|An Ideal Experience - 10/25/07|
By Bob Padecky, Press Democrat Columnist
What attracts a pro golfer to a tournament site? Well, for one thing, there has to be something to do there besides play golf. If the most exciting activity away from the course is hunting for snails, the pro will step on a thumbtack and take the week off. There are more tragic thumbtack injuries in golf than any other sport.
The course itself has to be a nice compromise of heaven and hell, something between a putt-putt and a U.S. Open whose fairways typically are as wide as a gymnast's balance beam and the rough is as high as a Volkswagen.
The weather is somewhere between a chill and a sunburn. No one likes to feel they are teeing off on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Last, but not least, the pro has to feel the love. Upon arrival he needs to receive more than a handshake and a Milk Dud.
"The ideal golf course?" said Leon Gilmore, the tournament director for the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. "Well, I think that would be Sonoma. It's a phenomenal place."
That would be the Sonoma Golf Club (SGC) which, actually, could be called the Let It Breathe Golf Club, because it's smack-dab in the middle of Wine Country. So they haven't snail hunted around here for years.
It also could be called Equitable Golf Club because the course demands you pay attention but doesn't ask you to bring a machete to help deal with the rough or land surveyors' equipment to line up every shot. "Tom Watson said these are the best putting greens he's ever experienced," said Gilmore.
The weather, usually temperate at this time of the year, prohibits even long-sleeve shirts, for that would be overdressing. But since it seems that the global warming genie has hovered directly over Sonoma County recently to cast her rain wand, an umbrella now is considered emergency medical equipment.
And the love? All the pro golfer has to do around here is swing the club. Gilmore and his 500-member volunteer crew will do the rest, including ferrying the golfers to local eateries, which usually takes about, on average, three minutes from parking lot to fork.
"As far as we (PGA) are concerned," Gilmore said, "we would like to stay here every year."
And the PGA probably would announce during Tournament Week that it would place the Schwab Cup here from now until Michael Vick gets a heart. Except for this one little thing.
"The golf course is up for sale," Gilmore said, "and hasn't been purchased yet."
This is the fifth consecutive year SGC is hosting the Schwab and has one more year left on the contract. The 2009 tournament still needs a site and the SGC is the heavy odds-on choice for that year. The Schwab then moves -- or you might think of it as being forced -- to Harding Park in San Francisco in 2010 and 2011 because of an agreement the PGA struck with that city seven years ago. The PGA would bring five major championships to San Francisco over a 15-year period. The Schwab is one of those championships.
"We want to come back here in 2012 and never leave," Gilmore said. "We want to be here, no question."
Michael Kosak, the current general manager at SGC, wouldn't comment on the future of the Schwab under new ownership, only to say, "The Schwab has been a great asset to Sonoma and Sonoma County." Otherwise he stayed clear of the subject. That's understandable, given his position.
This is also understandable, given the tournament's history here: The new owners should realize they have nothing to discourage them from keeping the Schwab here. We should assume the new owners, whoever they are, love golf since they just bought a golf course, and therefore should love the fact the pros love the site. We also should assume the new owners are good stewards to the area and appreciate the tournament raising $1.4 million to charity in its five years here while generating area revenue valued at $5 million-$7 million.
In other words, except for the occasional raindrop, there shouldn't be a discouraging word. And, come to think of it, even the rain has an upside. Fans would have to buy umbrellas and, bingo, there you have it, more money into the local economy. And a golf tournament can't be any more ideal than that, turning a rare negative into a positive.