As the opening round of the $500,000 Security Pacific Senior Classic unfolded Friday at Rancho Park there was agreement on one thing--from tee to green, the course is in better shape than it has ever been.
But the greens?
The early starters said they were in good shape. But, except for Dan Morgan, those who played late said they were atrocious.
Morgan, 78th on the Senior PGA Tour money list with $31,319, teed off after 24 groups had trampled the greens, which were in delicate condition to begin with because of a summer fungus attack on the grass. By the time Morgan played, they were bumpy and spike-marked.
But Morgan found the right routes to the holes and shot a five-under-par 66 for a share of first place with Chi Chi Rodriguez, John Brodie and Miller Barber in the 54-hole event.
Morgan had the lead outright until he bogeyed the short par-four 16th hole, saying he misread the green coming and going. He used three putts on that hole and only 28 on the others.
The leaders held a one-stroke advantage over five players, among them George Archer, on the 6,307-yard municipal course.
Despite the complaints about the greens, 40 golfers broke par, including Arnold Palmer, 75-year-old Jerry Barber and defending champion Mike Hill, who were with a group of 12 at 70.
Larry Laoretti, who teed off in the second group at 8:40, raved about the greens.
"I can't believe the amazing improvement in the greens overnight," the cigar-smoking nonwinner said after shooting a 68. "They should give the greenskeeper (Randy Haney) a raise. He did a phenomenal job."
As the day progressed, however, the praise became faint and eventually turned to criticism.
"I think there was an advantage to teeing off early," said Lee Trevino, who managed a 68 despite putting problems. "It's fine playing early on Friday, but it's no good playing early Saturday and Sunday. You can't make money that way."
Golfers with the highest scores tee off first on the last two days of the tournament.
"From tee to green, this is a fabulous golf course," Trevino said. "I love it. But I have the solution for the greens. They have to get rid of the Poa annua (grass). It just won't hold up with the 400 rounds a day they play here.
"They must plant Bermuda. They should use Bermuda 328, which is what they use on the greens in Palm Springs.
"They need to take a sod cutter and go an inch deep. Throw out the Poa annua. Go to the nursery and get the Bermuda. They would have to have temporary greens for a while, but this would solve the problem. It would make the public golfers happy, too."
Hill, who shot a 63 in the final round to win last year, said he thought tour officials were partly to blame.
"They should have sent somebody out to help them get the course in shape when trouble began," he said.
Some of the top shooters in the first round finished it in need of medical attention.
Miller Barber, who holds a three-shot lead in the super senior portion of the tournament, almost collapsed on the 18th fairway. An asthmatic, he suffered a severe attack.
"I couldn't breathe," he said. "I need to take my medicine and lie down. I hope I'll be all right tomorrow, but you never know about these things."
After the attack, Barber hit his approach into a trap. But he blasted out to within two feet and saved par for his 66.
Larry Mowry, who was off the tour for nearly four months after suffering dizzy spells, was in the group tied for second in his fifth tournament since coming back. But he still has a stamina problem.
A birdie on 16 put him in front, but on the 190-yard 17th hole he lost concentration and double-bogeyed. After settling for his 67, he went to his hotel to rest.
Morgan didn't need help, but he is recovering from a freak, but serious injury. In Tarrytown, N.Y., in early June, the brakes jammed on a cart, which flipped over on him and landed on his left leg.
His right leg has been a problem because he had polio when he was young.
"All summer, when I usually play well, I was on one leg," said Morgan, of Bakersfield. "I'm fine now, but just beginning to play well."
Last week, Rodriguez was ill. He is better now and eager to win again after five mediocre tournaments.
Brodie played early and said he did everything well but putt. Today, he said, he might switch to a putter with a long handle.
"I really like the long one better," the former Stanford and 49er quarterback said.
Jerry Barber seemed to be the only one without a problem, shooting five shots less than his age.