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Location, location, location," droned the balding real estate agent at my elbow, who would rather talk about recently foreclosed property than watch Michelle Wie dip her dainty right foot into a greenside water hazard. Didn't he get it? I'm a golf fan, not a home buyer. I was pressed against a gallery rope at the La Costa Resort & Spa to watch the first domestic LPGA event of 2010, not to tour one of those cliffside condos overlooking the 8th fairway.
But as the final round of the inaugural KIA Classic wound down, I found myself semiagreeing with the agent. The three most important elements of a golf tournament—assuming you've got a world-class field, as the KIA had—are venue, venue, venue.
The La Costa Resort, I hasten to add, is not a foreclosed property. But La Costa had been dark as a professional golf venue since 2007, when the rain-plagued Accenture Match Play fled Carlsbad, Calif., for the desert splendor of Tucson.
It took a couple of years for somebody at the LPGA—was it since-ousted commissioner Carolyn Bivens?—to notice that the PGA Tour had left one of its shiny venues on the porch. Bivens signed a five-year deal with J Golf, the LPGA's Asian TV partner, to put on an event in Southern California. New commissioner Michael Whan then enticed Kia Motors to sign a one-year contract as title sponsor.
But it was the venue that turned heads last week. Neither of La Costa's courses is on anyone's top 100 list, but the composite tournament layout warrants a chapter in any history of the pro game. The par-3 16th (then the 7th) is where Tiger Woods stuck his tee shot 10 inches from the hole to win a playoff over Tom Lehman at the 1997 Mercedes Championship. The par-5 18th is remembered for Gene Littler's 75-yard shot for eagle at the 1969 Tournament of Champions. And if you don't know the history, La Costa reminds you. Historical markers have been planted at key locations on the valley floor.
Now they can chisel a plaque for an LPGA star—something along the lines of "Here's where Michelle Wie grounded her wedge in a hazard in the final round of the 2010 KIA Classic, setting off a 90-minute quarrel with rules officials." To summarize: Wie absent-mindedly let her clubhead flop on the grass inside the red hazard line after trying to extricate her ball from a greenside pond at the par-5 11th.
Wie set the bar high for future rules benders by insisting that officials take her word that she had grounded the club to keep from falling—allowed under the rules—even though video showed her steady as a flamingo on her weight-bearing leg.
Minutes later Wie played victim for Golf Channel—"It always happens to me, doesn't it?"—inviting viewers to recall her bad drop at the 2005 Samsung World Championship. That dustup led to a DQ and cost the precocious teenager $53,126 in earnings. This time she was lighter by an extra $90,000 she would have gotten for a second-place tie.
Lost in the brouhaha was the achievement of Hee Kyung Seo, who got a sponsor's exemption and then ran away from the field. Seo finished at 12-under-par, six ahead of Inbee Park. None of Seo's 276 shots, however, were particularly memorable. She'll get no granite marker.
But she might settle for a La Costa condo. Seo fell in love with a house on the 14th hole during her weeklong romp, a property with Hee Kyung written all over it. "I don't know how much it is," she said on Sunday, mentally changing American dollars into Korean wons. "I think I need to earn more." She laughed. "Lots of money!"