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Monday, June 4, 2012

Maury Wills "A Genuine Superstar"

In this day of mega-buck athletes who seem to forget about the fans who pay their salaries the newly crowned Masters Champion, Bubba Watson, is a breath of fresh air.  He is a sincere gentleman who would not mind being called a role model. Congratulations Bubba!
          Even before the huge salaries that have permeated all major sports many superstars were not approachable or were somewhat aloof in dealing with fans. While attending school in Yuma, Arizona I was fortunate to meet some of the baseball players/coaches who were in town for spring training. The baseball complex and the Desert Hills Golf Course were adjacent facilities so when not practicing many of the baseball players and coaches spent their time playing golf. One beautiful spring afternoon in 1976 I was teeing it up on the first hole with two of my team mates when a gentleman raced up in a golf cart so fast that it slid sideways as he stopped. “Mind if I join you?” said the gentleman who did look a little familiar. Before we could even reply he was out of the cart with driver in one hand and his other hand extended for a handshake. “Hi, I’m Maury Wills.” Having grown up watching the Dodgers on television (OK …more listening on radio than television) I was speechless to have him standing in front of me. He oohed and awed at our tee shots and hit a nice single up the middle himself.  Wills stole 586 bases in his career, was a 7 time All Star and MVP of the 62 All Star game but on the golf course he was just another golfer trying to figure out how to get the ball in the hole. He was interested in our games and asked for swing advice as we played. About five holes in Wills looked at his watch and announced that he had to leave. “Are you guys playing tomorrow?” We told him we had a 2:00 time and only had three players. He said, “I will be there, 2:00, thanks for today.”  As you might have guessed from the start of this story 2:00 came and went and we teed of without Maury Wills. Our thrill of meeting a superstar was totally dashed by a broken promise. We played in silence and were approaching the third tee box when racing over the hill at breakneck speed came the unmistakable visage of Maury Wills. He slid to a stop. “Guys, I am so sorry, practice went a little bit over today!” “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” We teed it up together on the third hole and finished the round and 36 years later I still appreciate a 7 time MLB All Star who kept his word and sincerely cared about three 20 year old college golfers.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bruce's Infamous Six-Putt

I have talked a little bit about the strength of the Twin Falls High School Golf Team and I have another story that relates to that period of time. As I started my Junior year of High School I had yet to qualify to play in a match (remember Dave Warner shot 26 to “steal” the fifth man spot when I was a Sophomore).  I had a very good summer between my Sophomore and Junior year as I qualified as one of two players in the state of Idaho to play in the National Youth Insurance Classic at Crestview Country Club in Wichita, Kansas. Somehow I made the cut and got to play one round with PGA Tour player Charlie Sifford and another round with PGA Tour player Ken Still. I remember that Charlie Sifford hit a ball out of bounds on a long par 4, hit a poor tee shot with his third shot and then holed a 2 iron for par. Through a clenched cigar he said, “That’s how it’s done son.” I played with Ken Still in the final round and I was somewhat in the hunt at least for a top ten finish. Unfortunately for me Mr. Still decided to try a new putter that day. I am pretty sure it was called the Flim Flam putter and Ken Still actually birdied the first 8 holes of the day as every putt he hit dove in the hole. Of course this attracted a gallery and a local news crew for the back nine and seeing as I had never even played a High School match this was a bit overwhelming for me. I choked like a dog on a chicken bone the final nine holes of the event and Ken still missed every putt on the back nine to shoot something like 28-40 for a 68. I recall that I had a 74 and an 80 in the championship rounds and records show that Bob Rosburg won the professional division of the competition with a 9-under-par 135, while Johnny Elam, a 17year-old from Wake Forest, N.C., took a one-stroke win in the junior division. Elam shot an opening round 71 for the best round of the championship followed by a 77 for a one stroke win over several players. I was competing on a national level with greater success than I had with my Twin Falls Bruin High School Team.
I couldn’t wait for the first high school qualifying as I was going to really put up some good numbers. The day arrived and I was ready. Hole number one, Par 5. A solid drive, a good five wood and a pitch to 3 feet above the hole. A putt, a putt, a putt, a putt, a putt, a putt.  I turned to ask my playing partners how many putts I had taken only to find Sonius, Packard and Duncan rolling on the ground laughing so hard they were crying. I am pretty sure that it was Dave Sonius who finally was able to talk. Bruce that was a si, si, si, six pu, pu, pu putt!!  Hoping to be famous for a low scoring average and I am stuck with the legend of the six putt. The next hole was a par three and I hit a nice shot about fifteen feet away and you guessed it…I three putted. I did one putt the next seven holes and salvage a score of three or four over par for the day but the six putt in the spring of 1973 will never be forgotten. If you ever have the chance to play Twin Falls Municipal Golf Course be careful of that first green. It is brutal.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bruce and Don Meet Deane Beman

