By Sue Pascoe
By now, golf fans are aware that Dustin Johnson won the Genesis Open by 5 strokes, took home a payout of $1.26 million and ascended to No. 1 in the world rankings. Although Tiger Woods did not play, and last year’s winner Bubba Watson withdrew on Saturday, the tournament had eight of the top 10 players in the world. Only No. 2 Rory Mcllroy (who was injured) and No. 4 Henrik Stenson were absent. One of the grand old dames of golf courses, the Riviera, didn’t disappoint, surviving torrential rainfall and gusty winds that threatened to postpone the final round to Monday.
But there’s one story that wasn’t reported, until now, “Military Outpost an Afterthought at the Riviera.”
When Lt. Col. USAF, Ret. Quentin Ridgley arrived at the large tent, located at the 14th hole tee box at the Riveria Country Club, he was dismayed.
“I’ve been here the past eight years and the one thing that impressed me was how they treated the military at this tournament,” Ridgley told the News on Feb. 18. “[Now] I’m shamefully disgusted.”
He noted there was no American flag, military flags nor patriotic bunting at the Outpost, nor was there any food, coffee or cold drinks when he arrived to assist Master Sergeant Gene Arias, the military representative, when play began on Thursday.
Ridgley said he expected that the military would be treated better, especially since Tiger Woods’ late dad, Earl, had been in the service.
Earl Woods was a U.S. Army infantry officer who served two tours of duty in Vietnam and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel. As a member of the military, he had playing privileges at the Navy golf course in Los Alamitos, which allowed Tiger to play there as a boy.
When Genesis became the sponsor of this year’s PGA tournament in Los Angeles (replacing Northern Trust), the event was hosted by TGR Live, which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Ridgley shared a Feb. 16 letter with the News that he sent to Evisun Chung, vice chairman of the Genesis Open; the Tiger Woods Foundation and Noboru Watanabe, president of the Riviera Country Club.
“I was shocked and dismayed at my arrival at the Military Outpost,” Ridgley wrote. “There was no American flag to warmly greet the active duty, retired military and veterans upon entering the grounds.”
Ridgley told the News that in the past, golfers like Phil Mickelson always saluted the military on the deck—but this year there was no way to discern who was in the tent.
“I was extremely troubled when assisting a 96-year-old veteran of World War II,” Ridgley told the News. “I could not even get a cup of coffee for him, because tournament personnel had not thought enough of our military members to provide what we have expected the norm to be with coffee and doughnuts or fruit bars in the morning.
“I greeted our young active-duty members and had to apologize because there was nothing to offer them,” Ridgley wrote in the letter. He told the News that on Thursday, coffee never came and that water and drinks finally arrived around mid-day.
Boxes of pizza were sent over sometime after 12 p.m., but there were no plates or napkins. In the past, there had also been snacks of fruit, granola bars, chips and cookies, but not that day.
Although the Military Outpost provided a great view of golfers teeing off on the par-3 hole, a fence placed around port-a-potties about 20 yards from the deck prevented visitors from seeing where the ball landed.
“This is not the experience we want to provide,” Genesis Open Tournament Director Mike Antolini told the News on Sunday morning, Feb. 19).
Ridgley said he wrote the letter because it “sums up the frustration, disappointment and incredulity of this slap in the face of our American heroes. The disappointment on the faces of these men reflected the disbelief that a South Korean company like Hyundai that sponsors and sells vehicles in the United States would neglect the remembrance of our heroes, many of whom fought in the Korean War, and the 50,000 American troops now stationed in South Korea.”
“We absolutely aim to be better,” Antolini said. “We’ve already made improvements.” On Sunday, two catering staff served pulled pork and pulled chicken sliders, chips, cookies and granola bars.
“The military is so important to us at the Tiger Woods Foundation,” Antolini said. “Next year, you will see more improvements.”