PASADENA, Calif. — On the night of Jan. 1, 2013, hours after the close of another daydreamy Rose Bowl, a visitor lumbered across the grass of the vast makeshift parking lot toward the car and encountered a sight so eccentric that you would have to say it helps make the Rose Bowl the Rose Bowl. There, in the dark darkness and near-emptiness, teetered a neighboring car, the left half of it still clinging to solid ground but the right half hovering as if the whole machine looked ripe to topple right on into …
There are hellish bunker escapes, and then there are hellish bunker escapes.
A tow truck stood dutifully nearby.
The thing is, this screwball sight qualifies as an extreme that happens from time to time and backlights a uniqueness. Perhaps the nation’s most venerable stadium, its majestic, low-slung self, stands in an arroyo next door to city-owned Brookside Golf Club, its neighbor with two 18-hole courses and a paucity of wind. And on Monday, the courses will buttress its annual 40,000 or so cars, these latest ones carrying those interested in witnessing No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Alabama in a Rose Bowl national semifinal.
Most of those 40,000 will come and go without complication, but some will wander through the winter darkness into the kinds of graphic circumstances that fasten themselves to human memory banks. Their drivers will try shortcutting and drive smack into a bunker.
“It happens quite often,” Brookside tournament coordinator Philip Di Nova said. “We’ve had that, and we’ve had people drive their cars into the lakes.” So: “If you’re not careful and you don’t follow the painted lines [to exit the lot], you will end up in a precarious situation. It will take a couple of great shots to get out of that bunker.”
Then there’s that other category: “Tuesday after the Rose Bowl, we’ll have probably half a dozen cars that are left behind.” That means the sunrise golfers of Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, might play through a stray car here or there, a situation both irksome and preferable to the alternative of these people having driven home. More often, Di Nova said, golfers won’t even notice anything odder than stuffed trash bags, owing to the brisk, yeoman work of cleanup crews. “They do such a good job,” Di Nova said, “that if you’re here the day after, two days after, other than the tire tracks you would not know that there were that many cars.”
Now and then, tiny hazards turn up. “They open [the course] right up,” said Dennis Kuromi, who lives five miles away and has played Brookside for at least 30 years. “And [the football fans] do that ‘picnicking’ ” — he paused — “or ‘tailgating.’ So you see remnants, a lot of bottle caps.”
If someone happens to have driven over, say, a green, it’s dumb but not dire. Help with fertilization and restoration comes from within the contracts of those wishing to stage Rose Bowl events. The money for the club is, well, good.
Of course, there was that time maybe 10 years ago when a golf cart went missing until it was spotted on the nearby 210 freeway with a nouveau driver. “So someone had taken some golf cart and just decided to go home,” said Tege Sauer, who has traveled down from Portland, Ore., for the past 15 Decembers to spend the weeks of Rose Bowl run-up organizing massive tailgate events for Levy, the food and beverage company.
On Friday, she walked beside the fairway of Course No. 1, hole No. 18, coordinating with others — the company bringing tables and tents, the company setting up merchandise stands — toward a two-event bonanza for a combined 5,600 Michigan alumni. Her phone boasts a photo of the maize-and-blue doughnuts Krispy Kreme will concoct.
That includes some telltale juxtapositions, such as a Rose Bowl merchandise stand budding alongside a green full of golfers practicing chipping and putting.
Most of the time, Brookside would be a thriving facility in a thriving ecosystem, still feeling lingering swells from the great pandemic golf wave. There’s a grip-and-rip 6,711-yard course (C.W. Koiner Course No. 1) and a more finicky 6,025-yard course (E.O. Nay Course No. 2) with narrower fairways and “the greens harder, smaller, more undulating,” Kuromi said. There’s 12-month bustle around: runners, walkers, cyclists and dog-ushers on the 5K course that rings the Rose Bowl area. With its Southern California Golf Association events and fundraisers and all, Brookside hosts 200-odd tournaments per year, Di Nova said.
They play adjacent to a stadium that never has hovered or loomed, a stadium so unassuming in its beauty that a first-timer in pre-GPS days might have wandered nearby roads wondering, Where is the damned thing? There’s less wind and rain than in nearby cities and towns because the San Gabriel Mountains provide cover. There’s not much elevation on the course, making it friendlier to old or sore legs. “We’re a very walkable course,” Di Nova said. Coyotes abound but don’t tend to bother anyone except maybe that goose they just ate, the feathers obvious. Birds swoop down on occasion to grab squirrels or rabbits. Bobcats might whisk by but only in transit to somewhere else. A visitor on the Friday morning before a Rose Bowl might notice a coyote milling around on the ridge just above Rose Bowl Road because, of course.
All of this thrums next to American football tussles such as the Rose Bowl or UCLA home games, international futbol matches such as the World Cup finals of 1994 (men) and 1999 (women) or concerts, and it’s far from the dreary gray parking-lot setting of many a stadium, not just that of Jerry Jones.
It’s also an evocative place to play golf.
“For a good 20 to 30 percent of golfers on weekends,” Di Nova said, “it enhances their enjoyment of playing here because of the historic Rose Bowl. They’re in the shadow of the ‘granddaddy of them all,’ the Keith Jackson line.”
“I don’t even think about it,” Kuromi said, “because I’ve lived here all my life.”
“When you are on No. 9” on Course No. 1, the hole that most hugs the stadium, Reymond Maranan said, “when I was beginning, I have lots of ‘donations’ of golf balls onto the stadium premises.”
Maranan, who moved from the Philippines to Pasadena in 2012, finished some putts Friday, waited for his tee time and talked about how he used to disrespect golf as a high-level baseball player because the ball you must hit does not happen to be moving beforehand. He played baseball for years as a shortstop and right-handed pitcher who “can confidently say that I am the Shohei Ohtani of my [Filipino] state [Batanagas] because I’m a pitcher and a cleanup hitter.” He found golf only when the pandemic wouldn’t allow for anything else, and now he’s “addicted,” happy with his club speed, teaching in the First Tee program for children and spending about three days a week in the shadow of a legend.
“They call it ‘the granddaddy of them all,’ ” he said.
They do, and as Sauer said, “It’s so fun [to play the courses] but hard to not think of it as, ‘Oh, this would be a great spot for a tailgate.’ ”
As she spoke upon the driving range, forklifts brought supplies. A truck dragged in portable restrooms. Fences went up, and massive tents began doing same. Those who care about the course started to get that familiar little cringe, a “love-hate thing” rooted in this thought Di Nova shared: “You want it pristine, and you want it to look great at all times.” He joked to Sauer in the golf shop, “Saw you out there ready to mess up our course.”
She laughed because this rare setting has become a treasured part of her life as well: a cheery golf club next to a revered football game after which a driver (or two) might reach a bunker.