FORE May/June 2013 : Page 10
CLASSIC COURSES :KHUH&KDPSLRQV&DOO+RPH BY TOD LEONARD 6$1',(*2&&d; illy Casper was 11 years old when his par-ents moved to the rather sleepy San Diego suburb of Chula Vista in the early 1940s. Casper needed some change in his pocket so he could watch the Paciﬁ c Coast League’s Padres at Lane Field downtown, and one of the best ways for a kid to earn some cash back then was to caddie. It so hap-pened that young Billy lived within walking distance of the ﬁ nest golf course in the region, San Diego CC. Trouble was, he was a year too young to be an ofﬁ cial caddie. That didn’t stop Billy, who charmed a female member. Near the intersection of Third and L streets was the second tee, and the kid would wait there, climb the fence and tote the bag until the 18th tee, where he hopped back over the fence and vanished SCGA.ORG % BILLY CASPER WAS A FAMILIAR FACE AT SAN DIEGO CC WELL BEFORE GOING ON TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL PROFESSIONAL CAREER, INCLUDING A WIN AT THE PICTURED 1968 LOS ANGELES OPEN. 10 | FORE Magazine | MAY/JUNE 2013
Where The Greats Played
SAN DIEGO CC: Where Champions Call Home<br /> <br /> Billy Casper was 11 years old when his parents moved to the rather sleepy San Diego suburb of Chula Vista in the early 1940s.<br /> <br /> Casper needed some change in his pocket so he could watch the Pacific Coast League’s Padres at Lane Field downtown, and one of the best ways for a kid to earn some cash back then was to caddie. It so happened that young Billy lived within walking distance of the finest golf course in the region, San Diego CC.<br /> <br /> Trouble was, he was a year too young to be an official caddie.<br /> <br /> That didn’t stop Billy, who charmed a female member. Near the intersection of Third and L streets was the second tee, and the kid would wait there, climb the fence and tote the bag until the 18th tee, where he hopped back over the fence and vanished with a couple of coins in his pocket.<br /> <br /> Billy Casper adored baseball, but the caddying kept him away from playing the game. “So I became a golfer instead,” he recalled.<br /> <br /> Thus was born one more legend at San Diego’s most legendary golf club.<br /> <br /> This year, San Diego CC is celebrating its 92nd birthday at its current site, and among the more notable “parties” will be its hosting of the 114th SCGA Amateur Championship. The second-oldest continuous amateur tournament in the United States will be contested July 12-14. The only other time San Diego hosted was in 1936, when the champion was Roger Kelly, a California amateur legend who won the first Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach as a partner to Sam Snead. This year, Kelly is being inducted into the SCGA Hall of Fame.<br /> <br /> San Diego CC drew the honor this year because it is a home course for SCGA President Tom Lindgren, a retired surgeon who with his wife spends the summer in San Diego and the winter at The Palms GC in La Quinta.<br /> <br /> “We are absolutely excited about hosting the SCGA Amateur,” Lindgren said. “We know we can make it competitive for any level of player. Some of the courses we go to with the championship, you worry that the college players are going to beat the heck out of them. That won’t be the case in San Diego.”<br /> <br /> For decades, some of the world’s best players, including Casper, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Mickey Wright and Phil Mickelson have come to San Diego CC, stood on the gentle hill near the Spanish-style clubhouse and surveyed what looks like a serene, but simple golf course.<br /> <br /> The fairways are generous, though the trees are plentiful; there is only one water hazard on the entire course; and the contouring of the bunkers is unique, but not crazy.<br /> <br /> “It’s a very sophisticated golf course that looks really simple,” said John Osborne, San Diego’s head professional for the past 13 years.<br /> <br /> Retired dentist Walter Haase remembers his first visit more than four decades ago.<br /> <br /> “It was pretty nondescript,” Haase, 81, said. “It looked like you could have some fun out there, shoot some good scores.”<br /> <br /> Forty-one years of membership later, Haase laughed at that first impression.<br /> <br /> “You get out there and all of a sudden it’s not as easy as it looks,” said Haase, a former club president who was instrumental in getting a new clubhouse opened in 1989. “You’re thinking, ‘Darn it! I can do better than this!’ Mostly, it’s the golf course that wins, and you’ve got to give it respect for what it is.”<br /> <br /> In March, San Diego CC hosted the NCAA Division I Lamkin Grips San Diego Classic, and the best score was posted by Arizona State’s Jon Rahm, who shot 67 in the final round en route to a 54-hole total of 7-under-par 209 from the back tees that play at just over 7,000 yards.<br /> <br /> The course’s defenses are its moguled fairways, which rarely provide a flat lie, and its renowned greens. Mickelson makes regular appearances at San Diego CC each spring for a reason: He’s preparing for the Masters, and the putting surfaces are as close to Augusta National as he can get in the area.<br /> <br /> The greens are set at varying angles; they can be brutally quick; and the flat portions are few.<br /> <br /> “Its reputation around Southern California is for the greens,” Lindgren said. “Everywhere I go, people always say the same thing: ‘Oh, those greens.’ They are the best greens in Southern California.”<br /> <br /> Said Osborne, “That’s what makes people want to play it again and again. I can tell you that after 13 years I’m still learning about the greens. There’s a lot of golf courses where you say, ‘Hit it here, leave yourself a putt there.’ This golf course, it changes every time with the hole locations and the tee locations. Your whole strategy changes. That’s the beauty of it.”<br /> <br /> For years it was believed that Billy Bell Sr., the prolific course architect who did much of his work in California, was the original designer of San Diego CC. But through research in recent years it was discovered that the first architect was actually Scotsman Willie Watson, who has among his credits the Olympic Club’s Lake Course, Harding Park and Hillcrest CC.<br /> <br /> Bell did have a hand in some minor tweaking of the course later in the ’20s.<br /> <br /> As a club, San Diego was first founded in 1897 when nine holes were fashioned on a dusty piece of land in Balboa Park. The club moved briefly to Point Loma before purchasing a 160-acre vegetable farm south of downtown in Chula Vista, where the climate was excellent and the water plentiful.<br /> <br /> By the 1930s, San Diego CC was already popular among some of the game’s greatest, who often stopped by on their way to Agua Caliente in Mexico, where alcohol could be enjoyed during Prohibition.<br /> <br /> The event that truly put San Diego on the map came in 1947, when local businessman Andy Borthwick arranged for a sporting goods company to put up $5,000 for a winner-take-all match between Ben Hogan and reigning British Open champion Dai Rees.<br /> <br /> The match was supposed to be a cash-maker for the money-strapped club, but thousands jumped the flimsy fences and got in for free. What they witnessed was a blowout by Hogan, who over 36 holes routed Rees by 11 shots.<br /> <br /> Borthwick also would be instrumental in bringing professional golf to the city for the first time, with San Diego CC hosting the inaugural tour event in 1952.<br /> <br /> At a 60th anniversary celebration, club member and former San Diego Union-Tribune golf writer T.R. Reinman told the gathering, “This was a milestone for our club, and a milestone for the history of the game, really.”<br /> <br /> Without a doubt there are two golfers who stand out in San Diego CC’s history: SCGA Hall of Famers Wright and Casper.<br /> <br /> The daughter of a member, Wright spent her formative years at San Diego, preparing for what would be a legendary career that included 82 LPGA titles. Easily one of Wright’s greatest victories was capturing the U.S. Women’s Open in the only professional major San Diego hosted in 1964. Women now enjoy playing cards in the Mickey Wright Room at the club.<br /> <br /> One of the best experiences at San Diego CC is visiting the Billy Casper Grille. Displayed there are dozens of trophies and other pieces of memorabilia from the career of the Hall of Famer who won three majors, including the 1970 Masters, and ranks among the game’s greatest putters.<br /> <br /> Casper, 81, is still a fixture at the club, though it is cards and kibitzing, not golf, that draws him back. <br /> <br /> The former caddie doesn’t want for pocket change anymore. And he doesn’t have to climb the fence to get into his beloved club.
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