PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Thursday began full of anticipation. Golf’s glitterati – Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas among them – were playing.
But isn’t that what you expect when the PGA Tour makes its way east to the Florida Swing?
Then the eucalyptus trees, a cool morning and the ocean lying to the west, not the east, summon the reality that this is the West Coast, and it’s Genesis Open week at Riviera Country Club.
Just as with a headline evening for actors at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, the West Coast has become a mandatory stop for the best golfers in the world.
It wasn’t that long ago when the West Coast was derided as the Worst Coast for golf, with limited field quality and a stunted overall interest.
When Tiger Woods reigned on Tour in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he would play at Torrey Pines, Riviera and occasionally Pebble Beach in his native California. His inability to figure out Riviera and the plodding amateur fields on the Monterey Peninsula eventually whittled his participation to only the San Diego stop.
Instead, Woods would make the annual pilgrimage to the Middle East, lured by seven-figure appearance fees.
The Tour and the media would openly discuss ways to strengthen a collection of events rooted in entertainers such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams and Glen Campbell.
While Woods shunned most of the West Coast, others made names for themselves with appearances that became annual traditions. They gave credence to the early-season events.
Today, those tournaments aren’t so early, at least on the Tour schedule. This week’s Genesis Open is the 15th of 45 events (including four opposite-field tournaments) in the regular season.
That’s one-third of the season gone, which forces players to compete on the West Coast or find themselves far back in FedEx Cup points and fading from the playoff picture.
The West Coast’s resurgence also has much to do with the quality of the venues, notably Honolulu’s Waialae Country Club, Torrey Pines (North and South courses), Spyglass, Monterey Peninsula, Pebble Beach and Riviera. That combination is far superior to any other stretch on the PGA Tour and includes three major-championship venues: Torrey Pines South, Pebble Beach and Riviera.
It also doesn’t hurt that in recent years, the weather has improved. Last week’s mild conditions on the Monterey Peninsula proved perfect for golf, and the forecast for the rest of the tournament in Los Angeles looks ideal.
Some detractors still dismiss the West Coast Swing in favor of the Florida events and the run-up to the Masters. They prefer the Bermudagrass putting surfaces in the Southeast to the bumpy Poa annua of the West. Over time, as world-class golfers have expanded their schedules globally, the varied playing surfaces have become less of an issue. Even the critics know that a golfer can’t truly become world-class by excelling only on Bermudagrass.
So, the West Coast, for many reasons, has found its mojo again. Unlike parts of the PGA Tour’s future schedule, the West Coast Swing likely will stay intact for many years to come.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli