Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nobody should think Cypress Point, one of the world's great courses, is the answer to what ails the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Poppy Hills has been a barely adequate replacement for the event's three-course rotation. Substituting either of the old Fort Ord courses, Bayonet or Black Horse, might work but they offer the problem of proximity. They're in Seaside, on the other side of Monterey Bay from Pebble Beach and Spyglass.
Anyone who has played Cypress Point--I've teed it up there several times, plus covered its AT&T farewell in 1990--knows it is beautiful and that it is hopelessly obsolete for hosting a tour event. Tour players were putting up 61s, 62s and 63s with regularity at the end of its previous run almost 20 years ago. The technology of golf equipment has advanced far beyond Cypress Point's capability of lengthening the layout to remain competitive. The course is less than 6,600 yards, has no par 4 longer than 437 yards and only one legitimate par 5. Three or four par 4s might be drivable for today's long hitters, and that's after you reduce par to 69 and play three of the par 5s as par 4s. Even in 1990, Cypress represented the best opportunity for a tour pro to shoot in the 50s. That would be even more true today, except there's no telling how low a player could go there on a calm day. Fifty-eight? Fifty-seven? Fifty-six?
Back in '91 when players were still going through withdrawal after downgrading from Cypress to Poppy, Mark O'Meara was among those sorry to see Cypress go, although not sorry to say goodbye to the famed 16th hole, the 230-plus-yard, peninsula-green par 3. "At least now I won't have to lay up on a par 3," he said then.
If I was given a chance to play at three courses of my choice, Cypress would be one of them. Even if Cypress changed its membership policies to be eligible to host the Pro-Am (not going to happen), even if the members decided they wanted the tournament back along with all the unwanted spectators, hassle and attention (not going to happen, times two), this classic course just isn't big enough. The PGA Tour's middle-of-the-pack players would dismantle par at this course, barring 40 mph wins, two-foot rough and nine-yard fairways.
Cypress Point is a course for your dreams, not the PGA Tour pros. I remember being the only gallery member at the 14th tee in '90, watching actors Burt Lancaster and Robert Wagner, I believe, tee off and battle their way up the hill to the green, heads down, holding onto their hats, smiling, slacks flapping in the gusty breeze, the sound of crashing surf in the background, and gulls floating merrily along the shore. They were just two golfers at that moment, battling the elements and Old Man Par beneath a golden sun. The course felt like an impossibly big stage. The beauty of Cypress is that it always makes you feel that way, even though the modern game has shrunken it past the point of no return.
Cypress Point is not an option for the pros anymore, just wishful thinking.

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