Posted January 10, 2014

Tick, Tick, Tick: Time Winding Down Toward Poppy Hills Reopening

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Tiger Woods, Poppy Hills

Tiger Woods at Poppy Hills during his victory at the 2001 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. (Credit: AP)

The countdown has begun to early April, when our sport will turn its gaze toward a well-known layout that’s been no stranger to televised attention.

What we’ll find is a course carved through towering pines, with wide, firm landing areas and not a stitch of rough, just a single cut of grass from tee to fairway.

Woods has won here. Ditto Mickelson and O’Meara.

Augusta?

Nah. We’re talking Poppy Hills.

Once among the three host venues for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Poppy is coming to the close of a major renovation, a project that began early last year with modest intentions (modernizing drainage and irrigation) but evolved into a hefty overhaul.

Robert Trent Jones, Jr., the original designer, is the man behind the work, which promises to yield, in the words of Poppy general manager Brad Shupe, “a firm, fast, fun experience in the forest.”

Now there’s a line for lovers of alliteration.

Less wildly adored was the old Poppy, the red-headed stepchild of the AT&T, widely dissed by Tour pros who groused that the layout had too many doglegs and funhouse greens. In a player survey commissioned by Sports Illustrated in the early 2000s Poppy rated third in a ranking of the worst courses on Tour (the “winner” was the TPC at Heron, former host of the Honda Classic). But it wasn’t just the pros. Even everyday duffers were often heard to wonder how a layout on a hill, close to Monterey Bay, offered not a single stirring water view.

Poppy, of course, also had the hard luck of replacing Cypress Point on the AT&T rota, a tough act to follow. And it has since ceded its role in the event to the highly regarded Shores Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

The new Poppy will never match the prestige of those exclusive clubs.

But from the sounds of it, the redesign is meant to silence old complaints.

All 18 greens have been rebuilt and reseeded with bentgrasses. Fairways have been sandcapped to promote firm, fast conditions. And the 12th hole, once a slender dogleg par-five, has been refashioned into a straightaway par-four with a sweet view of the bay.

Then there’s the roughless aspect of the re-do, a change that, along with the firmer conditions, encourages the ground game and broadens options for scoring: a course more manageable for everyone.

Will the Tour pros return?

There’s been no discussion yet of Poppy slipping back into the AT&T rota.

But no matter. It’s primary role is as a public course.

It opens to all of us on April 4.

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