TPC Valencia Golf Club: Well Worth the Wait

By Tom LaMarre, Contributor

Editor's Note: this course is not scheduled to open until at least early in 2003VALENCIA, CA --“If Mark O’Meara is getting a bit impatient waiting for the TPC Valencia Golf Club to be completed, what about the golfers in the Santa Clarita Valley?

It's been 17 years since Newhall Land & Farming promised to build another golf course in the area after selling Valencia Country Club, which became a private club under the ownership of the Uniden Corp. of Japan.

Ted Robinson Sr., originally contracted to design the new course, got tired of waiting through two lawsuits and other delays. He went down the road and built his own course, Robinson Ranch in Canyon Country, which opened in 1999.

PGA Tour Properties came aboard several years ago, engaged O'Meara as design consultant, and the TPC Valencia is scheduled to open early next year.

"It's a little frustrating," said O'Meara, the 1998 Masters and British Open champion, who has had three other design projects all but completed in the interim. "You would like to have had it up and running by now but it looks like we are on track now."

"It's always a little more difficult in California because of permitting, the economy and environmental issues. But I was out there not long ago and it looks really good. We'll have all the grass in soon and then it really gets exciting."

"We've waited a long time for this but I think people will say it was worth it."

TPC Valencia will be a 7,260-yard, par-72 layout on rolling terrain alongside Interstate 5 adjacent to Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park and across the freeway from Valencia Country Club.

The front nine, with the exception of the first and ninth holes, will wind through homes in the upscale Westridge community between Valencia Boulevard and Magic Mountain Parkway. The rest of the course will meander through natural terrain between Valencia Boulevard and McBean Parkway to the South.

There were some 1,400 oak trees on the property and that was part of the problem. But designers were able to incorporate more than 90% of the trees into the course and Newhall Land & Farming is replanting the rest at a 2-to-1 ratio.

"Development is very cumbersome in California," said Marlee Lauffer, vice president of corporate communications for Newhall Land & Farming, primary developer in the Santa Clarita Valley. "But the courts ruled that we have taken care of all the environmental issues."

"Selling Valencia Country Club was probably the biggest mistake we ever made, but we really planned to have another course built within two or three years. We're finally realizing that dream and we think people will enjoy the TPC course as much as they do Valencia County Club."

Chris Gray, Director of Design for PGA Design Services Inc., is the primary architect for the course, but when O'Meara came aboard a few years ago, he made some drastic changes to the original design.

Among other things, he altered 11 of the greens.

"Even though this is a TPC course and there are going to be tournaments here, I want everybody to be able to putt on these greens," said O'Meara, an accomplished putter. "If the greens are too difficult for the people who are going to pay to play the course, it's not going to work."

"I'm still making changes. When I was out there the last time, I thought the green on the 11th hole, a par three, was sloped a little too severely from front to back, so we're changing that a little bit."

The front nine is longer than the back, 3,714 yards to 3,546 yards, even though Gray and O'Meara agree that the last five holes provide the most challenging part of the course.

The big finish starts with consecutive par fives, 606 yards from the back tees and 520 yards. Then comes a 189-yard par three, a reachable risk/reward par four at 296 yards and the 476-yard par-four 18th hole.

"We think the course is solid all the way around but it's going to be a great finish," Gray said. "No. 14 will be a tight, three-shot par five through the trees with a long, narrow green. We didn't really plan for back-to-back par fives, but that's what the landscape dictated. The second one will be reachable in two."

"Par threes seem to stick in people's minds and we think No. 16, which gives you a scenic look into a little valley, is one that will be remembered. The 17th is a reachable par four but you have to take a chance because the drive is over a ravine. And the 18th is 480 yards from the back tee into the prevailing wind."

"Mark has come in and worked out some of the details for us, little tweaks to the greens, the bunkers and some of the slopes. We always listen to our player-consultants because they are the best in the sport and they understand the game so well."

Gray said there aren't many bunkers and only two lakes on the course because the oak trees and the terrain will provide enough hazards.

O'Meara likes the water holes, both par threes, the 192-yard fourth guarded by a lake on the right side and the 244-yard ninth, with a lake to the left of the putting surface.

"No. 9 is going to be a long, intimidating shot from an elevated tee with a big lake," O'Meara said. "The fourth hole isn't quite as long and when I saw it recently, there was no water in the lake yet, but I think that's going to be another good hole."

"I think the front nine has a good flow, with the houses being built above the course. You see that a lot in California and I understand because the developer has to make some money. But the back nine is going to be what people remember. I think it's good to be a really good course but if it will be a great course, only time will tell."

Although it's not written in stone, there probably will be a PGA Tour event played at the TPC Valencia, sooner or later.

PGA Tour Properties builds TPC courses to hold tournaments, though not all of them do.

"Every TPC course is built with the necessary infrastructure to host an event on the PGA Tour, Senior PGA Tour or Tour," said Chris Smith, Director of Public Relations for PGA Tour Business. "We know what you need for the players, fans, the media and corporate interests."

For several years, there was talk that the Nissan Open would eventually relocate to the TPC Valencia, but the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce recently signed a deal with the PGA Tour that will keep the tournament at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades through 2006.

The SBC Senior Classic has one year remaining on its contract with Valencia Country Club and could wind up at the TPC Valencia in 2004.

"I was originally told that the Nissan might end up there but recently someone said it would be a Senior event," O'Meara said. "I know the players enjoy older courses like Riviera because we don't play that many of them any more, but I would have no problem if they moved the Nissan to (the TPC Valencia)."

"Valencia (Country Club) is a great course and I know the Seniors like it, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens."

O'Meara, a newcomer to course design, recently opened the well-received Grandview Golf Club north of Toronto.

The finishing touches are being applied to two other O'Meara projects, Carton House Golf Club, 16 miles west of Dublin, Ireland, and Tuhaye Golf Club in Park City, Utah.

It took O'Meara 18 years as a pro to win his first major, the 1998 Masters, so he knows how to play the waiting game.

Photos courtesy PGA Tour Design Services

Tom LaMarre, Contributor

Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor in California for parts of five decades, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times.

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