California Notebook: News from Across the Green

By Tom LaMarre, Contributor

SAN DIEGO -- Valencia Country Club, one of Southern California's golf jewels, has been purchased by Heritage Golf Group of San Diego from Uniden Corp. of Japan.

The 7,076-yard Valencia course, designed by the late Robert Trent Jones Sr., which opened in 1965, has been recognized as one of the best layouts in the state from the beginning. In 1995, it was selected as one of the best 25 courses in California by Golf Digest.

"We believe Valencia is in the top three in California among courses more than 25 years old," said Jim Fitzsimmons, who has been installed by Heritage as general manager at Valencia. "We are going to make some changes to the club but we are not going to alter the course."

Valencia hosted the 1998 Nissan Open, the only year since 1983 it has not been played at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. Riviera hosted the 1998 U.S. Senior Open and its members did not want to give up their course for an additional week.

Billy Mayfair made birdies on Valencia's 18th hole in the final round and in a playoff of the Nissan to upset hometown favorite Tiger Woods.

The PGA Tour was so impressed by the course, the Santa Clarita Valley and with how smoothly the 1998 Nissan came off, that Valencia has become the home of the SBC Seniors Classic on the PGA Senior Tour.

The SBC has been played at Valencia the last two years and both times it again came down to the wire.

Jim Colbert sank a four-foot putt for par on the final hole to hold off Jose Maria Canizares by one stroke in 2001, and this year Valencia had its most exciting finish.

Gil Morgan nearly holed his approach shot on the par-five, 566-yard closing hole for double eagle and made the four-foot putt for eagle, while playing partner Tom Purtzer made birdie as both pulled even with Tom Kite who was just teeing off on 18.

Kite, knowing he needed a birdie to regain the lead, got only to see his playing partner, Tom Watson, chip in for eagle to force a playoff. After Watson missed a five-foot putt for victory on the first playoff hole, again the 18th, Kite won with a par on the second extra hole, the 10th.

Fitzsimmons said Heritage hopes to continue its relationship with the PGA Tour.

"Even though we have a contract with the PGA Tour, there are things that have to be done after the tournament every year," Fitzsimmons said. "We are in negotiations with them now and we hope to have the tournament here again next year and hopefully after hat."

Long-time residents of the Santa Clarita Valley remember that Valencia was a public course until it was bought by Uniden and went private in 1985.

When it was learned that Heritage had purchased the club, the big question locally was whether the course would become public again.

"Absolutely not," Fitzsimmons said. "Our goal is to make Valencia one of, if not the best private clubs in Southern California. We feel we have no competition, especially in the area. There is no other club around here that can match the course at Valencia."

Valencia is a scenic layout over former pasture land that neighbors Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park and College of the Canyons. Water comes into play on eight holes and the fairways are lined by towering eucalyptus trees, with majestic oaks scattered throughout the property.

When Jones returned to Valencia to mark its 25th anniversary, he was pleased to see the way the course had matured.

"I am very surprised and pleased with the way the course has grown up," Jones said. "I always expected this to be a wonderful golf course, but it has turned out even better than I expected. I didn't expect to see the trees to be as big as they are."

Maybe that's why they call the course "Big V."

Farewell to Paul Runyan

Golf lost a priceless treasure when Paul Runyan, a two-time winner of the PGA Championship, died of pneumonia in March at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.

Runyan, 93, won 28 times on the fledgling PGA Tour in the 1930s and more than 50 tournaments around the world, in addition to being one of golf's great teaching pros until his final days at the Palm Desert Family Golf Center.

"I was sorry to hear that Paul Runyan was gone," Arnold Palmer said. "He was a great player with an exceptional short game, and he had a wonderful career."

Runyan defeated Craig Wood on the 38th hole to win the 1934 PGA Championship at Park Country Club in Williamsville, NY, in the years when the PGA was a match-play event.

But his 8-and-7 rout of the great Sam Snead in the 1938 PGA Championship at Shawnee Country Club in Shawnee-on-Delaware, PA, remains one of the most remarkable upsets in golf history. Snead out-drove Runyan by approximately 50 yards on the par fours and par fives, but the 5-7, 125-pound Runyan was devastating with his fairway woods and short game.

"I reached every par five in two and he didn't reach any of them, and I didn't win any of those holes," Snead recalled. "It wasn't golf, it was magic. I don't suppose anyone ever got more out of their golf game than Paul Runyan. He could get up and down from a manhole."

Runyan tied for third in the first Masters in 1934, finishing two strokes behind winner Horton Smith, and was still competitive in 1951 when he led the U.S. Open for three rounds before fading to sixth as Ben Hogan won at Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, MI.

Runyan was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame and the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame, in addition to receiving the PGA of America's Distinguished Service Award in 1998.

"When it came to knowledge of the short game, Paul Runyan was unsurpassed," said Duffy Waldorf, the PGA Tour pro who lives in Canyon Country. "We did a clinic together last year and I talked about the golf swing and he explained the short game."

"It was amazing how sharp he was at his age and the depth of knowledge he had from his many years in the game."

Runyan was the longest-serving member of the PGA of America, first earning membership in 1931, and taught golf for 78 years beginning at age 15.

Runyan was head pro at Sahalee and Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, NY, before coming to Southern California and serving in the same role for many years at La Jolla Country Club and Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena.

He moved to Palm Desert in 2000 after the death of his second wife, Bernice.

Recognized as one of the top 100 teaching pros in the U.S. last year by Golf Digest, Runyan was revered among his peers.

