Honda Classic sets up shop at Mirasol
by CRAIG DOLCH, The Palm Beach Post
Some PGA Tour events have the luxury of being held in the same location year after year. Then there's the Honda Classic.
"I'd like to say we're moving to our permanent home," tournament director Cliff Danley said last week at a news conference, "but I've said that about five times. I've learned that forever usually lasts about six years in this business."
Maybe the Honda Classic still is taking a cue from its original host Jackie Gleason, whose signature line was, "And away we go." When the tournament is held at Country Club at Mirasol on March 13-16, it will mark the fifth location and the sixth time the event has been moved in its 31-year history. The bad news is that many moves make it difficult for the tournament to achieve continuity.
The good news is Danley and other tournament officials know what they're getting into each time. Danley has run the event since 1996 and has been involved with the tournament in some capacity for all but one season.
"This isn't the first time we've had to move it, so experience teaches you what to do and what not to do," Danley said. "But each one's different because each footprint is different. The key word is flexibility."
And patience. And vision.
It's one thing for Danley to figure out where he wants the players to park and register, where to put their locker room, where to feed them and their families, where to have day care and have a place where the wives can relax while their husbands are at the office. It's another thing when he has to make these plans for buildings that had yet to be built, or were being modified.
"We've gone through footprints for six months here that have constantly changed," Danley said. "You can't get upset when things are not where they were a week or a month ago. You just figure out a way to make it work."
It's been that way since 1983, when the Broward County-based event left after a 12-year run at tournament host Jackie Gleason's Inverrary Country Club. That started an odyssey that took it to TPC at Eagle Trace from 1984-91, Weston Hills Country Club from 1992-95, back to Eagle Trace for 1996, then to TPC at Heron Bay from 1997 until last year, when it was moved to Palm Beach County because the bland Heron Bay layout attracted few of the Tour's big names.
Tournament officials signed a four-year deal last spring with Mirasol's developer, Taylor Woodrow Communities, with a four-year option. By the time that contract was finalized, the tournament already was behind schedule because it usually works at least a year in advance on marketing and promoting the event.
Danley's task has been made even more difficult for another reason: This year's event will be played on the Arthur Hills-designed Sunset Course, while the preferred Tom Fazio-designed Sunrise Course won't be finished until the fall and become the permanent home until 2004. Plus, Mirasol's clubhouse won't be finished until this fall, causing even further juggling. But Danley has no regrets about moving the event.
"When we saw what wasn't going to happen at Heron Bay, we needed to get where we were going, even if it meant not having a clubhouse and the primary golf course the first year," he said. "We needed to get into the community and get established and tell them what we're all about."
With the first round just 18 days away, tournament officials are in a hurry-up mode. About a dozen skyboxes, weighing 2 tons apiece, are in place around the 18th green of Hills' Sunset Course (which will remain as the 18th hole in future tournaments because of logistical reasons). Other trailers are in place, tents are being erected and leaderboards and concession stands are being built.
The membership of Mirasol also is helping out. They've been forced to play cart-paths-only since Feb. 3 to save wear and tear on the fairways. The first and 18th holes of Hills' course has been closed to give them a break and this week the back tees were roped off to give them a chance to grow.
Because this is a new site, PGA Tour officials have been out several times to check with the progress of the course and to give their specifications on how the course has been set up. Rules official Slugger White has done most of the pre-tournament work, with the yellow ropes going up a week before the event.
"They started coming out six to nine months ago," said Don Beattie, Mirasol's director of golf. "They've created new fairway lines about 25 to 28 yards wide and added an additional cut of rough. The intermediate rough is 1 1/2 inches and the primary rough is 3 inches. They also asked us to overseed with rye for more consistency."
Tournament officials have gotten some recent help from the weather. The warmer temperatures last week have helped grass to grow after one of the coldest winters in the last 30 years.
"The course has really sprung up the past week," Beattie said. "If the weather stays beautiful, and it sometimes isn't in March, I think the winning score will be between 16- to 20-under."
Danley doesn't have time to worry about what the champion might shoot. He's too busy basically building a city for a week. Then he'll have to do a lot of things differently next year with the new clubhouse and course available.
"We're already thinking about 2004 because we'll be changing our footprint again," Danley said. "But we've got a lot of things going for us."