I was fortunate enough to be involved with the second event ever held on the Ben Hogan Tour (now the Nationwide Tour). The Ben Hogan Yuma Open in February of 1990 was the second event of a bold experiment instigated by PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman. The first year each of these events had a $100,000 purse sponsored by the Ben Hogan Company.  The idea was that the players who did not earn their cards at the finals of PGA Tour Qualifying School plus the players just outside the top 125 of the money list would provide strong fields to play in some smaller markets around the country.  One of the requirements to host a Ben Hogan tour event was that the host site could not be within 50 miles of an existing PGA Tour event.  With PGA tour events in Tucson, Phoenix and Las Vegas there were not many sites in Arizona or Southern Nevada that met the criteria.  Originally the event was scheduled at a course under construction in Laughlin, Nevada. Sometime around the middle of November 1989 I received a call from our PGA Section asking whether we had enough support in Yuma to put together a tour event and Pro-Am in just over two months. I responded that we could do it and although my golf course, Yuma Golf & Country Club seemed like the obvious choice for the event, I had a feeling that the whole community would get behind the event if it was held at Desert Hills Municipal Golf Course. Desert Hills is an excellent city course with a Convention Center and abundant parking adjacent to the course. With the backing of the City of Yuma we committed to an event that should have taken a full year to plan and by accepting the event we committed to providing the excellence expected by the PGA Tour operation. The Head Professional at Desert Hills, Don King, and I were invited to attend a planning meeting in Ponte Vedra, Florida the first week in December. We showed up at PGA Tour headquarters and I believe the meetings were held in a nearby Marriot Hotel. Each of approximately 30 events sent a team of two to four people for these meetings and there was a great deal of excitement as PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman opened the meeting by introducing Bob Dickson as Director of the Ben Hogan Tour. Dickson and Beman started with a detailed description of event organization and spent the last half hour before our first break talking about how prior to the cut the field tees off utilizing a “double tee start”. A double tee start sends players off the first and tenth tee in a morning and afternoon wave.  Feeling that the meetings were a little bit too serious, Don and I decided to test the sense of humor of Beman and Dickson. During the break we introduced ourselves and noted our circumstance of being only two weeks into the planning stage in Yuma. Don started off, “Mr. Beman, about the double tee start?” Beman said, “Yes, you have a question?” I stepped in and said, “ Will a double tee start work if we have only a nine hole golf course?” Both Dickson and Beman looked at each other in absolute speechless horror until Don and I both started giggling like schoolgirls.  I think Dickson had a better sense of humor than Beman, as he would at least speak to us throughout the rest of the meetings. I remember at the end of the meetings we played the TPC Sawgrass in a scramble and I was paired with Hall of Fame basketball coach Pat Summit who was representing the event from Tennessee.
We did not win and she was not happy about that (she always wins). In just two days I had upset the Commissioner of the PGA Tour, The Director of the Ben Hogan Tour and the All-Time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history. Fortunately the actual event was an absolute hit with great community involvement, great money raised for charity and a perfect execution of a “double tee start”.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bobby Clampett's College Days

