It is always a bad sign when the people you are golfing with start hunting for golf balls in the desert because you have lost all of your own. Last week, I was that golfer.
Every year for the past five years, come January, this newspaper and numerous other publications begin gearing up for a week-long golf tournament, known as the Accenture Match Play Championship — a weeklong golf event with the top 64 golfers from around the world.
Tuesday, Jan. 18, was media day at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain golf course, where the tournament will be held Feb. 21-27.
Reporters, photographers, videographers, radio commentators and others were welcomed with swag bags filled with a logo’d hat, vest and a flash card loaded with information pertaining to the upcoming PGA event.
After a few minutes, we watched a video with short, dramatic clips of golfers hitting and reacting to shots, all accompanied by dramatic music and high-tech sound effects more commonly associated with summer blockbuster movie trailers. This movie would be called, “Get. Ready. For. Golf,” coming soon to a golf course near you. It seemed a little extreme, but I understand the PGA is trying get newer, younger viewers.
Soon after the video and more introductions, last year’s rookie of the year — a shaggy-haired, backwards hat-wearing Rickie Fowler — fielded questions from the audience of less than 50 people. At the young age of 22, this young golfer, who grew up riding motocross and playing golf on regular public golf courses, banked nearly $3 million from last year’s winnings. Not that those winnings didn’t come from extreme God-given talent, hard work, sacrifices and a little bit of luck, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little jealous of what this guy has already accomplished in a little over two decades.
After the press conference wrapped up, people wanting to golf (me!) were allowed to try their hand at this course that challenges even the biggest names in golf. I knew if Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson found this course difficult, I would too, seeing as I am a double-bogey golfer on even the simplest of municipal courses.
The rules set for us every-day golfers were simple — if you lose your ball in the desert, you can drop in the fairway with a single stroke penalty. If you hit more than two over par, you pick up your ball to help speed the play along.
I, Average Joe Hacker, was matched up with three seasoned players — one man who once tried to earn his PGA card but missed it by a mere stroke, another who is a sports radio talk show host, and a third who is heavily involved with the Tucson Conquistadores. Each knew how to aim, land their ball in the fairway, and putt — all crucial elements of this game called golf.
Embarrassingly, I bravely teed up on each hole, and then I watched my golf ball veer severely to the right in a way that my father explains as a “wicked slice.” Because each hole is lined with cholla, prickly pear cacti and bushes, I rarely ventured over to retrieve my ball. I simply reached into my bag and grabbed another.
It wasn’t until late in the day, when I dug around the bottom of my bag, that my hand pulled out the one golf ball I had left. It was a shiny, translucent ball known as a Noodle Ice and not something a 30-year-old man should be hitting.
“That sure is a pretty ball you just hit into the desert,” one of my fellow golfers mused after I shanked another shot.
After explaining it was my last, the other players generously searched their own bags and surrounding desert for spare golf balls. One came up lucky.
“I won the Easter egg hunt contest when I was 9,” one said as he handed me a half a dozen golf balls after a quick skim of the surrounding desert.
It is a lovely course, tucked against the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains, with perfectly spongy grass on the greens. It has fairways that are kept in a way that even if you strike the ground behind the ball (which I often did), your club slices right through the soft, moist grass, lofting the ball and a large chunk of lawn into the air. Also, I would like to take this time to apologize to the maintenance staff of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for the numerous divots I dug up along the course. Be sure to thank the Accenture committee for forcing me to quit swinging when I reached two over par on each hole.
If you have the means, and the talent, I strongly suggest you experience first-hand just how challenging this course is to play. If you’re not so brave, just head out to the tournament next month, and be in awe as you see the top 64 pro golfers in the world work their magic.
If you go
What: World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship
When: Feb 21-27
Cost: Advance ticket prices range from $25 to $55, depending on the event date. Prices are $10 more at the gate. Packages and hospitality club access also may be purchased.
For tickets and info: www.worldgolfchampionships.com