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Jim Murray

Despite All the Water, This Is Not an Oasis in the Middle of a Desert

January 15, 1987|JIM MURRAY

LA QUINTA — Bob Hope called it "the golfing equivalent of downtown Beirut."

Alcatraz with sand traps. House-to-house fighting with 9-irons. The opposite side of Shangri-La. Go into it and you get 30 years older.

It's not a golf course, it's a penal colony. You pay here for every birdie you've ever made, every Nassau you ever won. You do time for all those 63s or even 61s at Indian Wells.

Custer would feel right at home here. It's not a tournament, it's a death march. Eighteen holes of silent screaming. You don't know whether to play it or bomb it. It wasn't designed, it was captured. If it was alive, it would be King Kong.

And so on.

PGA West is the bogeyman of all golf. It's either the toughest golf course in the world or the easiest slave-labor camp. First prize should be two weeks in Siberia. On some courses, you get a new car for a hole-in-one. Here you should get a new car for a hole-in-four.

Sticking amateurs on a course like this is like sending Red Riding Hood into the casbah. You can't play it, you just defend yourself against it. It makes Central Park at midnight seem like feeding swans. The guy who would pay $3,600 to play this would have paid for an outside stateroom on the Titanic.

The course is on the outskirts of Indio but host Hope says the back tees are in Hemet. It doesn't matter where they are. No one will ever play them. It's the Bermuda Triangle of the desert.

You need a camel, a canoe, a priest and a tourniquet to get through it. As if it weren't frightening enough, a gelid wind swept over it on the morning of the opening round of the Bob Hope-Chrysler tournament. That's like giving a bull another horn. You wanted 14 clubs and a hot-water bottle.

But is it really that tough? Is it the creature that's going to eat golf? Or is it just two guys in a gorilla suit?

You have to understand that golfers are the world's greatest beefers, the best there is at hollering before they're hurt. Any course that doesn't resemble a pool table with pins brings out the tears in their eyes, the sobs in their throats.

The grass is too long, the holes are too deep, the rough is too high--you name it, they'll complain about it. Tom Watson gave what he said was a "diplomatic" answer when asked to comment on it. He said he hated it.

Mac O'Grady hates it, too. And O'Grady, who may be playing the best golf in the world at the moment, came up to the fifth hole at PGA West Wednesday morning on the wings of four comfortable pars. PGA West's No. 5 is a 530-yard hall of horrors which has water from the tee to 300 yards out, then a dry strip and then more water.

O'Grady promptly dumped his tee shot in the water, then dropped a ball at the point of entry--and dumped that in the water. A lot of people thought his clubs--and maybe Mac himself--would shortly go to join it. But he turned around and birdied the seventh hole and eagled the eighth.

Most golfers cannot follow a triple bogey with succeeding holes in three under par but Mac O'Grady is not most other golfers. He represents the rainbow out on the tour. They found some golfers in the caddy shack; they found Mac under a mushroom.

Still, PGA West is not your basic cactus trap golf course. It has so many furrows and hills and deep bunkers that it looks in poor light as if it was the scene of a recent desert tank battle. It has so many railroad ties on it, it's the only golf course in the world that used to be the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe.

Unlike a lot of golf courses with fangs and tattoos and hooks for hands, PGA West does not try to hide its venomous nature behind innocuous nicknames. In other parts of the country, man-eating holes that should be called Dripping Blood, go by euphemisms like Flowing Vermilion.

PGA West gives you fair warning with names like Double Trouble, Black Hole, Alcatraz and Eternity. Still, a player would be better served and put on notice if the holes were, instead, named in honor of the response they're most apt to elicit. Such as:

No. 1--"Oh, God, not over there!"

No. 2--"Hit another one, that's gone."

No. 3--"Anybody see it?"

No. 4--"Where's that going?"

No. 5--"Where'd that go?"

No. 6--"Give me another ball."

No. 7--"Never mind, maybe it'll hit a tree."

No. 8--"Get legs!"

No. 9--"Hit something!"

No. 10--"Think we'll ever find that?"

No. 11--"What am I doing wrong, can anybody tell me? On second thought, what am I doing right? "

No. 12--"Who designed this course, Caligula?"

No. 13--"You mean to tell me the members play this?"

No. 14--"Anybody got a cut ball?"

No. 15--"What's par here--90?"

No. 16--"I got the honors on this hole last time with an X."

No. 17--"What do they call this hole, Splash?"

No. 18--"Did this golf course used to be a cellar in Stalingrad or just where elephants go to die?"

The good news is, the golfers have to play it twice this week. It's good for them to find out the world isn't just a drive and an 8-iron for a change.

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