR: The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill., Friday through Sunday.
TV: Friday, 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN; Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. EDT on NBC; and Sunday, noon-6 p.m. EDT on NBC.
2010: Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland defeated Hunter Mahan, 3 and 1, in the anchor match and Europe held off a United States rally to regain the Ryder Cup, 14 1/2-13 1/2. It was the first time since the 1991 matches on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island that the Ryder Cup came down to the final match; the Americans won that one when Bernhard Langer missed a six-foot putt on the final hole to halve his match with Hale Irwin. The U.S. rallied last year by earning seven points in singles, with victories by Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jeff Overton and Zach Johnson, plus a dramatic halve from Rickie Fowler, who had to birdie his last four holes. But the Euros got victories from McDowell, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Miguel Angel Jimenez to win for the fourth time in the last five Ryder Cups and sixth in the last eight. The U.S. leads the series, which dates to 1927, 25-11-2.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C., Oct. 5-7.
TV: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Playing with a heavy heart, Kenny Perry holed a 30-foot eagle putt on the 17th hole in the final round and claimed his first Champions Tour victory by two strokes over Jeff Sluman and John Huston. The 51-year-old Perry, who won 14 times on the PGA Tour, nearly withdrew the night before the final round because of the death of his sister, Kay Perry, after a long battle with cancer. Kay died two years to the day after their mother, Mildred, also succumbed to cancer. Perry rebounded from a double-bogey 7 on the 12th hole, where he hit his approach shot into the water, to win with a closing 2-under-par 70.
LPGA TOUR: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Oct. 11-14.
TV: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 9:30-11:30 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Na Yeon Choi of South Korea posted four rounds of 3-under-par 68 or better and held off top-ranked Yani Tseng of Taiwan by one stroke. Tseng, who started the day four strokes behind Choi, closed with a 7-under-par 65 in a bid for her seventh LPGA Tour victory of the year. She pulled even with birdies on the 15th and 16th holes. However, Choi holed a five-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to regain the lead and claimed her fifth LPGA Tour title, but the first in 2011, closing with a 68. It was the 100th victory on the LPGA Tour for players of South Korean descent. Tseng, who a week earlier beat Choi by one shot in the LPGA Hana Bank Championship, missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have forced a playoff.
–It’s no secret around the PGA Tour that Greg Norman and Tiger Woods don’t get along and haven’t since Woods took over from Norman as the No. 1 player in the world late in the 1990s.
Some say Norman believes that Tiger did not show him the respect he felt he deserved at the time.
The Aussie has been more vocal than most as Woods has struggled to regain his former stature in the last few seasons, and last week he couldn’t wait to get in a few more shots.
“What I’m seeing is that Tiger’s really intimidated by Rory (McIlroy),” Norman told Fox Spots. “When have you ever seen him intimidated by another player? Never.
“But I think he knows his time’s up and that’s normal. These things tend to go in 15-year cycles. Jack took it from Arnold (Palmer). I took it from Jack, Tiger from me and now it looks like Rory’s taking it from Tiger.”
Rory and Tiger, who seemingly have become good friends, apparently had fun when they heard Norman’s comments.
Both seemed to be more than a little bit amused as they addressed them when asked by the media last week before the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
“(Tiger’s) got a new nickname for me, actually,” McIlroy said. “He calls me ‘The Intimidator.’ … No, how can I intimidate Tiger Woods? I mean, the guy’s got 75 or 70-whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors. I mean, he’s been the biggest thing ever in our sport.
“I mean, how could some little 23-year-old from Northern Ireland with a few wins come up and intimidate him? It’s just not possible. I don’t know where he got that from, but it’s not true.”
Said Woods: “It’s got to be (McIlroy’s) hair, yeah.”
Norman, who won all of two major titles (the Open Championship twice), was criticized by some not for the intimidation remarks but that he seemed to have an inflated opinion of his career even though it was a very good one.
He is known more for his failures, such as his final-round blowup in the 1996 Masters, when he took a six-stroke lead into the final round but shot 78 and gave the title to Nick Faldo.
Norman conveniently passed over several players who came after Nicklaus and won more majors titles than he did, including Faldo (six), Seve Ballesteros (five) and Nick Price (three).
