BY JOHN REGER, Special To GGP
PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF. | Jerry West looks
out from the putting green at Riviera Country Club
onto the golf course below and sees the clouds that
have pelted the fairways and greens for the last 24
hours starting to clear. It is midway through Saturday afternoon and four hours of golf remain, but by
now the damage is done.
Any crowds that would have come to the golf
course are already here and they are few. As the
first few groups come up the 18th fairway to complete their rounds, a quick count tallies 28 people –
including four marshals – awaiting their arrival.
What is most frustrating to the executive director of the Northern Trust Open is this is something
he can’t control. The former Los Angeles Lakers
guard, a Hall of Famer, was someone who wanted
the ball. His 25,192 points will attest to that. His
deadly shooting dictated the pace and often the
outcome of a game.
When he became the Lakers general manager,
he was just as successful. He built the teams that
won seven championships and was directly responsible for bringing Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal
and Phil Jackson to the team.
West is used to running the show and has a
track record that proves he is capable of doing so.
When he was named Northern Trust Open executive
director of the PGA Tour stop in May, he had about
eight months to work on the February tournament.
This wasn’t supposed to be how West was to
spend his retirement. The 70-year-old was supposed to relax and play golf at Bel Air Country Club,
where he is a member, not spend 14 hours a day
running a professional golf tournament.
“It was a lot more time consuming than I thought
it would be,” West said. “The more you get into it,
actually it feels good to do it. When I come out here
it’s been really fun for me. People in Los Angeles
have been so great to me. They come up and say,
‘Thank you for what you are trying to accomplish
here.’ We are trying to accomplish something with
charity here and that’s what’s really important.”
West’s first priority was to get Tiger Woods to
come back, and if anyone could, it would have been
West. He has known Woods since he was a teen-
ager, hosted him and his father at several Lakers
games and he was confident before Woods’ troubles
in November that he could have gotten the world’s
No. 1 golfer to commit.
As it was, West got 40 of the top 50 on last year’s
money list to agree to come, far better than any of
the three full-field events so far on Tour.
But that wasn’t good enough for the self-proclaimed perfectionist, who used to work himself
into an ulcer watching over the Lakers.
West had a vision for the tournament and ideas
that he wanted to implement to bring more people
through the gates.
“This event is in southern California and the
ethnicity is unbelievable,” West said. “We speak
over 100 languages in this city and a lot of people
play golf. I think something that is really important
is that this can’t be just a west side of Los Angeles
event. This has to be a southern California event.”
That is difficult with the $20 increase in ticket
prices. To get into Riviera people would have to
shell out $50 at the gate, a move that was initi-
ated by Northern Trust and the PGA Tour, which is
running the event. West vehemently opposed the
increase, and with the lack of gallery, rain or not, he
It appeared they didn’t listen to West on other
ideas he had. West wanted to set up a “Taste of
L.A.,” where local chefs would come in and prepare
food that could have been sampled by people paying
extra. The idea is utilized at the PGA Tour stop in
New Orleans and it is one of the biggest reasons
galleries flock to the event.
Another idea reportedly thought of by West was
a concert, and he and Irving Azoff, the manager of
the Eagles, had worked a deal to get the band to
play a small theater. But that was nixed as well.
He was responsible for honoring area military
personnel and their families by giving them free
admission during the tournament, organizing a
special picnic and golf exhibition for veterans, and
setting up a private hospitality venue.
The successes don’t outweigh the negatives and
West won’t acknowledge the behind-the-scenes
workings. He never has. When he was GM of the
Lakers he preferred to deal with infighting privately,
never waging his battles in the media.