Gareth Bale is a Major League Soccer player. As bizarre as those words sound dripping from the lips of breathless MLS announcers everywhere, it's a matter of fact at this point. He's here! LAFC has signed the guy who hit that bicycle kick in the Champions League final four years ago. He did the LAFC hat reveal and everything.
Of course, the Bale of 2022 and that of 2018 are far from the same player. He maintains the countenance of a Keebler elf and utter commitment to the man bun strategically tied at the crown of his head, but his name doesn't quite carry the same weight as it once did. Injuries and falling in and out of favor at Real Madrid have severely hampered his playing time over the past few seasons.
Also, there's the golf thing. Bale loves a good game of golf, so much so that his Welsh teammates unfurled a flag obtained from the crowd in 2019 listing out his priorities: Wales first, golf second, Real Madrid third. Los Blancos fans were critical of Bale during his time at Madrid, and some of them even told him to "go play golf" when the Welshman arrived for training earlier this year.
While Bale should theoretically be up to the task of producing attacking verve and vigor for LAFC against opposition that, charitably, will not be quite as stringent as LaLiga's best defenses, there is some question of how good he will actually be. Plenty of the game's superstars -- Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe -- have come to MLS and promptly discovered that soccer in the States does not simply acquiesce to stardom. There's also the travel, the weather extremes, the sometimes-playing-on-a-baseball-field-ness of the league. It's not the easiest place to succeed.
So, as a service to Bale and LAFC, we decided to provide a little primer on some of the competition he'll face in the league, both his Western Conference rivals and some heavyweights from the East. And we decided to deliver it in a format he's absolutely sure to understand: the Professional Major Golfers' Association League Soccer Tour, or PMGALS Tour for short.
LA Galaxy: Riviera Country Club (Pacific Palisades, California)
Sure, technically in Los Angeles County, but is it really L.A.? The Galaxy are LAFC's chief rivals, and half the battle is actually getting to Carson.
Despite LAFC often posting "better" seasons than the Galaxy, their rivals are something of a conundrum for them. The Galaxy have six wins in the rivalry's history to LAFC's three, and what seems like a simple game for LAFC is anything but. Turns out, that's a lot like Riviera Country Club, which Jordan Spieth labeled as a surprisingly tricky course to Golf Digest in 2021. "There's not much rough, but when you get in the rough it takes the spin off enough to where you can't get into pins," Spieth said. "So if you try and be cute with it, a lot of times when you miss the greens it's harder from where you missed them, harder to get it closer than where you could have hit your approach shot."
Don't get cute with it, Gareth. Just stay disciplined and put the ball in good spots.
We started the list close to Bale's new home. Here are the other golf courses we analyzed and compared to league competition that he'll face across the U.S.
Seattle Sounders: Chambers Bay (University Place, Washington)
Don't let their league record fool you, Gareth: the Sounders are the toast of MLS after winning the CONCACAF Champions League, and if LAFC have to play in Seattle during the playoffs, you'll get a taste of one of the loudest fanbases in the league, and some NFL-grade artificial turf.
Trust us, Lumen Field is a place that feels like the elements themselves are against you. Somewhat similar to Chambers Bay, home of the 2015 U.S. Open and a course that Gary Player once called "the worst course I might've ever seen." That 2015 Open was marred by some questionable playing surfaces, something Bale might think about himself when he's picking bits of black rubber out of his teeth at Lumen. Chambers Bay is also a bit infamous for the 10 miles players have to trek to play it, with no golf carts without a medical exemption allowed. Best of luck leaving Washington with the results you're looking for.
New York City FC: Bethpage Black (Farmingdale, New York)
"This was obviously the longest one, but it's also the narrowest U.S. Open I've ever played," Tiger Woods said to PGATour.com in 2019. Shockingly, he was not referring to NYCFC's pitch in the outfield of Yankee Stadium but to Bethpage Black. The parallel here is pretty clear: NYCFC play on a postage stamp, and they are very good at playing on that postage stamp, winning 66% of their home games over the past five years.
Bethpage Black can also apply to the New York Red Bulls in that referencing it as a course for a New York City team is generous, geographically.
San Jose Earthquakes: Cypress Point (Pebble Beach, California)
Cypress Point Golf Course is known for its picturesque views overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It's also known for its particular difficulty, and I'm going to level with Gareth and everyone hoping to see him succeed: the Quakes probably aren't going to be as hard as Cypress Point. They've got a damn nice stadium, though. Very pretty pitch. Kind of like the golf course.
Philadelphia Union: Pine Valley Golf Club (Pine Valley, New Jersey)
Pine Valley is a tricky course and -- like the hometown of the Union's most famous homegrown talent, Brenden Aaronson -- it's actually in New Jersey.
Despite being named a top 100 course in 2021 by Golf Digest, Pine Valley has never hosted a major championship. The Philadelphia Union are similarly situated in the confines of MLS: a good team, even a great team as of late, but one without its signature moment. Getting a result at Subaru Park is difficult, nearly as difficult as booking a tee time at Pine Valley, which is only open to members and their guests. A word of advice, Gareth? When teeing off, try hitting the ball as hard and as precisely as Jakob Glesnes does with his confusingly good long-distance shooting. Seriously, this guy is a center-back.
Atlanta United: Augusta National (Augusta, Georgia)
Of course, what is a PMGALS Tour without a stop at Augusta National? Its slopes and greens are enough to inspire a sense of reverence and awe in just about any golf fan.
Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium don't have the same history as Augusta, but they make up for it with blunt-force scale. Standing outside of Mercedes-Benz feels like standing next to the Death Star, and being inside of it when Atlanta United scores a goal sounds about like what we imagine the Death Star sounded like when it blew up, and then when it blew up again, and then when it blew up again.
Atlanta United may not have recaptured the blinding assortment of talent that brought them the MLS Cup in 2018 and are in some level of injury suffering that Dante probably wrote in a rough draft. But few teams in the league do shock and awe like Atlanta United can, and Bale's stop in the league isn't complete until he plays in MBS. That is, if LAFC can find him. Augusta is extremely close to Atlanta by American standards -- only a two-hour drive, pending traffic.