Not to mention Tom Watson (eight), who was dominant as Nicklaus’ star waned, until the Golden Bear captured the Masters in 1986 at the age of 46.
Last year, Norman said that Fred Couples should not have selected Woods for the U.S. team in the Presidents Cup and also predicted that Woods would never add to his total of 14 major titles.
“Tiger and Greg don’t speak,” said a person who knows both well. “There’s a lot of animosity between them.”
Woods reportedly was delighted when he shot a course-record 62 last year at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., where co-designer Norman’s best score is 64.
–Briny Baird will miss the rest of the PGA Tour season because of surgery on both shoulders, according to pgatour.com.
The 40-year-old Baird has been hampered by pain in his left shoulder for much of the 2012 season, and he hasn’t played since the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May, when he missed the cut for the sixth time in 13 events this season.
Following surgery on his left shoulder last week, he will wait two to three months before having a similar procedure on his right shoulder.
Baird had five to seven millimeters shaved off the bone near his AC joint to alleviate increasing pain in his left shoulder. He said he is “very encouraged” and expects to be ready to play at the start of the 2013 season.
Since first qualifying for the PGA Tour in 1999, Baird has played 252 tournaments without winning but has finished second five times, most recently when he lost in a playoff to Bryce Molder last year at the Frys.com Open.
Baird captured the Buy.com Tour’s 2000 Monterrey Open.
–Steve Stricker was honored as the 2012 winner of the Payne Stewart Award before the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
The Payne Stewart Award is presented annually to a player sharing Stewart’s respect for the traditions of the game, his commitment to uphold the game’s heritage of charitable support and his professional and meticulous presentation of himself and the sport through his dress and conduct.
Stewart, an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, died in a plane crash the week of the Tour Championship in 1999.
“This award means a great deal to the players on the PGA Tour, and I am truly grateful to be the recipient of the Payne Stewart Award,” the 45-year-old Stricker said. “I take great pride in being recognized for the values that the Payne Stewart Award stands for.
“I was fortunate enough to spend time with and compete against Payne, and I watched how he handled himself on the course, with his fellow competitors, with the fans and volunteers. I hope that by leading by example, just as Payne did, that our younger players will follow in the traditions of sportsmanship, integrity and charitable efforts that he helped bring to our sport.”
Stricker has won nine of his 12 PGA Tour titles since turning 40.
He becomes the 15th recipient of the award, joining among others Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who all were honored in 2000. Other honorees have been Ben Crenshaw (2001), Nick Price (2002), Tom Watson (2003), Jay Haas (2004), Brad Faxon (2005), Gary Player (2006), Hal Sutton (2007), Davis Love III (2008), Kenny Perry (2009), Tom Lehman (2010) and David Toms (2011).
–Fred Couples knows his sports forward and backward but was surprised by an announcement in his own game last week.
The 52-year-old Couples, one of the most popular players in the game, will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., next May on the week of the Players Championship at nearby TPC Sawgrass.
“Surprised, yeah,” said Couples, the 1992 Masters champion. “I had no idea I’d be voted into the Hall of Fame. I don’t know how it works. Who votes? Have I been a great player? No. A good player? Yeah.
“Did I get in because I’m 2-0 as a Presidents Cup captain? I don’t think so, but I’m excited about it and really thrilled. I hope to play a few more years on the Champions Tour, but it’s nice to be honored like this when I’m still alive and well.”
Couples won 15 times on the PGA Tour, including his only major at Augusta and victories in the Players Championship in 1984 and 1996.
Although he still plays occasionally on the PGA Tour and tied for 12th in the Masters this year among four starts with the young guys, he has moved on to the Champions Tour and has continued to win.
Couples has claimed eight titles since joining the Senior Circuit in 2010, including the 2011 Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship and the 2012 Senior Open Championship, both majors.
Mostly, he likes to watch sports on television.
“The TV remote, I know where that is at all times,” Couples said. “My trophies? They’re in boxes. Not sure where exactly, but they’re safe.
“I do have some things from Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups, smaller things. You can see those. If you didn’t, though, you would have no idea what I do. Some guy came over the other day and asked me if I was an entrepreneur. How about that? Me, an entrepreneur. He had no idea I’m a golfer, which is fine.”
