PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - To most golfers, Pebble Beach Golf Links is ground zero for tournament golf on the Monterey Peninsula. You can't blame them, considering their TVs are bombarded with images from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February and the PURE Insurance Championship of the PGA Tour Champions in September. The 2018 U.S. Amateur in August and the 2019 U.S. Open next June only add to the exposure.
But, truth be told, the real tournament capital of California is two miles away at the Poppy Hills Golf Course. Especially if you're talking amateur events. Poppy Hills, owned by the Northern California Golf Association, hosts more than 75 NCGA tournaments and events a year. A sign near the first tee is switched out regularly to honor whatever event is being contested that day.
Poppy Hills, which had a long run from 1991-2009 as one of the three courses of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and co-host of the Champions Tour's Nature Valley First Tee Open with Pebble Beach in 2014, is ready for its first USGA championship next week, the 2018 U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur, set for July 16-21.
A record 1,606 entries attempted to qualify, the fifth consecutive year it has set a record for entries. The field of 156 players, representing 14 countries and 33 states, will compete in two rounds of stroke play on July 16-17. The top 64 players advance to match play. The two players who win five individual matches will meet in the 36-hole championship. Spectators can walk the fairways for free.
Poppy Hills will be set up at 6,132 yards, and the nines flip-flopped into the original layout by Robert Trent Jones Jr., so most of the matches can finish near the clubhouse. His masterful redesign debuting in 2014 has created a dynamic, firm-and-fast test of golf, featuring lots of sand and virtually no rough or water (except one hole, the 10th for the championship and first for everyday play). Pat Hurst, a former LPGA Tour star, won the Girls Junior in 1986, one of 23 Californians to win the event. The next California champion could be Yealimi Noh, a 16-year-old from Concord, Calif., who cruised to victory at the 43rd Girls Junior PGA Championship in Kentucky this week. She's a long hitter who dominates par 5s. She recently decommitted from UCLA to focus on turning pro at some point. That's how good these girls are.
"People who have never come to a U.S. Junior Girls think, 'Aw, they're so cute with their ponytails. They can't hit it out of their own shadow'," said USGA Championship Director Tracy Parsons. "If you watch these players compete, you'll be surprised and in awe at how they play. Our champion is exempt for the U.S. Women's Open. That is a testament to the level of competition."