'It's a bomber's course, and it's just beautiful,' said 14-year-old Michelle Wie of Hawaii, who had seven drives 285 yards or longer in her pro-am round Tuesday.
The Safeway International was known as the Safeway Ping when it was played on the cozier Moon Valley Country Club course in north Phoenix a year ago.
It has moved 50 miles to the east, to the Jack Nicklaus-designed Prospector Course at the Superstition Mountain Golf Club, site of the 2001 Tradition on the Champions Tour.
One big reason for the move is money. There are 36 holes available for pro-am play, and that doubles the amount of earnings from amateurs who pay $5,000 apiece to participate.
The four-day, $1.2 million event begins Thursday on a par-72, 6,620-yard course lined with luxury homes -- some still under construction -- in the shadow of the Superstition Mountains, where legend has it the lost Dutchman gold mine lies waiting to be rediscovered.
The course is longer than any of last year's LPGA layouts, including the U.S. Women's Open. It's nearly 500 yards longer than the site of last week's season-opening Welch's/Fry's Championship in Tucson, where Karen Stupples shot 22-under par for a tour-record raw score of 258.
The Prospector Course is about 100 yards longer than the Mission Hills layout for next week's Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season's first major.
'This golf course is in such good shape that it prepares us really well for next week,' said Annika Sorenstam, who makes her season debut this week. 'It's a bit longer than we used to play at Moon Valley. I think the greens are firmer, the rough a little thicker, so I think it's good preparation.'
A long course is fine with Sorenstam, who won the LPGA driving title last year with a 269.7-yard average. Besides, she has some good memories of Phoenix. She won at Moon Valley in 2001, when she shot an LPGA record 59 in the second round. She tied for third a year ago, four shots behind winner Se Ri Pak.
This year, Sorenstam is aiming for a grand slam sweep of the four majors, something never accomplished in women's golf.
'I played in Australia three weeks ago, played really well,' she said, 'and enjoyed two weeks off, one week doing nothing and another week of just practicing, so I feel like I'm playing as good as I can.'
Not everything is to Wie's liking in the first of six LPGA events she plans to enter this year.
'It's kind of hot,' she said.
That's true, even by Arizona standards for mid-March. Temperatures are expected to top 90 degrees through the weekend.
The course has four par-5s, all longer than 500 yards. Pak won at 23-under 265 a year ago at Moon Valley. This year she thinks 13 under might be enough, considering the combination of long holes and extremely firm greens.
'I haven't really planned for this golf course yet,' Pak said after her practice round on Wednesday. 'This golf course I don't think is easy at all.'
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