Couples is a vice captain for Davis Love III this week in the Ryder Cup at Medinah, and there are those who believe he will be the U.S. captain in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland.
–The PGA Tour has announced the sites and dates of the first three events of the inaugural Web.com Tour Finals next year, when 25 PGA Tour cards will be at stake for the 2014 season.
The Hotel Fitness Championship at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Ind., will kick off the playoffs on Aug. 26-Sept. 1, followed by the Chiquita Classic at the Club at Longview in Weddington, N.C., on Sept. 2-8, and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship on the Scarlet Course at Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio.
The title sponsors of each event have signed three-year contracts.
The final event of the Web.com Finals will be played Sept. 23-29 at a site to be determined.
“With the introduction of this new qualifying process and four Finals events in 2013, the Web.com Tour is about to embark on the most exciting era in its 23-year history,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
“The Finals will be the culmination of a season-long quest to secure a PGA Tour card and will end the year in a new and exciting fashion. Beginning in 2013, the Web.com Tour will clearly be the pathway to the PGA Tour.”
The 25 top money winners on the Web.com Tour will be guaranteed PGA Tour cards at the end of the regular season. Other than the leading money winner, they will continue to play in the Finals to determine their positions within the PGA Tour priority ranking, which is used to form fields for tournaments.
The Web.com Tour’s leading money-winner during the regular season and the player who earns the most money during the Web.com Tour Finals will be fully exempt on the PGA Tour for the next season, excluding invitational events. Both will earn invitations to the Players Championship.
There will be 25 more PGA Tour cards available in the Finals, but not only for players on the Web.com Tour.
Also eligible for the Finals will be players who finish from 126 to 200 on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup points list at the end of the regular season and miss out on the PGA Tour playoffs.
In addition, non-members whose performance on the PGA Tour that season would have ranked them between 126 and 200 on the FedEx points list will be able to try to earn playing privileges for the next season in the Web.com Tour playoffs.
IN THE PUBLIC EYE: TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
THE LAYOUT: After years of neglect, a $16 million renovation that was completed in August of 2003 restored the grandeur of Harding Park, which was designed by Willie Watson and opened in 1925.
The remodeling of the aging clubhouse, which dated to the opening of the course, and other facilities was made possible by an agreement between the PGA Tour and a group of local citizens, spearheaded by Sandy Tatum, former president of the United States Golf Association.
Culmination of the project was the 2005 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship, in which Tiger Woods outlasted John Daly on the second hole of a playoff.
The agreement with the PGA Tour secured Harding Park five PGA tournaments over a 15-year span, with each of those events is expected to infuse $50 million into the local economy.
Harding Park hosted the Presidents Cup matches in 2009, with Fred Couples captaining the United States team past Greg Norman’s Internationals by a score of 19 1/2-14 1/2, to take a 6-1-1 lead in the series.
The course hosted the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, essentially the Champions Tour’s tour championship, the last two years, with John Cook winning in 2010 and Jay Don Blake claiming the title last year.
The event has moved to the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., but San Francisco has a contract to host several other as yet unspecified PGA Tour and Champions Tour events in the coming years.
The reworking of the course was so successful that in 2004 Golf Magazine selected Harding Park as No. 50 on its “Top 100 Golf Courses You Can Play.” It was rated as the third-best municipal course in a major metropolitan city in the United States, behind Bethpage Black in New York and Torrey Pines in San Diego.
The course, which is almost surrounded by picturesque Lake Merced on a peninsula in the southwest corner of San Francisco less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, plays to a par of 70 and measures 7,137 yards from the back tees. It has a USGA rating of 72.8 and a slope of 126.
Harding Park had hosted the PGA Tour before, when the Lucky International was held there between 1961-66 and in 1968. All you need to know about the quality of the course is that the winners were Gary Player, Gene Littler, Jack Burke Jr., Chi Chi Rodriguez, George Archer, native San Franciscan Ken Venturi and Billy Casper.
The great Byron Nelson came to Harding Park in 1944 and captured the Victory Open, which was the name of the San Francisco Open during World War II, and returned to successfully defend his title before winning 11 consecutive tournaments on the PGA Tour in 1945.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Tom Smith.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Although Harding Park is quality all the way around, the back side was reworked by Jack Fleming in the late 1950s and is considered one of the finest nines in Northern California.
