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Wind Blows GTE Classic Off Course : Seniors Golf Event to Leave Wood Ranch Because of Conditions

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Powerful winds that sweep across the Wood Ranch Golf Club in Simi Valley and blow thousands of golf balls off target have blown something else completely off the course and out of the Valley area--the GTE Seniors Classic.

The tournament, which drew such stars as Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Gary Player and more than 50,000 spectators in both 1987 and 1988, will not be held at the course in 1989 or anytime in the near future, officials said Friday.

And at least 2 other local courses that could have hosted the GTE Classic turned it down because their members were unwilling to give up the course for a week.

Tournament officials said the North Ranch Country Club in Thousand Oaks and the Lakeside Country Club in North Hollywood rejected proposals to host the tournament.

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“Our members just didn’t want the pros tying up their golf course for a week,” said Tom Carroll, the general manager at North Ranch.

The tournament, which had been held in March, has been tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 1-3 if a site can be secured, according to Dick MacLean, vice president of Rolfing Productions in Hawaii, a firm hired by GTE as a tournament consultant.

Courses being considered for the tournament, MacLean said, include The Sandpiper Golf Club in Santa Barbara, the Ojai Inn and Country Club and courses in Orange County.

Bob Levinstein, chairman of the board at Wood Ranch, was unavailable for comment Friday and a golf professional employed by Wood Ranch said workers at the club have been instructed not to discuss any aspects of the GTE Classic with the media.

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Bobby Heath, the club’s director of golf for the past two years and an employee at Wood Ranch since 1984, resigned last month, as did head golf professional Joe Huff. Heath has formed Eagle Financial Group in Westlake Village, a golf-course development company.

Heath confirmed that a major source of turmoil over the GTE Classic was complaints by the golfers about the playing conditions at Wood Ranch. The tournament was plagued by blustery winds that gusted to more than 40 m.p.h. both years, sending the professionals’ scores soaring on the tough, hilly, par-72 course. Harold Henning was the only golfer to finish under par in the 1988 tournament, winning the event with a 54-hole score of 1-under-par 215.

In contrast, the Seniors tournament that preceded last year’s GTE Classic--the Vintage Invitational in Palm Springs--was won with a score of 25 under par.

“The weather conditions turned the pros off,” said Heath. “The golf course was severe, and the wind just blew them away. They complained about it. That had a lot to do with it being taken away this year.”

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Heath said the members of the private club were supportive of the tournament and had no objections to the return of the event for 1989.

“They loved it,” Heath said. “The members always had a good time at the tournament.”

MacLean said that was not the case at other area courses.

“North Ranch hosted the NCAA championships last year, and the members there simply told us they weren’t interested in having their course taken over like that for another week,” MacLean said. “And then we had Lakeside Country Club all set, but at the last minute, in mid-December, they turned us down, too. The members said no.”

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And while MacLean said he could not “absolutely rule out” a return of the GTE Classic to Wood Ranch in the future, he said it was highly unlikely.

“Wood Ranch is not being considered anymore,” he said. “Players just didn’t like the conditions. The wind really got to them.”


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