"He had more energy than anybody I ever saw," said Gene Littler, the 1961 U.S. Open champion from San Diego who grew up playing at La Jolla when Runyan was head pro. "He would work in the pro shop, run out to the practice tee, run back to the shop. I never saw him walk."

"I saw him play some marvelous shots around the green. I learned a lot from him. I saw him a year ago and he told me he was still teaching."

Runyan was teaching right until the end, giving a lesson on March 9, two days before he was hospitalized. . .

News from the City of Hope

Amy Alcott, LPGA Hall of Famer from Los Angeles, and Rick Fox of the Los Angeles Lakers dedicated a putting green for cancer patients at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte.

The putting green, donated by L.A. Greens of Torrance, was installed as part of the activities surrounding the LPGA Office Depot Championship. It will be hosted by Amy Alcott and played April 5-7 at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, a suburb of Los Angeles.

"As a parent I am grateful that my children are well and healthy," said Fox, who is married to actress and singer Vanessa Williams. "I am also comforted to know that there are remarkable organizations like City of Hope that do such good work, by creating hope for those affected by cancer and truly make a big difference in the lives of children and their families."

The 750-square-feet putting green, which features five holes, is made of synthetic bent grass that allows players to putt and chip like a natural putting green.

The green will accommodate patients in wheel chairs and with IV poles.

"Golf has always been such an integral part of my life and brought me so much joy," Alcott said. "Now, as a member of the City of Hope family, it gives me great pleasure to help bring an aspect of this sport to those who can so greatly benefit from it."

City of Hope is the primary beneficiary of the LPGA Office Depot Championship...

Southern California Golf Expo

Attendance at the 13th annual Original Southern California Golf Expo at Fairplex Pomona was down nearly 40%, causing the sponsoring PGA of Southern California and the Southern California Golf Association to consider major changes in the show.

Not quite 8,100 people showed up for the three-day event, considerably fewer than the previous low of just over 12,000.

"You always hope for the best but we kind of had an idea it was coming," said Greg Flores, media relations manager for the SCPGA. "The weather was perfect that weekend, which traditionally has not been good for us, and we have always been down the third year we hold the event at the same venue."

"We were down across the board, in attendance, participants, everything. But we have been told that all consumer shows in halls have been down since Sept. 11."

The SCPGA, which started what has turned into the PGA of America Merchandising Show in Orlando, FL, held the Southern California Golf Expo previously in Orange County and Long Beach before moving to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona.

Flores said radical changes might be coming.

"We are definitely looking into doing something a little different next year," he said. "We might not even have a show in a hall. Maybe we will go outside, to a golf course. We will do something more cost-efficient, because it is expensive to rent a big hall for three days."

"But we will continue to do some type of event to interact with the general public and continue to look for new ways to promote the game of golf.". . .

Grants and Greens

The United States Golf Association's Foundation Grants Committee has awarded 62 grants to programs around the country, including two in Los Angeles, totaling $1,809,925 in 2002.

The $1,809,925 in grants increase the total awards by the Usage's "For the Good of the Game" initiative, a program designed to help make golf more affordable and accessible to people facing economic and physical challenges, to more than $27 million since 1977.

The Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, which is deeply involved in golf charity as manager of the Nissan Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades will receive $50,000.

The Young Golfers Association of Los Angeles was awarded $34,000.

The only other grant to a California organization was $16,200 to Northern California Minority Junior Golf in Sacramento. . .

Junior World Golf Championships

Callaway Golf Co. of Carlsbad has become the title sponsor of the Junior World Golf Championships, which is marking its 35th anniversary this summer.

The 2002 Callaway Golf Junior World Golf Championships will be held July 16-19 at seven courses in San Diego County, including revamped Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, home of the PGA Tour's Buick Invitational.

The Junior World Golf Championships are a series of 10 individual stroke play tournaments for boys and girls in five separate age groups, from 6- to 8-year-olds up to 15- to 17-year-olds. More than 1,000 players from more than 40 countries will participate.

Past champions include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Nick Price, David Toms, Amy Alcott and Brandie Burton. . .

Neno Boonyaplanum of Irvine scored a one-stroke victory over defending champion Henry Liaw of Hacienda Heights to win the 52nd Los Angeles Junior Championship at Wilson Golf Course in Griffith Park.

Boonyaplanum joined a list of winners that includes Tiger Woods in 1991, Bob May in 1986, John Cook in 1975, John Schroeder in 1963, Phil Rogers in 1955 and 1956, Al Geiberger in 1954 and Tommy Jacobs on 1952.

On the uphill, 399-yard finishing hole at Wilson, Boonyaplanum drove to within 100 yards of the green before chipping to within seven feet. He just missed his birdie putt but tapped in for par to finish at 70-68-73, five under par.

Jane Park of La Crescenta shot 75-73-71 to win the title by a stroke over Irene Cho of Buena Park.

Park joined a list of champions that includes Emilee Klein in 1990, Brandie Burton in 1988, Pearl Sinn in 1982 and 1985, Kim Saiki in 1983, and Amy Alcott in 1971, 1972 and 1973. . .

Haynes Leaves Callaway Golf

Mike Haynes has left Callaway Golf of Carlsbad and returned to the National Football League.

Haynes has been appointed NFL Vice President of Player and Employee Development by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

With Callaway, Haynes was global licensing manager from 1994-2000 and vice president of recreational golf development from 2001 to the present.

Haynes, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Arizona State University, played 14 years as a cornerback with the Los Angeles Raiders and New England Patriots, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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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