To all jersey-wearing, autograph-seeking, celebrity-worshipping face-painters who like golf and travel, how and why did I not see you at Edgewood in Tahoe last week? You would’ve been a kid at a McDonald’s Playland, and the celebrities would’ve been the tub of plastic balls. They’re everywhere. And they’re relaxed and accessible.
But before I walked amongst the gladiators of sport and cinema over at Edgewood, I jumped a final early-morning round at Old Greenwood, the only course I tried twice among the five I played in Tahoe.
Here’s a picture of the 18th green:
As I was checking out, I ran into Annika Sorenstam and her husband, Mike McGee. Annika had just finished teaching a three-day clinic and an afternoon by the pool. We exchanged pleasantries. Annika says she is enjoying motherhood, retirement and that Paula Creamer’s win at the Open was good for the game of golf.
Then I drove through my favorite spot in Tahoe, Incline Village, en route to Edgewood for a day and a half of the festivities at the American Century Championship
. My goal: come back with some Q&As for upcoming issues of Golf Digest. I also wanted to touch base with a few “friends” I made 15 years ago, back in 1995, when I caddied at this event for Mike Shanahan. I was a senior in college; Shanahan was about to begin his first year as the Broncos head coach.
Cut to last week--I was in town to report a story on golf in Tahoe and Shanahan is about to begin his first year as the Redskins coach. I’d say Shanahan remembered me. Sort of. He remembered we were paired with Ernie Banks and Digger Phelps, who I argued with over the rules, specifically where he could drop after dumping one into a hazard. Shanahan was a generous tipper--he threw in an extra $50 because my altercation with Phelps caused severe swing troubles for the former Notre Dame coach and Shanahan ended up beating Digger by two strokes.
This year Shanahan, who had only played twice before Edgewood, beat Phelps by 13 points:
I got to walk a few holes with Hank Haney, who didn’t play in the tournament, but played with four amateurs in the Thursday celebrity-am. I like Hank. He has always been gracious to me. I could tell he was relieved to be out from under the media microscope that went along with being Tiger’s coach. Haney’s steps were a little lighter, and he was more discreet with stats about Tiger’s success under his watch. He was content with: “Forty-five percent of Tiger’s wins have come in the last six years.” I checked it. He’s right. Since 2004, when Haney started working with Tiger, Woods has 35 of his 71 career wins, not to mention 6 of 14 majors.
Last Thursday Haney’s four playing partners got quite a deal for being paired with the notable swing coach. They enjoyed an 18-hole playing lesson, which, according to Haney, would normally cost $25,000 each. Dave MacEwen, pictured below, was told by Haney, “Faster back, faster through, just in case you hit it.”
And so MacEwen did. And it flew the second green. MacEwen started referring to “my new Hank Haney swing” and said Haney was impressive with his tips, the fans and the kids. One member of the gallery asked, “What are Tiger’s chances this week at the British?”
Haney quietly replied, “I think he will win the tournament.”
Then the fan asked, “What about Barkley, will he win this tournament?”
“I give him 5,000 to 1. I think this is Barkley’s grand finale . . .” said Haney, “as a righty. I think he comes back next year as a lefty.”
“He couldn’t do any worse,” said the fan.
The fan was right. Poor Charles, he finished dead last.
But regardless of the quality of his golf, Barkley is the unofficial host of this event. Jordan is the biggest name, but Barkley is by far the biggest personality. He works the course and the party sessions after the golf as though he has a stake in the tournament’s success (pardon the quality of a cell phone snap):
One woman, trying to get her picture with the former round mound of rebound (now the current rounder mound of sound bites), said she flew from Holland to see him. Eventually she got her picture with Barkley. Eventually, it’s safe to say, everybody did. He bought drinks, shook hands, kissed cheeks, gave big hugs and didn’t hesitate to comment on LeBron James going to the Miami Heat. “LeBron,” said Barkley, “is a wussy.” (He might’ve used a word that sounds the same but starts with an alternate letter of the alphabet.)
As much fun as it was partying with Barkley, most of the memorable moments occurred out on the course. The seventh tee is where Blake Mori and 24 of his friends have camped out for the past three years. They’re loud, but fall short of obnoxious:
It’s their annual buddies trip. They play a round in Sacramento and then drive up the hill to hang out at Edgewood for a few days. They like to give the celebrities (and the amateurs in the celebrity-am) a hard time in a playful way.
They told this poor amateur, “With that hat, you better be good.” He wasn’t:
One guy in Mori’s group bet Jordan $100 he couldn’t hit the green at the 161-yard seventh. The guy put the $100 bill on the grass in front of him. Jordan took the bet. Another two guys threw down $50 each. Jordan accepted those bets as well. His shot looked like it hit the green, so he scooped up the money. As they got closer it was clear it was on the fringe. Jordan handed back $400.
Then Jason Kidd’s group came along:
Mori pleaded with the Mavericks point guard to sign with the Sacramento Kings. “Come on, Jason. We’ll give you $6 million for one year.” Never mind that Kidd will make more than $8 million in Dallas this season.
Kidd laughed, hit his shot, and then ran down the line of fans slapping hands:
Linda Kelly, Lance Armstrong’s mom, was in Kidd’s group. Livestrong, Armstrong’s foundation, is the official charity of the event. Armstrong’s mom is a sweet lady, but she needs to get into Haney’s group next year. Check out this unique follow through as she tried, unsuccessfully, six times, to get out of a greenside bunker:
Kidd, like the other athletes and celebrities, accommodated almost every photo and autograph request:
Some other details worth noting: Kidd’s thoughts on the new Miami Heat: “They had a plan and they executed it. It’s incredible. They need another shooter, but that’s a baby Dream Team.”
I asked Kelly if Lance played golf: “Not really. He’d rather ride his bike for eight hours than play a round of golf.”
And then there’s Jared Allen, who says he’s a 12-handicap. “I’m the guy who’s awesome on the range and then I suck on the course.” I couldn’t help but notice Allen likes to play in flip flops:
My final ranking of the five courses I played while I was in the Tahoe area, which is one of may favorite summer and winter spots on earth. Only Clear Creek isn’t open to the public.
It had the best combination of course design, conditioning and setting with a private facility polish. Just wait until they get a pro shop (tentatively scheduled to be done in spring, 2011).
2) Old Greenwood.
Houses on golf courses usually bother me, but not the ones here. These actually fit their surroundings. It’s a blast to play, the service is exceptional and I loved the valley view from the 16th tee.
3) Clear Creek.
I liked the Coore/Crenshaw course. I’ll like it better, not if, but when it goes public.
After playing four new courses in the area I came to realize that the host course for the American Century Championship is probably overpriced and certainly not worthy of its No. 65 ranking among America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses. I still like holes 16, 17 and 18 because nothing’s better than playing right next to Lake Tahoe, and Edgewood is the only course you can do that.
5) Gray’s Crossing.
There has to be a No. 5, and on this list, it’s no slouch. It’s just not interesting enough to rank any higher. I appreciated the breakfast burrito and the twilight rate ($100 after 3:00).
As for the American Century Championship
, click here to read Eddie Matz’s review
in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine. Matz, by the way, is a cancer survivor and walked the celebrity-am round on Thursday with Kidd, Kelly and Doug Ulman, CEO and President of the Livestrong foundation
. Ulman, 34, survived cancer three times before the age of 20 and went on to play soccer at Brown.