Fleming was Alister Mackenzie’s construction supervisor at Cypress Point and in his later years worked for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department as the supervisor of the city’s public golf courses.
In addition, Fleming lengthened the fourth hole, which was a par 4 in the original Willie Watson design, into a sweeping 560-yard par 5 that was considered a monster in those days and still rates as No. 1 on the card. The hole doglegs dramatically to the left off the tee, but instead of trying to drive the ball over the trees, a controlled draw is the smart shot and might allow the longer hitter to reach the green in two. However, this is a three-shot hole for most players and the golfer should favor the right side all the way to green, which is tucked away in the cypress trees to the left behind two bunkers.
No. 8 is the longest par 3 on the course, measuring 200 yards, into the prevailing breeze off the ocean, so be sure to use enough club. When the pin is placed in the right or front of the green, hit to the left and the slope will take the ball right toward the hole.
The last five holes play along a ridge several hundred feet above Lake Merced, where you might see the local college rowing crews at work, and offer as good a stretch of golf as you can find anywhere. Even there, the course does not lose what the British would call its parkland feel.
The 14th hole is a demanding 440-yard par 4, downhill from the tee and uphill to the green, with a fairway that slopes dramatically from right-to-left toward the lake. Stay below hole on the long, narrow green because it slopes steeply from the back.
Try to take advantage of the short par 4 16th, which measures only 330 yards from the tips, but you must be accurate off the tee not to be blocked out on the approach behind trees on the right and left. The short-iron approach can be tricky because traps right and left help create some tight pin placements.
Even if you don’t play from the back tees, take a look at the visually intimidating tee shot the pros face over a corner of Lake Merced and the trees on the 440-yard finishing hole. Try to avoid the two deep bunkers in the driving area and take at least an extra club when playing uphill to the green. And the putting surface can be deceiving, as Daly learned when he three-putted from 15 feet and lost to Woods, missing a three-footer for par on the second extra hole.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: TPC Harding Park is located near San Francisco’s famed private courses, the Olympic Club, Lake Merced and San Francisco Country Club, but unless you know a member you will have to be content to play the very good public courses.
Presidio Golf Club, opened in 1895 and once part of the military base overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, has been open to the public since 1999 and is operated by the Arnold Palmer Golf Co. The second hole is a terrific 528-yard par 5 that features a blind shot to an elevated green.
Lincoln Park Golf Course, which opened in 1910, is a sporty par-68, 5,149-yard layout that winds around the hillsides on the grounds of the De Young Museum and the Legion of Honor. The 242-yard 17th is stunning and treacherous par 3, with views of the Golden Gate.
Also in San Francisco are three fun 9-hole courses — Golden Gate Park Golf Course, Gleneagles International Golf Course and the Fleming Nine at Harding Park.
WHERE TO STAY: The venerable Fairmont San Francisco, flagship of the world-wide chain, has stood sentinel over the “City by the Bay” for more than 100 years from its perch on Nob Hill.
The Fairmont survived the Great Earthquake of 1906, when it was finished but not yet open, and housed many displaced San Franciscans over the next several years.
The landmark hotel has been fully refurbished to its original grandeur, from the 591 guest rooms and suites, to the magnificent grand main lobby with marble floors and Corinthian columns trimmed in gold.
Dine at the Fairmont in the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, which offers exotic Asian cuisine and the best Mai Tai in San Francisco in a tropical rainforest setting, or the Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar, a typical Northern California dining experience.
The Fairmont is located at the only crossing of San Francisco’s three cable car lines, with Chinatown, the Embarcadero, the Financial District, Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf nearby.
Also in the neighborhood on Nob Hill are the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental, the Renaissance Stanford Court, the Huntington Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco.
Other fine hotels in San Francisco include the Mandarin Oriental, La Meridien San Francisco, the Westin St. Francis, the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, the Hilton San Francisco, the Marriott San Francisco, the Palace Hotel, the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf and the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.
ON THE WEB: www.harding-park.com.
THE LAST RESORT: La Quinta Resort and Club in La Quinta, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: Guests at the resort, which has been a hideaway for Hollywood stars since 1926, have the luxury of choosing from five magnificent and varied courses on which to play.
