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Golf: Tough pins keep them coming back, Lane says

The Costa Mesa City Championship keeps plugging along, with a resume built on tough pins and firm, fast greens.

Organizers wouldn't have it any other way.

The city's premier tournament settles in for its traditional first August weekend slot at Costa Mesa Country Club with an expected field of 300 players dispersed among championship, senior, first and second flights, the latter determined by handicap.

The fun starts at 6 a.m. Saturday for the two-day tournament entering its 40th year. The tournament, also known as the Will Jordan Classic, expects to have 150 players in the championship flight, Costa Mesa head professional Brad Booth said. Players in the flight will compete on the Mesa Linda course Saturday and the Los Lagos course Sunday.

Danny Lane works for Mesa Verde Partners, which has managed Costa Mesa Country Club since 1992, and has watched the tournament grow.

"We put a lot of effort into course conditions, trying to target fast and firm greens," Lane said. "We make it as tough as we can. It's fun to see it played that way. We've built the reputation, so a lot of people want to play it."

The tournament has grown to include several college-level players along with working guys who find time to hone their golf games.

Jason Bittick won two of the last three tournaments (2009, 2011), but will not be in this year's field. Bittick is in Florida, where he works for the Golf Channel, Costa Mesa teaching pro John Ortega said.

Booth credits tournament director Sean Collins with recruiting guys to play in the event. Collins coaches Orange Coast College's men's golf team.

"He's brought more good players to this tournament," Booth said of Collins. "Sean really interacts with them and John Ortega too. They pump it up."

The championship field includes UC Irvine's Ryan Knapp, who placed second in this event in 2009, and younger brother Jake, an incoming UCLA freshman. They will tee off at 6:40 a.m. Saturday with former Newport Harbor High standout Travis Russell.

Former Corona del Mar star Mike Moorhead will begin at 7:20 a.m. followed by the 7:30 a.m. group of Lane and fellow Big Canyon Country Club members Will Tipton and 2001 Costa Mesa champion Mike Carpenter.

2005 winner Doug Martinez and Amit Chopra, cousin of tour player Daniel Chopra, are also in the field. Martinez (8 a.m. tee time) and Chopra (7:10 a.m.) squared off in a playoff in the 2005 event, which Martinez won with a birdie on the second extra hole.

Then there is Jim George, who won the inaugural event in 1973 and has played in every tournament except one. George will compete in the senior flight (for players 50 and older) this year.

"The tournament has tradition," George said. "It has evolved from a small tournament to one that has seen 10 or 12 guys who have played on [professional tours]."

George also likes playing two different courses.

"[Mesa Linda] is shorter and [Los Lagos] is longer," George said.

The $195 entry fee covers two rounds, a barbecue lunch on Sunday, 12 Titleist Pro-V 1 balls, and a shirt. The championship flight winner also receives $500 redeemable for items in the course's golf shop.

"Players see a value in what they're getting combined with, the No. 1 reason [people play], is they want to play a tournament with tournament-type conditions," Lane said.

One thing is certain: the pins will be in their perennial difficult locations.

"I really enjoy the tough aspect of the event," Lane said. "I've somewhat embraced the fact that we don't make any pins easy, and make the greens as firm and fast as possible."

Despite past low scores, Mesa Linda has what Lane and Booth consider the hardest of all 36 holes, the par-four first that plays 440 yards from the tips.

"[The hole plays] into the wind, it's long with a difficult green and a big, deep bunker on the left," Lane said.

Scores have tended to be lower on Mesa Linda during the first round compared to numbers on Los Lagos on Sunday.

Reasons for the gap could be because the leaders tee off later on Sunday, when the wind could play more of a factor. Pair wind with nerves that arise when playing for a championship and scores can increase.

And, Lane said, "the par-fives on Mesa Linda are all reachable. The par-fives on Lagos are significantly longer and tougher."

Booth said the par-three seventh hole on Los Lagos is a stern test, with water right and trees left.

"That hole is a turning point. It either makes or breaks you," Booth said.

Makes me think the real tests won't start until players bring out their putters.

BRYCE ALDERTON is the golf writer for the Daily Pilot. He can be reached at balderto78@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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