For me and a lot of players the PGA Tour season actually starts this week. Nothing against Hawaii, but the old Bob Hope Classic, now the Humana Challenge, is where it makes sense to kick off the year.
Palm Springs is perfect because it has domelike weather—warm, dry and often no wind. When you live somewhere you can't play year-round—I'm in Kentucky, near Cincinnati—you want to start slow. Play was canceled three days in a row at the winners-only event at Kapalua, and if you were trying to find your swing there, it would've been like practicing in a washing machine during the spin cycle.
Plus, it's a long trip to Hawaii. If you make the cut at the Sony and play on Sunday, you don't reach Palm Springs until late Monday. The Hope courses aren't ridiculously tough and neither are the pins, since we play three rounds with amateur partners. There's very little rough, and the greens are perfect. The pro-am format means you're guaranteed three rounds—four in the old days—even if you miss the cut. It's a great week to get in a lot of work under favorable conditions.
When the Hope is over, you're conveniently located near the next four Tour stops—Torrey Pines, TPC Scottsdale, Pebble Beach and Riviera. That gives you a nice chance to play five in a row. But if you begin your year in Hawaii, the West Coast swing starts to drag.
The old Hope was always about the celebrity amateurs. There aren't many cool celebrities who still play. Bob Hope had the juice to bring in Hollywood star power. Now you get a personal invitation from former president Bill Clinton (above). But the tournament's allure has changed. The Hope has always been about the golf, but now it's even less about seeing and playing with cool celebrities. For a lot of us, the Humana isn't simply another tournament. It's the start of the season, and I can't wait.
Steve Flesch,a 15-year PGA Tour veteran, has four career wins.
DARREN CARROLL (FLESCH)
DENIS POROY/GETTY IMAGES (CLINTON)