Golf in these times: California
First in a series of reports from across the country by PGATOUR.COM writers
March 23, 2020
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- Golfers practice on the putting green ahead of their round at Rancho Park Golf Course. (Ben Everill/PGA TOUR)
LOS ANGELES – The usually jammed 405 freeway was wide open with seven lanes on each side near empty. The drive from home had never been quicker but trying to find a parking spot at Rancho Park Golf Course proved as difficult as always.
GOLF IN THESE TIMES
• Massachusetts: Jim McCabe sees the start of golf season delayed at Presidents Golf Course
• Arizona: Rob Bolton sets the scene from an Outlaw Tour event at Western Skies Golf Club
• North Carolina: Helen Ross reflects on memories of golf in her home state
• Florida: Mike McAllister plays a Mark McCumber-designed course at Marsh Creek Country Club
Rancho – as the locals affectionately call it – is the premier municipal course owned by the city of Los Angeles. It hosted the L.A. Open (now The Genesis Invitational) on 17 occasions from 1956-67, 1969-72 and in 1983. It is steeped in history.
Arnold Palmer won three times at Rancho while Charlie Sifford and Billy Casper also prevailed there. It is the site where Jack Nicklaus earned his first PGA TOUR check -- a huge $33.33 as a 21-year-old rookie in 1962 after he tied for 50th. Nancy Lopez won two of the three LPGA events staged there.
On multiple occasions, Rancho has served as the busiest muni in America, routinely logging over 100,000 rounds a year. On this Friday afternoon, things were no different. Strange, perhaps, given the previous day, the mayor of Los Angeles and the governor of California had given stay-at-home edicts due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Perhaps that’s why it was so busy, golfers recognizing that courses might not be open much longer. In fact the starter, a little disgruntled, remarks that today and the day before had been the busiest in some time.
Nik Adell is at the window looking for a tee time. There are taped lines on the ground six feet apart to show people where to stand to keep social distancing protocols in place. This is one of many changes to the norm. Carts are still available, but for single riders only. Flagsticks are to remain in and untouched. Ball washers and rakes have been removed from the course.Golfers stand six feet apart as they look for a tee time at Rancho. (Ben Everill/PGA TOUR)
Adell, his wife and friend Ken are put on a waiting list, so he buys a card that allows priority online booking for the future. Turns out he is a member at a nearby private club that has already closed.
“Golf is a stress reliever. And I work in the financial markets … so right now I need a stress reliever,” Adell said. “We just had to play. We don’t know when they will shut this all down.”
It is a sentiment shared by multiple people I talk to. From others on the waiting list, players practicing on the range, and a group of (let’s just say nine to stay under the rules) friends engaged in a very serious putting duel on the practice green. The uncertainty of availability of golf has everyone wanting to cram as much in as possible.
I, too, can relate as I walk to the first tee to meet the foursome I’ll share the next five hours with – at an acceptable distance of course. I am joined by Ben Northenor, Matt Macedo and Adam Zoucha wondering if this might be my last round in months.
Northenor is a 41-year-old who was laid off from his job as an editor on the hit show Dynasty as Hollywood came to a halt. He found golf only in the last 18 months but is, by his own admission, basically obsessed with it. When he was given the layoff news, he went right out to play with his 7-year-old son and has since tried to play as much as possible.
“It is hard to put into words, but the game is almost therapeutic, possibly even necessary in times like this,” Northenor said after making a great par on the first from a rake-less fairway bunker.
“Golf has helped in every aspect of my life. As an editor, having a producer standing over your shoulder is real pressure. Trying to make a 5-footer to win a hole, or make a birdie or par, recreates that.
“We search for perfection on a daily basis in our lives, but golf reminds you to enjoy the journey, as much, if not more so, than the destination. Countless obstacles are always thrown in your way but one must never give up.”
Thirty-year-olds Macedo and Zoucha are college friends who also scrambled to Rancho when another course had closed. Zoucha is supposed to be married on June 6 … in Italy. He is resigned to the fact a change of venue is likely although holds out small hope of a postponement.
Zoucha is a double digit handicapper but impressively wields a Scotty Cameron putter, a gift from his fiancée. I’d like to borrow it on this round, given I accidently left my TaylorMade Spider at the Everill family mini-golf course and am now putting with a wedge. But of course sharing is NOT caring at the moment.
“I hope this place stays open. It allows people an outlet where they still can be cautious and practice social distancing,” Zoucha said. “It will be a shame to cancel the wedding trip but of course that’s nothing compared to what others are experiencing. I feel for those even more directly affected.”
If not for my questions, Coronavirus talk would have likely been near non-existent. The four of us took extra time telling stories that made us smile and laugh and, of course, well-naturedly ribbed each other for each thin, fat, topped or shanked shot. But we also heavily praised those great shots that keep everyone wanting golf in their lives.
As the sun set, we made a point of visiting the famous plaque on the par-5 18th that commemorates Palmer making a 12 there during the 1961 L.A. Open, two years before winning the first of his three titles. It was first erected in 1963 with Palmer in attendance “as an inspiration to all golfers” and the rededicated plaque includes a quote from Palmer:
Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.A detailed look at the famous plaque on the par-5 18th commemorating Arnold Palmer. (Ben Everill/PGA TOUR)
Before going our separate ways post-round, the four of us agreed the game itself also remains an inspiration, now more than ever. And we were hopeful that Rancho might stay open a bit longer, providing therapy in these uncertain times.
Alas, the news came down over the weekend – all public courses in Los Angeles now closed. But I look forward to one day getting back out to Rancho, perhaps even sharing another round with my new golf mates Adam, Matt and Ben.
Coming Tuesday: PGATOUR.COM’s Jim McCabe visits his local course in Quincy, Massachusetts.