There are the Mountain and Dunes courses on the hotel property, and the TPC Stadium Course, the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course and the Greg Norman Course right down the road at PGA West. All of the properties are owned by KSL Resorts.
Both courses at the hotel and the famed Stadium Course were designed by the legendary Pete Dye.
The Mountain Course, which plays along the base of the San Jacinto Mountains and opened in 1960, has hosted the World Cup of Golf, the California State Open and the PGA National Club Professional Championship. It measures 6,756 yards from the back tees and plays to a par of 72.
Even though the Dunes Course (opened in 1981) runs alongside the Mountain, the 6,742-yard layout meanders through flatter desert terrain. It is a kinder, gentler Dye layout for the resort golfer, although it can provide plenty of challenge and has hosted PGA Tour Qualifying School six times.
The TPC Stadium Course, which opened in 1986, is most famous as host of the Skins Game from 1986 to 1991, with Fuzzy Zoeller, Lee Trevino, Curtis Strange (twice), Raymond Floyd and Payne Stewart hoisting the trophy. It stretches to 6,753 from the tips, plays to a par of 72 and was part of the Bob Hope Classic rotation in 1987.
The Nicklaus Tournament Course, which opened in 1987, is a tamer version of the Stadium Course and also has hosted PGA Tour Q-School. It measures 6,556 yards and plays to a par of 72.
The Norman Course is the youngest of the five, having opened in 1999. It lies in an ancient seabed 40 feet below sea level and is surrounded by dark, forbidding mountains that contrast the grass and the white crushed marble in the bunkers. The Norman Course can play the longest of the five at 7,156 yards and a par of 72, but there are five sets of tees.
The Jim McLean Golf School is located on both properties.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Bill Shaw.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The most famous hole among this fabulous fivesome of courses is the 147-yard 17th hole on the Stadium Course, which is known as “Alcatraz” because of its island green. Lee Trevino made the hole part of golfing lore with the only hole in one in the history of the Skins Game in 1987.
Before you get to Alcatraz, try to stay out of the 19-foot deep waste bunker the on the par-5 16th hole. Short-game guru Dave Pelz once started an instructional show on the Golf Channel from the bottom of the bunker.
Even though the Dunes might be the most user-friendly course of the bunch, its 17th hole is annually selected by the PGA of America as one of the most difficult par 4s in the United States. The 433-yard monster wraps around a large lake that runs all the way down the left to a treacherous, two-tiered green.
And No. 18 on the Dunes is no picnic either, even though it is only 390 yards, because this time the water is on the right.
No. 16 is the signature hole on the Mountain Course, a gorgeous 167-yard par 3 from an elevated green. It runs alongside a huge talus slide and has been called one of the 500 Best Holes in the World by Golf Magazine.
Best of the Nicklaus Course probably is the par-5, 561-yard 15th, which features a well-bunkered island green. The finishing hole, a 432-yard par 4, requires an approach shot over water to a huge double green it shares with the ninth hole.
No. 8 on the Norman Course lists at 617 yards from the back tees, with water running all the way down the right side of the hole, one of nine ponds on the course covering 18 acres.
When you get on the greens, remember that putts in the Coachella Valley tend to break toward Indio to the East.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: If five courses are not enough, the city of La Quinta also boasts another world-class course at Trilogy Golf Club, which hosted the Skins Game from 2003-2006. There are more than 100 golf courses across the Coachella Valley and 300-plus sunny days a year on which to play them. What more could a golfer ask?
WHERE TO STAY: The La Quinta Resort and Club features 800 guest rooms tucked away in Spanish-style casitas throughout the 45-acre property. In addition to five championship golf courses, guests also have the use of 23 tennis courts, 42 swimming pools, 52 hot tubs, five restaurants and the world-famous Spa La Quinta.
Other golf resorts in the Coachella Valley include the Westin Mission Hills Resort, the Doral Desert Princess in Cathedral City, Rancho Las Palmas Marriott Resort in Rancho Mirage, Indian Canyon Golf Resort in Palm Springs, the Golf Resort at Indian Wells, Indian Palms Country Club and Resort in Indio, the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort and Spa in Indian Wells and Cimarron Golf Resort in Cathedral City.
ON THE WEB: http://www.laquintaresort.com.