2014 was a year which held a bit of the old and familiar and a bit of the fresh and new in Bay Area and Northern California golf. Many golf courses struggled to maintain playability in the face of a drought that deepened to historic levels, and doomsayers predicted the demise, or at least the weakening, of the game even as the economy rebounded from recession. A classic Monterey Peninsula course experienced a glorious rebirth, the LPGA returned to the Bay Area, and some existing events reshuffled their venues, strengthening their positions in the events calendar. It was a year of change from which golf in Northern California emerged as strong as ever, with an eye toward another good year to come.
Here are some of the NorCal-related golf highlights from 2014:
Jimmy Walker wins Pebble Beach Pro-Am for his 3rd win in eight starts in 2013-2014 season
Oklahoma native Jimmy Walker picked up the third win of his PGA Tour career at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February, just weeks after racking up his first two at the 2014 Frys.com Open in nearby San Martin in October and at the Sony Open in Honolulu in January. The three wins boosted him to a leading position in the FedEx Cup rankings that would survive, with continued high-level play, until he was overtaken at the end of the season by Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.
Poppy Hills emerges from 13-month renovation refreshed, renewed, and better than ever
In March 2013 the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) stood down its flagship home course, Poppy Hills, for a 13-month-long renovation. When the course reopened in April 2014 the praise from players and the golf media was effusive. Begun as a much-needed update to the irrigation system, the renewal project ultimately led to a complete rebuild of the course, including a 20-acre reduction in irrigated area, the elimination of high-grass rough, a complete stripping down of the playable surface areas and sand-capping to 5-1/2 inches for better drainage, along with the realignment and reconfiguration of a number of holes.
In September Poppy Hills returned to championship golf, replacing Del Monte Golf Course as the second course for the Champions Tour’s Nature Valley First Tee Open, joining Pebble Beach Golf Links as a venue for the event.
The LPGA returns to Northern California with the advent of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Golf Club
Four years after the demise of Northern California’s only LPGA tournament, the CVS Charity Classic at Blackhawk Country Club in Danville, the distaff golf tour returned to the area with the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City.
Sponsored by the Swinging Skirts, a private Taiwanese organization of business leaders which exists to promote Taiwanese women’s golf, the event was a great success, garnering praise from players and the public for the running of the event as well as for the venue. Fans got their money’s worth all week, with the final day culminating in a battle royale between 29-year-old veteran Stacy Lewis and 17-year-old phenom Lydia Ko, a South Korean out of New Zealand. Ko persevered for the win on the tough LMGC layout where she had contended for the USGA’s Girls’ Junior Championship in 2012.
Quail Lodge, 1st golf course in Carmel Valley, celebrates 50th anniversary
June 25, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Quail Lodge Golf Club in Carmel Valley. Originally known as Carmel Valley Golf & Country Club, Quail Lodge was the vision of local businessman Edgar Haber, who felt that the site, which is located four miles inland from the mouth of the valley, could entice golfers away from fog-bound courses just a few miles away in the Del Monte Forest area. Mr. Haber was right, and the course found favor as a practice venue and lodging for some of the big names who came to play in the (then) Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach.
Over the years Quail Lodge has hosted a number of prestigious amateur events, and has been the home of the California State Women’s Amateur Championship since 1987. Changes in store to keep the course going strong as it looks ahead to its second half-century include updating the irrigation system for greater efficiency, and landscape changes which will reduce the irrigated area by some 20 acres.
Frys.com Open changes venue, heading north to Napa’s Silverado Resort
Concluding four years at southern Santa Clara County’s CordeValle Resort with the 2014 event, the Frys.com Open moved north of the Golden Gate for the 2014-2015 season, playing at Napa’s Silverado Resort. Korean Sang-Moon Bae held on for a two-stroke win, his second on tour, over Australian Steven Bowditch, coming back to the field on Sunday with a final-round 73 after posting three rounds in the 60s.
The Silverado Resort is likely to be the home of the Frys.com Open for another two years, but the tournament’s sponsor, Fry’s Electronics, is hopeful of bringing the event south again, to The Institute Golf Club, a private course in the south county which is owned by company president John Fry, as soon as a new clubhouse and other improvements can be made.
San Jose’s Christina Kim returns to LPGA Tour winner circle after nine years
Christina Kim, a San Jose native who started playing golf professionally as an 18-year-old and was almost immediately successful on the LPGA Tour, ended a long victory drought with a win at the annual Lorna Ochoa Invitational in November.
Kim, 30, who had battled physical injuries and severe depression for a number of years, recorded a win at the Ladies’ European Tour’s Sicilian Ladies Open in October 2011, but had last won on the LPGA Tour in November 2005.
Stay tuned to this space for a look ahead to the 2015 year in golf—coming soon.