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Play Away: Laid-Back in L.A.

Valencia, California, a bedroom community of housing developments and super-malls forty-five minutes north of downtown Los Angeles, could easily double for the spook-ridden suburbs depicted in the film Poltergeist. But the bogeyman isn't just lurking in the closet—this is a region resplendent with terrors: The ever-clogged Interstate 5 is a twisting death trap, carrying roaring big rigs and harried commuters past Valencia. Three miles to the north lurk the lunch-losing thrills of Six Flags' Magic Mountain roller-coaster park. To the south lie Pete Dye's fearsome Lost Canyons golf courses, featuring a frightening array of heroic ways to lose a sleeve of balls.

Thankfully, the new Tournament Players Club at Valencia has arrived to fill a void in the Santa Clarita Valley for painless pursuits. With its capacious fairways and those trademark TPC greenside catch areas, it's a course for those who enjoy leaving a golf outing with ego and nerves intact. Carved out of two-hundred acres by PGA Tour Designs' chief architect Chris Gray and consultant Mark O'Meara, this latest of twenty-three TPC venues will likely grow into one of Southern California's most enjoyable and most playable tracks.

The first half of the course is sadly relegated to a snaking route through hulking new homes and towering power lines. But the bucolic and beauteous back nine more than compensates, winding its way through an oak preserve and offering up unmarred views of the surrounding Santa Clarita foothills. Since this TPC measures 7,220 yards from the tips, Gray said his first job was to ensure that "the course was fun," and indeed a pair of driveable par fours and only twenty-seven bunkers make the track eminently playable. It's as forgiving as a supermodel's husband.

Not that there aren't some sticky wickets to negotiate. Two of the par fives clock in at more than 600 yards, and another, the 520-yard fifteenth, features two treacherous carries—an uphill blind drive akin to the eighteenth at Riviera and a harrowing approach over a barranca and oaks to an elevated and slanting green. Eagle is a definite possibility at the fifteenth, but so is posting a number only Stephen Hawking could love.

Still, given some time to soften and mature, the TPC at Valencia should prove to be a user-friendly affair for the mid-handicapper—and a true test of brains over brawn for the Tour pros who will inevitably compete here in years to come.

Greens Fees: $100-$130. Tee Times: 661-288-7925 or visit tpc.com.

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