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SPORTS
Remember When
the SCV was on the PGA's Map?
April, 2018 - Issue #163

"It seems, at least for now, that it was a brief but oh-so-fun window in the Santa Clarita Valley's SPORTS HISTORY."
Tiger Woods played here. No, not the aging, post-scandal, trying-to-make-a-comeback - with a bad back - Tiger Woods. This was the young, dominating Tiger. The one whose steely stare on a Sunday could freeze an entire field of golfers like deer stuck in a tractor's headlights on the 18th fairway. He was just 22 and was already the talk of the golf world.

And here he was, the biggest rising star at the time not just in golf, but in sport, period. You had Jordan, Montana, Gretzky... And you had Tiger. He played here. Just once. Twenty years ago this year. And it was dramatic.

In 1998, the PGA Tour's Nissan Open - now rebranded the Genesis Open - made a one-year stop at the Valencia Country Club. The venerable tournament, formerly known as the Los Angeles Open, was typically played at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. However, that year they were prepping Riviera to host the US Senior Open, so the PGA sought a backup location.

"Big V," as the locals call it, got the gig. It was a one-off arrangement, but it got people around here thinking: Is this the start of a long, fun, productive relationship between our town and the PGA? It looked like it. That one-off Nissan Open was a classic, drawing a field with some of golf's biggest names, including Phil Mickelson, Payne Stewart and Fred Couples.

The tournament also featured Santa Clarita's own Duffy Waldorf, a PGA Tour pro who won four tournaments in his career and now plays on the senior tour. Waldorf played the role of host for his tour-mates on the week of the tournament. He also served as an ambassador for Valencia in the run-up to the event, coaxing some of his reluctant fellow PGA Tour golfers to play at the relatively unknown Valencia Country Club.

The LA Times reported in 1998: "And Waldorf went on a personal crusade, extolling the virtues of his hometown. 'You're going from a classic course, one of the all-time great courses in the world, to an unknown,' he said. 'I told the guys . . . the greens [at Valencia] are probably going to be the best that we play all year on the tour.'"

And they were. By all accounts, Valencia Country Club and Valencia's developer, The Newhall Land and Farming Co., did a tremendous job of not only putting on a top-notch show that entertained, lodged and fed thousands, but also of preparing the course and its surroundings for the demands of a professional tournament.

The golfers spoke highly of the experience, from the course's close proximity to hotels and restaurants, to the lack of big-city traffic like they experienced at Riviera, to the quality of the course itself.

Billy Mayfair was the leader after 54 holes, but Tiger came charging in the final round, as he has so often done over the course of his career. Tiger shot birdies in three out of the final four holes to briefly take the lead. Mayfair, playing in the final group, birdied the 18th to tie Tiger and force a sudden death playoff.

Mayfair won the playoff with a birdie on the second hole, finishing the tournament 12 under par. It was one of five PGA Tour wins for Mayfair, and one of only two sudden-death playoff losses in Woods' career.

The exciting finish, coupled with the positive reviews of Big V and our community as a host, seemed to leave Valencia and Santa Clarita poised for a long and prosperous relationship with the PGA. It indeed headed in that direction: From 2001 through 2009, Valencia Country Club hosted an annual event on the PGA's senior tour, now known as PGA Tour Champions. Golf, unique among professional sports, is the only one featuring big-money professional competitions for its "retired" players.

Those nine years in which our community and Big V hosted the senior tour were a blast. Several of the tournaments featured dramatic finishes, including a four-hole playoff win by Tom Purtzer over Loren Roberts in 2007.

Local businesses got into the act as sponsors. Community members took off work on Fridays to play "hooky" and go watch the elder pros, enjoying a few cocktails and the relaxed atmosphere and ambiance of a senior tour event. The tournaments featured charismatic golf greats like Chi Chi Rodriguez, Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Gary Player and Mark O'Meara, who designed the new TPC Valencia course just across the freeway from Big V.

In the run-up to the opening of the TPC course in 2003, optimism abounded about the future of the PGA in Santa Clarita. With Robinson Ranch having opened in 1999 on the city's east end, and TPC being part of the PGA's own network of courses that are specifically designed to host pro tournaments, it appeared to the casual observer that the SCV would be hosting PGA events for many years to come.

But after 2009, the PGA and the SCV drifted apart, like a couple who no longer have much in common. The Big V senior tour event lost its title sponsor when AT&T declined to renew its contract, and that was the beginning of the end. The senior tour didn't make it back here in 2010, and hasn't been here since. At this point there haven't been any public rumblings about the PGA returning to any of the SCV's courses any time soon.
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