Poor ol‘ Poppy. Earlier this week reports surfaced that Poppy Hills Golf Course, the third, humdrum wheel in the AT&T rotation, is in danger of losing its hosting duties. Tournament officials have apparently begun discussions to replace Poppy with Bayonet and Black Horse, a couple of high-end daily-fees that have been given a Hollywood-grade face lift.
Poppy has never really fit in. In a week full of glamorous celebs and glorious ocean views (at Pebble and Spyglass), Poppy is the awkward bumpkin at the black-tie ball. Tree-lined and landlocked, the course does nothing for a telecast, and it has never enthused the tycoons and Tour pros who comprise the AT&T field. “Poppy Hills is not the best course we play, and that’s as kind as I can be,” Tour pro Scott McCarron, a longtime AT&T participant told the San Francisco Chronicle last year. “Spyglass and Pebble are probably two of our best.”
McCarron’s solution? “Throw Cypress back into the mix,” he said.
McCarron was referring to Cypress Point Club, the iconic Alister MacKenzie design renowned for its cliff-lined holes and airtight privacy (don’t bother looking for its web site). (Cypress was an AT&T site up until 1990, the same year the PGA Championship visited Alabama’s Shoal Creek Country Club and the event’s sponsors famously pressured the club into admitting a black member. The next year, then-Tour commissioner Deane Beman, told Cypress that it, too, should admit a black member or risk losing its place on the AT&T lineup. When Cypress declined, saying it was unwilling to meddle with its membership waiting list, the AT&T took a hike.)
McCarron’s idea isn’t a novel one. Poppy has been standing on the gallows for years. In 2004, the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, which runs the AT&T, said it was considering expanding the tournament’s dance card. Pebble would remain the anchor, but a handful of other courses, Cypress Point included, would take turns filling out the other two spots.
“We’ve been through this a number of times, where we've looked at other possible courses,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Thursday, after actually playing in the opening round of the AT&T. “We looked at this course [Bayonet and Black Horse] because it just got re-done. We're just going through the process. Where it leads, I don't know."
Why not to the shores of Cypress Point? Both Finchem and Ollie Nutt, president of the Monterey foundation, said this week that Cypress has not been approached about rejoining the fold, but a source close to the club told me that there at least some interest among the membership. The club has admitted at least a couple minority members since 1990, so the race issue would not be a roadblock. The biggest hindrance, as has always been the case at Cypress, is the dearth of real estate. But, hey, if cramped Merion can manage the logistics for a U.S. Open, as it will in 2013, Cypress can handle the AT&T.
Truth is, it’s just what the tournament needs. Bayonet and Black Horse are undoubtedly fine courses, but they won’t entice the A-list pros the event has been missing. Cypress would. Even Tiger Woods, who hasn’t played in the AT&T since 2002, once said: “I’ll come back for sure when Cypress Point comes back to the rotation.”
It’s time that theory was tested.