Poppy's got a brand new bag: Pebble Beach neighbor Poppy Hills is back

By Mike BaileyMarch 21, 2014, 6:48 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Robert Trent Jones Jr. calls "93953" the greatest zip code in golf for good reason. After all, it includes Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay and Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Poppy Hills, a course he designed in 1986 that hasn't always measured up to its neighbors.

So when given a second chance by the owner of the course – the Northern California Golf Association – Jones and his team delivered. No, they couldn't compete with the ocean views of Pebble or Spyglass, but they could improve conditioning, the design of individual holes and bring the course up to date.

"It's where the greatest golf art has been created by masters of other times. We're in great company," said Jones, whose father RTJ Sr., designed Spylgass next door. "So we as artists had to pay up. We got the second chance to come back and refresh and renew the course. I think all these courses are great, and we're happy to be among them."

Ginella: Redesign brings Poppy Hills back to relevence in Pebble Beach

Indeed, with much anticipation, Poppy Hills reopened after a 13-month renovation with a VIP and media outing to great fanfare on Thursday (the course opens to the public on April 4). There was a ceremonial first tee shot that included Jones; Patrick Moran, an 11-handicap golfer who won a chance to represent the 150,000-strong Northern California Golf Association; Brian Morse, president of the NCGA, which is the largest regional golf association in the country; and Derrell Biddy, president of Poppy Holding Co., which oversees golf operations. There was even a hawk to ring the new era for a golf course NCGA officials weren't sure would be ready in a time a few months ago when water was scarce in the area. But thanks to those neighboring courses, which generously shared their water, Poppy Hills was ready on time and in prime condition.

Sure, the bentgrass greens were as firm as you would expect from a new course, and there might be some tweaks in the near future, but all-in-all, this course was pretty close to perfect.

The upgrades weren't limited to the golf course. There's also a renovated clubhouse, complete with a new food & drink menu, big screen TVs and the same deck that overlooks the ninth and 18th holes. Except this time, the views are more stunning.

Adding to the buzz was the announcement that the all-new Poppy will co-host the Champions Tour’s Nature Valley First Tee Open, teaming with Pebble Beach Golf Links, from Sept. 22-28. Poppy, which used to be part of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am rotation, replaces Del Monte Course for the Champions Tour event.

A big reason for the renovation was to find a way to improve drainage while conserving water. The introduction of native waste areas reduces irrigated turf by nearly 25 acres, while an ultra-modern irrigation system that precisely monitors and waters each square yard of the golf course, also adds to the efficiency. The entire golf course was also sand-capped, native areas were reintroduced to eliminate a large portion of irrigated turf, while fairway size, which totals 60 acres was actually increased. The more efficient watering is also designed to promote firm-and-fast play conditions and the new design lends inself to creative shot-making coming into the greens, meaning it's often better to land the ball short and play the bounces.

"It’s a renaissance more than a renovation," Jones said. "It’s really a brand new golf course. The new conceptions have reinvigorated the golf course. They will bring the course back to all its glory."

Par has dropped from 72 to 71, but yardage has increased from 6,863 to 7,002 from the new Jones Trail (back set of tees). The Jones Trail plays to a rating of 73.5 and a slope of 135, but now there is more flexibility in course setup, with five sets of tees instead of four. It can play as short as 5,215 yards.


The 18th hole at Poppy Hills

The original routing from the course's 1986 opening remained largely intact with the exception of the 11th hole, a new par 3. Behind the green is a large bunker, but in between the bunker and green is a mixture of high native grass that tends to swallow up balls that may have trickled off the back of the green. In summer, said superintendent Manny Sousa, that grass will tend to thin out, but for now, it's easy to lose a ball in it, whether it's just off the 11th green or surrounding some the course's fairway and greenside bunkers.

Speaking of bunkers, many of them were moved or enlarged to adapt to the modern game and equipment. The course also now has natural sandy waste areas on many of the holes. And there were other changes, too.


The 12th hole now comes with an ocean view.

The reachable par-5 ninth, for example, now has a creek that runs in front of the green, making it more difficult to reach in two. And the 12th now plays downhill, opening up a view of Monterey Bay not previously seen.

The NCGA has been headquartered at the course's clubhouse since 1986. Amateur members can play the course for a reduced rate, but even more impressive may be the junior golf initiatves by the association, which allow accompanied juniors to play for $5, which makes the course's new association with The First Tee Open fitting.

"The First Tee Open is a wonderful partner for the home course of the Northern California Golf Association," said Brad Shupe, GM of Poppy Hills Golf Course. "One of the prime initiatives of the NCGA Foundation is its Youth on Course program, which allows boys and girls to play courses for only $5. And we are proud that two of the last three pro-junior teams to win The First Tee Open were made up of Youth on Course players."


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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.