Yani Tseng, the 2010 LPGA golfer of the year, will be competing this weekend… (Scott Halleran / Getty Images )
When the LPGA last played a tournament at Industry Hills Golf Club, Sally Little of South Africa — a steady, straight-shooting, middle-of-the-fairway player — won titles in 1981 and 1982. The next year, the women pros left the course behind amid complaints about the length, the hills and the rough.
The pros are returning to the course this week to play the Kia Classic with a field that includes all of the top 10 and 22 of the top 25-ranked players in the $1.7-million event.
There were, and still are, a pair of courses, the Eisenhower and the Zaharias, marked by narrow fairways and elevation changes enough to, as Little put it, "cause you to think you might need oxygen."
"I wish I was back this week," Little, 59, said from her Cape Town home. "I hear things are much different. I'll be watching to see how the scores go. I'll be interested in how these courses play now."
The courses underwent a $25-million makeover in 2000 and for this tournament, the two will play as one. In order to make the layouts more fan- and player-friendly, holes from each have been weaved into a single 18-hole course. The first hole of the Eisenhower layout has been made into a driving range.
And it's still not easy.
"It's really tough," said top-ranked Yani Tseng, the LPGA's player of the year in 2010. Tseng, from Taiwan, sees the length of the course (6,707 yards) as challenging.
"Even [using] drivers and then five-iron or four-iron, it's a long course especially now after two days of rain," Tseng said. "I think we need to be very patient this week. If you make a bogey, just feel like it's a U.S. Open course. If you make bogeys, it doesn't matter. I think it's hard to shoot a low score here."
Karrie Webb, who has arrived here with a two-tournament winning streak, said she expects the first two rounds — before the cut is made — to be long ones.
"Scores won't be super low by any means," she said. "It might take a while to get around the golf course. There are just holes out there where you can be just a little bit off and not have a shot to the green.
"I think the second hole is a perfect example. If you're right center of the fairway you can't hit at the green because of a big tree. So your option is to miss the green left. If you miss the green left, it's really hard to get a chip within 10 feet. Those are the sort of challenges the course poses."
Par will be 73 and the first hole will actually be the 10th hole of the Eisenhower course. The players will then head to the 10th, 11th, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth of the Zaharias and then finish on the 11th through 18th holes of the Eisenhower course.
If that sounds complicated, John Semcken, president of Majestic Realty, which owns and operates Industry Hills Golf Club at Pacific Palms Hotel and Conference Center, said put away your GPS. You'll be able to find your way around.
"I know [after 1982] the LPGA decided this course wasn't conducive to the fans, let alone the players," Semcken said. "The Ike was a big long course; the Babe was a narrow, target course. I know there were complaints and I think they were valid.
"But several of the players have been here over the past month to practice and I don't think we've heard a negative word."
Little said she heard the negative remarks when she was winning back-to-back titles.
"There was no room for error," she said. "That didn't sit well with a lot of the long hitters at the time because the ball would bounce off the fairway and girls couldn't even find their balls.
"I thought it was a magnificent course then because it wasn't all about pulling out the driver all the time. What I loved about it, you had to use your head all the way around and it challenged me. I loved it."
Dave Youpa, director of golf at the course, said when he was first told about the idea of combining holes from both courses to make an 18-hole layout, "I was a little confused," he said. "But now I look at it, it seems like this is just the way it should be. It sets up good. Like the idea of the driving range on the [Eisenhower] first hole? That seemed crazy. Now I see it, it seems natural."