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Landmark Golf Club in Indio, California is a worthy -- and playable -- host of the Skins Game

By Tom LaMarre, Contributor

Editor's Note: Landmark Golf Club is now known as the Golf Club At Terra Lago.

The Golf Club at Terra Lago - North Course - 18th
Landmark is now known as The Golf Club at Terra Lago.
The Golf Club at Terra Lago - North Course - 18thThe Golf Club at Terra Lago - North Course - 3rd

INDIO, Calif. -- Despite being the dominant player in Europe for nearly a decade, Colin Montgomerie has had little success in the United States. In fact, Jim Murray, the greatest sportswriter of all-time, once wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Monty has "lost more on American soil than any Brit since Cornwallis."

However, Montgomerie made $340,000 with one two-foot par putt on the 18th hole of the North Course at Landmark Golf Club in Indio last November to become the big winner of the 18th annual Skins Game.

Since the spectacular Landmark club is a public facility, any golfer can play all the dramatic holes that the pros have played on national television.

Landmark, which is contracted to host the Skins Game through 2003, is a scenic 36-hole facility created by Schmidt-Curley Design and Landmark Golf Co. in natural desert vegetation at the foot of the Chocolate Mountains at the northern end of the Coachella Valley.

"We feel we have two magnificent golf courses and we try not to push one over the other," said Jeff Walser, general manager and director of golf at Landmark. "However, the North has probably received a bit more recognition."

"The North flows a little better and has the spectacular water holes on the back nine, but the South is longer, narrower and probably is more difficult, scoring wise. They are two distinctly different golf courses, and that was what Landmark was trying to create."

When the Skins Game first was played here in 1999, the front nine of Landmark's South Course and the back nine of North were used. Fred Couples, king of the Skins Game, found that combination to his liking, winning 11 skins and taking home $635,000 against Sergio Garcia, David Duval and Mark O'Meara.

Last year, Montgomerie took six skins against Couples, Garcia and Vijay Singh, and earned $415,000 on the back nine of the South and front nine of the North.

This year, Montgomerie will defend his title entirely on the North.

"The front nine will change every year but the back nine will always be the back side of the North," Walser said. "That's because of the water holes. Nos. 14, 15 and 18 play along the lake in front of the clubhouse."

"It's great for viewing and for television."

It has made for dramatic finishes in the last two Skins Games, as Couples won the competition with a birdie on 18 in 1999.

The North Course measures 7,123 yards from the tournament tees and plays to a slope of 135, but is very playable from any of the four sets of tees.

There are some dramatic elevation chances, starting with "Uphill Battle," the 379-yard first hole. "Moonscape," No. 2, a 473-yard uphill par four, is a bit like playing in a crater.

The 363-yard third hole, "Postage Stamp," is the first of several risk-reward holes. The drive from a tee high above the fairway gives the golfer an opportunity to go for the relatively small green, which is guarded by a huge trap on the left and a small one on the right.

"There are a lot of great par-four holes that are not long," Walser said. "No. 3 is short but can give you all you want. It gives you an opportunity to make a birdie but you can get into trouble there, too."

After "Intimidation," the 211-yard par three fourth hole, there are consecutive par fives that measure 576 yards from the tips. The names tell the story: No. 5 is "Eternity" and No. 6 is "The Alley."

There is another severe drop in elevation on the 156-yard seventh hole, "Peek-A-Boo," and the front side ends with "The Brute," 490 yards from the back tee. There are two bunkers in the landing area of the tee shot and three more traps waiting at the green, with the All-American Canal running the length of the hole on the right side.

"No. 9 is all you can handle," Walser said.

But the fun is only beginning.

Landmark has four outstanding nines, but the back side of the North Course clearly is the highlight.

"Every hole on the back nine is spectacular," Walser said.

No. 11, "Roller Coaster," is a gorgeous 431-yard par four, with the tee shot through a chute of trees and the approach to a green that has a grove of palm trees as a backdrop. Couples sank an 18-foot birdie putt on 11 to win $100,000 in the 2000 Skins Game.

The 13th hole, "No Way Out," is rated most difficult of the back side. It measures 232 yards up a hill into a prevailing wind. O'Meara holed a 40-foot putt here in the 1999 Skins Game to earn $170,000.

Then comes the grand finale.

"Holes 14 through 18 are as good as it gets," Walser claimed.

The lake is in play down the right side from the time you hit the tee on the 334-yard par four 14th, "Go For It." The second shot is even more intimidating to a green guarded by three traps and the lake on both sides and behind.

"Got Balls?", is the 183-yard 15th, the signature hole. The green is an island in the middle of the lake, measuring 50 yards from front to back with traps left and right. Singh made an eight-foot putt here for a birdie to collect $210,000 last year in the Skins Game.

The finishing hole, "Knockout," is 563 yards with the lake in play down the left side and the approach to a green that juts out into the water. There's not much bailout right, where two yawning traps standing guard.

"There's plenty of risk/reward on 18," Walser said. "You can make a birdie or you can make a big number. It's a classic finishing hole."

Couples, the all-time leading money-winner in the Skins Game, drained a 12-foot birdie putt on 18 to take home $410,000 in the 1999 event.

The North, especially the back nine, has gained a deserved following due to the Skins Game but there are golfers who prefer the South, some of which winds through the foothills and provides a feeling of solitude.

You arrive and leave the 412-yard second hole, appropriately named "Box Car," through hollowed out Southern Pacific freight cars covering bridges that cross the All-American Canal, which supplies Colorado River water to the Coachella Valley. The canal is in play down the right side and then crosses in front of the green.

The fourth hole, "Cliffhanger," plays 201 yards and any shot to the right means you need a new ball.

"If the wind is blowing, that hole is treacherous," Walser said.

No. 5, "Panorama," is a 471-yard par four that offers spectacular views and a split fairway. The left side is more difficult to hit but gives you a better angle to the green because there are two large traps on the right. Couples sank a 12-foot birdie putt on five to earn $100,000 in the 1999 Skins Game.

The seventh hole, "Caracas," is a 459-yard par four that is modeled after a hole at Caracas Country Club. Ernie Vossler, President of Landmark Golf Co., designed the hole which he played in the Venezuelan Open in 1965.

"The green setting is unbelievable," Walser said.

The 10th hole, "Table Top," is a spectacular 405-yard par four which doglegs left around a large pond, with five palms lined up behind the green.

"You really have to think about where you want to hit your drive on No. 10," Walser said. "You want to be close to the water, but there's always the danger of going in. If you're too far from the lake, it's a long shot over the water to the green."

No. 11, "Brutal," is a 438-yard par four, but you're not nearly finished once you reach the green on the longest par four on the course. The severely sloped putting surface helps make it the most difficult hole on the back side.

The 17th hole, "Jaws," is a 148-yard downhill par three guarded by a network of large bunkers. Garcia holed a 12-foot putt for birdie to make $125,000 in the Skins Game last year.

The South Course also finishes with a par five, "Entrapment," which measures 507 yards and plays downhill. A waste bunker runs down the left side of the hole and three more traps stand sentinel at the green.

"A par five gives you a chance to finish with a good taste in your mouth," Walser said.

It couldn't have been more savory for Montgomerie, but it figures to be even more tasty this November, because the buzz is that he will defend his title at Landmark against a field that will include Tiger Woods.

Tom LaMarre, Contributor

Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor in California for parts of five decades, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times.

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