2005: Time to cure ‘Wet Coast’ woes

Carlsbad, Calif.

Rain constant. Golf delayed. Waiting required. Ground saturated. Rounds lost. Shoes soaked. Feet wet. Days long. Clothes dirty. Water casual. Lies improved. Patience challenged. Dry-cleaning bills

GNP high. Skin wrinkled, bathtub style.

Somehow, pneumonia avoided.

This is professional golf’s mucky California trail in winter.

Not just this year. You can count on a Wet Coast swing annually.

Given that we have slipped and slid through yet more slop in SoCal, the PGA Tour should take a hard look at revamping its early-season schedule and staging Florida events before those in California.

Let’s look up (precipitation), then down (swamp) and take a bloody hint for a change. Flip and massage. Flip the two swings, then massage into a workable order.

The reason is simple. The California segment has been beset with inclement weather problems for years. Players, spectators and sponsors could use a break from the annual staple of rainy conditions that cause suspensions, cancellations and costume changes.

How many pairs of pants is a man expected to own? To pack?

The piecing together of a season’s schedule can be more difficult than solving a large jigsaw puzzle in the dark. The needs of tournament organizers, title sponsors and TV networks must be regarded.

That said, now is the time for the Tour to find a way to move California events outside the state’s usual rainy months of January and February. Now is the time to brainstorm (emphasis on “brain,” not “storm”) because the Tour this fall will negotiate with the networks on a new TV contract that begins in 2007.

The Tour routinely examines its schedule before the TV talks. Then the lineup is discussed further with the networks. For the moment, a lot of players endorse a change because they prefer firm, fast conditions to interruptions.

No less of a powerbroker than Tiger Woods has suggested a California-Florida flop and starting the season in late January. Like others, he’s tired of bumpy, foot-printed greens, where 2-foot putts can be a hopping adventure.

“Play in Hawaii, play in Florida and then come back here,” Woods said. “These are the two wettest months out here. And we’re playing on golf courses that just don’t handle water very well. You have to feel sorry for some of the sponsors, like Nissan, putting up six mil and not getting any exposure. . . . When it’s wet like this, it hurts everybody. It would be more fair for all of the spectators and sponsors and players if we played under dry conditions.”

Since this is a players’ tour, supposedly run in the best interests of the players, it would be nice

if the powers that be let the quality of the competitive arena be its guide. In other words, the best possible conditions and sites for the world’s leading professionals.

Right now, that’s not the case. California fields suffer as a result. Some players skip events here in anticipation of crummy weather.

“The talk seems now that we ought to play in Florida first and then the West Coast second,” said Davis Love III, a member of the Tour policy board.

A California-Florida swap makes sense from the standpoint of the thermometer as well as rain gauge and course dryness. Quite often, it’s 80-something in south and central Florida when it’s 60-something in California the first two months of the year. And it’s significantly drier and warmer in California in March-April than January-February.

There are many possible ways to rework the schedule. Let’s just think outside of the usual box and see if there’s a better way. Commissioner Tim Finchem says the Tour again is doing that, though he cautions against overreacting.

The Tour could begin the year with its usual two tournaments in Hawaii, stop at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Desert, Calif., then go to Florida for three or four weeks (Ford, Honda, Bay Hill, maybe Tampa). Then return west for events, in whatever order, in San Diego, Phoenix, Pebble Beach, Tucson and Los Angeles.

That could lead up to the Atlanta stop and the Masters. The Players Championship could be held in its usual late March spot or moved to May, which the Tour again is considering.

Former policy board member Jay Haas said the Tour has considered a California-Florida switch several times over the past 25 years, but without acting. “It’s kind of like a Rubik’s Cube – you can get one side right but not the others,” he said.

Finchem said the schedule starting in 2007 could be similar or much different. One influential Tour insider suspects a facelift, saying: “It could be a dramatically different schedule.”

That would be fine with David Toms, the newly crowned WGC-Accenture Match Play champion and former PGA Championship winner. In his third and last year on the Tour Policy Board, Toms said he annually has recommended juggling.

“Guys would much rather be in Florida than tackling the weather out here again,” Toms said. “Tournaments (in California) have lost a lot of players in their fields because of anticipation that it will be bad. If the competition is the main thing, it makes sense to change. I’ve raised it (to the board) so many times and it’s always, ‘So-and-so (tournaments) like their dates.’ ”

For reasons other than weather. This year, the FBR Open was delayed by wind instead of the usual frost, the Buick Invitational had fog issues, the Nissan was shortened to 36 holes because of rain and the Match Play was pushed back a day because of rain. The latter, which may leave La Costa for drier pastures after next year, would have been delayed longer had it been stroke play.

What’s more, the Pebble Beach tournament often has had weather issues – in the late 1990s alone, it was canceled once and completed in August another time and shortened to 54 holes.

You might say players have noticed. As he left the season-opening Mercedes Championships in Hawaii, Stephen Ames said, “This is the last time we’ll see the sun until we get to Florida.” He wasn’t far off.

And by the time he got ready to leave La Costa, he had had it with bad weather. “I can’t wait to get out of this part of the world,” Ames said.

This from a man who lives in Calgary, where they’re not playing much golf this time of year.

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