January 27, 2010–There’s an old saying that rings especially true this week: there’s no place like home. Three players with strong ties to Las Vegas golf courses, UNLV and San Diego—Bill Lunde, Charley Hoffman and Chris Riley—will tee it up in the PGA Tour's Farmer’s Insurance Open. “I really enjoy this one,” Riley said en route to play in Hoffman’s benefit pro-am event that took place on Monday. “Growing up here I went out to the tournament a lot and watched guys like Tom Watson and Raymond Floyd play. Now I’m playing in my 13th one.” LIVE FARMERS RESULTS. By Bill Bowman.
And it’s one that he almost won, losing in a playoff to John Daly in 2004. “That would have been something special,” he said. This year’s event, played on the North and South courses at Torrey Pines, has been hit by recent rains. “With that rain, the courses are going to play a lot longer,” Riley said. “And that will make it more difficult for me. But if I hole a few 30-footers, I’ll be OK.” Riley earned back his official status on the PGA Tour via Q School, and is ready to build on a pretty solid 2009 campaign when he had a few chances to win. For several years, Riley lived full-time in Las Vegas, but he and wife, Michelle, and the kids, now split time between his native San Diego and Las Vegas to be closer to family and friends.
But no matter the outcome of the San Diego event, it’s a week Riley relishes. “I get the chance to stay in my own bed and see friends I haven’t seen in awhile,” he said. “Sometimes your focus can be taken away, like when you look up and see someone you haven’t seen in 20 years, but it’s just a great week.” Besides Riley, Hoffman, and Lunde, the filed is filled with other pros with strong ties to Las Vegas golf courses including defending champion Nick Watney, rookie Rickie Fowler, former UNLV All-American Chad Campbell and others. The Las Vegas Golf Region is also the home to more than 50 golf courses including Rhodes Ranch Golf Club, a Ted Robinson design. Click now to view the official website of Rhodes Ranch where you can reserve online Las Vegas tee times in addition to securing the best Las Vegas golf rates for Rhodes Ranch.
Hoffman, who also grew up in the San Diego area but now lives in Las Vegas and also owns a home in San Diego, agrees the week is very special. “It’s a little busier this week than normal because I’m working with my Charley Hoffman Foundation,” he said. “We get a lot of guys out (to play in the pro-am) … Riley, Lunde and others from Vegas … and raise money for charity. It’s a great way to start off the week.” In 2009, the event raised more than $100,000 for the San Diego Junior Golf Association and the Charley Hoffman Foundation.
The venue itself is one Hoffman loves. “Chris, Bill and I grew up here watching the Tour and dreaming of playing,” he said. “The North you’ve got to shoot a few under par and then you just try and keep it together and play solid on the South. You take what the course gives you.” Overall, it’s a week he loves. “I love the area and I love the courses,” he said. "It’s just a special time and place.” Hoffman, known for his long hair and surfer-dude looks, has become a crowd favorite on the PGA Tour, especially in his native San Diego.
Lunde’s recollections of the event go even deeper. “It was the first PGA Tour event I ever went to,” he said as he headed to San Diego after wrapping up the final round of the Bob Hope Classic on Monday. “I was 10 years old and went with my grandfather. I was in awe and more so when Fuzzy Zoeller handed me a golf ball walking off the 18th green. It’s pretty bizarre that now that I’m playing in it there will probably be a kid this week that will have that same experience.”
Riley, Lunde and Hoffman all attended and starred at college golf powerhouse UNLV, but while Riley was the more celebrated player and graduated first, Hoffman and Lunde have something Riley will never have. The two were anchors on the 1998 UNLV team that earned the national championship, just two years after Riley and Rebel teammate Campbell came up three strokes short in their bid to win the title. The three still keep in contact with former teammates and UNLV Head Golf Coach Dwaine Knight. Riley introduced Knight at the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame induction when the coach went in with the class of 2009.
Lunde is ready for a challenge this week. “Boy, if you can score well on the North Course it makes the week a lot easier for you,” he said. “On the South Course there will be some par-4s that you might not get to in two so you’re probably going to make some bogeys. So when you get a chance to make birdie, you better capitalize on it.” Lunde and Hoffman share houses in the same neighborbood in Las Vegas and play and practice together at TPC Las Vegas and TPC Summerlin when schedules allow. PHOTO: Steve Spatafore. Bill Bowman is the former editor of VegasGolfer Magazine, and a current freelance journalist who covers all things Las Vegas golf for several publications and websites.