Thursday, January 12, 2012
2012: What’s Coming in Bay Area Golf This Year
The turning of the year is a time of anticipation and new possibilities as we look forward to the events to come in the new year. For golf in the Bay Area/Central Coast region, we have two notable professional golf tournaments to look forward to in 2012: the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, and the 2012 United States Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in June.
An annual tradition on the Monterey Peninsula since 1947, the AT&T Pro-Am (originally the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am) is a great opportunity for the region to show off its amazing natural beauty, and the world-class golf courses to be found there. The best known of the three courses in the tournament’s rotation is, of course, Pebble Beach. Its spectacular seaside location is a television director’s dream, and each year viewers around the country are treated to “beauty shots” of bright blue Pacific waters, spectacular surf (if the wind is up…), dogs frolicking on Carmel Beach, seals basking on the rocks – even the occasional humpback whale passing by on its way to Baja California. The other attraction, for the many non-golfing viewers, is the bevy of stars of the sports and entertainment worlds who partner up with the professional golfers for the Pro-Am portion of the tournament.
For 2012 there will be an additional attraction at the AT&T, for golf fans and celebrity watchers alike – the return of Tiger Woods to the AT&T Pro-Am, his first appearance there since 2002. The crowds, slow play (6+ hour rounds are not unknown), and the bumpy poa annua greens have been cited as cause for his absence the last 10 years, and the speculation is that his return this year is in the cause of making nice with sponsor AT&T. The telecom giant sponsors Tiger’s annual tournament at Congressional Country Club, and is a huge contributor to the Tiger Woods Foundation – but they dropped direct sponsorship of Tiger last year in the midst of his marital problems and the attendant scandal.
However you feel about him (and very few people are neutral when it comes to Tiger…) Tiger moves the needle for the general public, and ticket sales are sure to soar now that he has announced his entry, just as they did for last September’s Frys.com Open when Tiger announced his intention to play the Fall Series event at the South Bay’s Cordevalle Resort. If you are planning to attend the AT&T Pro-Am and haven’t bought tickets yet, you would be well-advised to do it soon—and to be prepared for record crowds at what is already a well-attended event. Purchase tickets online at http://www.attpbgolf.com/tournament/tickets.php.
In a more serious vein, the premier golf event on the USGA schedule, the United States Open Golf Tournament, returns to the Lake Course at San Francisco’s Olympic Club June 14 – 17, 2012. The Olympic Club has hosted the U.S. Open on four previous occasions – 1955, 1966, 1987, and 1998 – and has gained a reputation for upset champions. In 1955 Ben Hogan was defeated in an 18-hole playoff by relative unknown Jack Fleck (ironically, Fleck was playing a set of Hogan clubs which he had recently picked up in person at the Hogan Company factory in Fort Worth, Texas); 1966 saw Billy Casper downing favored contender Arnold Palmer in another playoff; in the 1987 event Scott Simpson held on to a 1-stroke lead after 54 holes to prevail over Tom Watson by 1 at the end of regulation play; and in 1998 Payne Stewart fell victim to the slick undulating greens of Olympic’s U.S. Open setup, dropping 6 strokes (two of which came at the notorious 8th green) in the final round to lose to Lee Janzen by 1.
While it is too early in the season to take a guess at who will contend at the 2012 U.S. Open, it is likely to be an exciting event. The 2011 U.S. Open champion, young Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, will certainly be anxious to reprise last summer’s dominating performance, though he may find the narrow, tree-lined fairways and small, well-bunkered greens of the Lake Course a more challenging test than rain-softened Congressional presented last summer.
Adding to the buzz (not that any U. S. Open is lacking in that quality…) is the return to a full schedule of pro Tour play by 3-time U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods after a couple of years of dealing with scandal, injury, and swing changes; a healthy Tiger with his game rounding into shape again will be looking to add to his major count with a victory at the Olympic Club in 2012. Geography is on his side in that quest: two of Woods’ U.S. Open wins have come at venues on the California coast – his dominating 2000 performance at Pebble Beach, and his gutsy 2008 win on a painful injured leg at Torrey Pines. On the plus side for Tiger this year at the Olympic Club – a recent greens renovation program has replaced the poa annua greens with bentgrass. Woods is known to be unhappy on poa annua, which grows rapidly and can become bumpy at the end of the day – the poa annua greens at Pebble Beach are cited as one of the reasons that he has stayed away from the AT&T Pro-Am since 2002.
Tickets for the 2012 U. S. Open Golf Tournament are available online at https://tickets.usga.org/2012WinterTicketOffer/tac.aspx.