2014 Humana Challenge at PGA West | Local Knowledge

Humana Challenge
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Breathtaking views are the norm at PGA West.
By T.J. Auclair
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Series: Local Knowledge

Published: Thursday, January 16, 2014 | 10:57 a.m.

If you like to see loads of birdies and eagles -- and, let's face it, who doesn't? -- then you're going to want to dedicate some of your time this week to watching the Humana Challenge at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

This event, a pro-am for the first 54 holes played over three courses -- La Quinta Country Club, PGA West Nicklaus Private and PGA West Palmer Private -- is typically played in perfect desert conditions. This week should be no different.

RELATED: Humana leaderboard | Auclair's 5 players to watch | Well being with a side of golf

Before the tournament teed off, we caught up with PGA West General Manager Todd Keefer for a little Q&A. 

PGA.com: What's the excitement level like around PGA West?

Keefer: There is a great deal of excitement surrounding this event -- the quality of the field, the superb playing conditions, the great sponsors Humana and the Clinton Foundation, and the pride of being on a world-stage within our own team. It's cool to look around and see everything in place. It's also nice to look back on the finished product -- walk into the grandstands, seeing the footprints on the grounds from the activity -- the polish of the event, I guess you could call it.

But it's truly about the players and the quality of the golf courses. We've had a number of players and members of the Tour's agronomy team compliment us on how good the place looks. Having President Clinton here, along with Gary Players is pretty special too. As Humana, our sponsor, would say, this is a week of well being with a side of golf. There's a lot of positive energy with all these people in one location.

Take a look back at Brian Gay's Humana Challenge victory in 2013:

PGA.com: The first 54 holes of the Humana Challenge includes a pro-am. Unlike past years, there aren't as many celebrities in the field, but on the professional side, it looks stronger.

Keefer: Four years ago when I got here it was the last year of the Bob Hope Classic. It was five days and featured the celebrity field. It's really one of the last times we had that. The change has provided for a deeper field of Tour players. The benefit is that while the celebrity field might not be as much as the past, the Tour players themselves are more visible than ever before. Thanks to things like social media, the players have become their own celebrity. We've got these great Tour professionals everyone is familiar with. We've got a blend of players that the viewers are more engaged with now. Having the President (Clinton) and Gary Player in and around the event brings a celebrity buzz too, unlike any event I've seen or been a part of. They lend their name, invest their time, and give so much of themselves to this event.

PGA.com: Is there anyone that you most look forward to seeing this week?

Keefer: For me, it's seeing all the Tour players continue to grow. We've got a great relationship with Jhonattan Vegas. I remember meeting him on the range here in 2011. I walked up to say hello when he was hitting balls. He we just so genuine. Then, he went on to win the tournament that year. I look forward to seeing him. Gary Woodland is another guy and he's been close here before. I enjoy the Tour-professional side of this week just as much as the amateur side. It's like seeing a lot of your old buddies, telling stories and catching up on life.

PGA.com: What are the biggest differences between the three courses being used this week -- PGA West Palmer; PGA West Nicklaus; and La Quinta Country Club?

Keefer: First, all three courses have tremendous Agronomy teams and all three courses are in perfect condition. There will be birdies everywhere. They are different style courses though.

La Quinta Country Club is far more classic golf in the desert. It's a little longer, and tree-lined with push up greens. There aren't a lot of elevation changes and the greens are great.

The Nicklaus Private at PGA West was Nicklaus in his Scottish phase. There's a green and brown contrast out there. It's visually daunting, as Nicklaus will do, with a focus on shot quality.

The Palmer course at PGA West is a blend. It's over-seeded like La Quinta. In typical Palmer style, there's lots of room off tee boxes. Guys with length can take advantage of that. The finishing holes up against the mountain are dramatic. These guys are so good they make the finising holes great biride chances.

As we saw with Duval in 1999 and that 59, it's exciting knowing you can make birdie or eagle to win.

All three courses play about the same. They focus on keeping the rough height down with the amateurs and the greens might be a little softer. We've got perfect weather forecasted-- high 70s to low 80s, 3-5 mph winds. It's really an awesome way to watch golf. I really have to praise the agronomy teams too. We've got three superintendents from three different courses coordinating to make everything consistent for the players. They're tremendous at what they do and it doesn't go unnoticed.

PGA.com: How different is your job during tournament week compared to the other 51 weeks per year?

Keefer: For us, it's a huge week for our people who are tirelessly working above and behind. We have some of the greatest staff, I think, and it's great to show our friends who we see once a year what we do. There are a lot of ticket requests. And, there are a lot of different groups, so it's a little more time than most weeks, but it's a fun week. We're fortunate to spend our week promoting golf, our club and the quality of life in the desert. It's a busy one, but we're having a lot of fun.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.