          Bobby Clampett is one of the primary reasons I became a PGA Club Professional. In my final year of college at UNLV (1978) I was already struggling with my putting but I thought I was a pretty good ball striker. I always felt that if I could fix my putting I could play with just about anyone. Clampett was playing for BYU and we were paired together for two or three tournaments that year. I had played with some pretty good players but never a player with Clampett’s pedigree. Between 1978 and 1980 Clampett would earn All-America honors three times and be named collegiate golf’s player of the year twice. In 1978 he won the California Amateur, Western Amateur, Sunnehanna and the World Amateur Individual Medal. He was also low amateur in the U.S. Open in 1978 and low amateur in the Masters in 1979. I was hot off a 2nd place finish in the Broadmoor Invitational (that’s the 9 hole Broadmoor CC in Nampa, Idaho). The first time I played with Clampett I was astonished that after three or four holes his game was very similar to mine. Fairway, Green, 2-putt and an easy par. If this is the best amateur on the planet then I must be pretty good. Well along came the fifth hole… BOOM… a five iron to two feet BIRDIE. Sixth hole par 5… BAM… a 3 wood to one foot EAGLE. Seventh hole …SHAZAAM…. a 7 iron to 4 inches BIRDIE. When he found his slot it did not matter whether he was hitting a two iron or a wedge...the golf ball took off dead at the pin and went the perfect distance on a perfect line. Each of the times I played with Clampett he would have two or three streaks of this ball striking that was almost supernatural in nature. He was also a completely fun guy to play with. Now in a 4 day event these ball striking Blitzkriegs by Clampett would leave me 10 to 20 strokes behind, that is if I was playing well. The thing that made me realize it would be smart to pursue a life as a PGA Club Professional rather than compete with the likes of Bobby Clampett was that although he beat my 20 shots in four rounds he would typically miss two or three putts under four feet each round. I truly believe that Clampett had to go nuts when he started playing the PGA Tour and would get beat by guys making six 20 footers a round. Although he won 1.4 million on the PGA tour most people classified him as underachieving. In the past few years Clampett has gotten involved in an instruction program called the Impact Zone that details his ideas of how to strike a golf ball. I use some of his principles in my teaching and so I can now thank Bobby Clampett for pointing me toward a great profession and providing me a teaching tool to help people enjoy the game.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

James Contreras...Serial Wrong Ball Hitter

        Hitting a wrong ball, particularly in competitive golf, is worse than a missed Boise State field goal in football. It is worse than a Shaquille O’Neal free throw. It is even worse than whiffing the ball. You have to add two shots, go retrieve the wrong ball, apologize to whoever the wrong ball belonged to, go find your own ball and then regain your composure and try to hit a quality golf shot. During this time your self talk (one of the 3 to 5 voices in your head) is not very positive. “You are an Idiot. What was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking was I? I was two under par. Crap, my ball is in a divot.”  If you have never hit a wrong ball I congratulate you. If you have, I think you will enjoy this story about James Contreras. James was one of my best players at Arizona Western Junior College where I coached golf for a few years in the early 1980’s. He was smart, articulate, a very good player and….a serial wrong ball hitter. A serial wrong ball hitter is a person who continually hits wrong balls even when they are very aware that they have a propensity for doing so. I currently play golf with a serial wrong ball hitter and I actually write NOT LINDA on my ball which has at least cut the wrong ball hitting in half but that is a whole nother story. James Contreras became a SWBH in the third event of the season in the spring of 1984. He was playing excellent golf and I remember him posting a 73 or 74. “Nice round James”. Contreras shook his head, “Coach, I was one under with three to play and I hit the wrong ball on 16.” “Was it in the rough where you couldn’t see it?” James shook his head again, “Nope, right in the middle of the fairway.” We discussed what he had learned and how important it would be in the future for him to pay attention to hitting the correct ball. The next week, same thing, posted a 72 or 73 and started shaking his head as he walked toward me. “James, you didn’t?” “Coach, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Middle of the fairway on 15 and I hit the wrong ball again!”  James was such a good kid I couldn’t be upset with him so I just patted him on the back and commented that I bet he would never do that again. Now remember that by definition a SWBH is someone who continues to hit the wrong ball even though they are very aware of their propensity. At the next event I had the answer. Wilson Golf had recently introduced the orange and yellow Pro Staff balls. They were not a big hit and there were no Junior College kids playing these odd colored balls…except for James Contreras. I gave James two sleeves of Yellow Pro Staff balls and said, “James, the wrong ball issue stops here. Play these today and I guarantee you will not hit a wrong ball.” James was pretty self conscious about teeing up a yellow ball but he did so even though he assured me he could go without hitting a wrong ball on his own. James posted another good score in the low seventies and as he walked away from the scorer’s table he was again shaking his head. “James, what’s up. I know you didn’t hit a wrong ball…did you?” Contreras said, “Coach, I don’t know how it happened but on 14…” I stopped him mid-sentence, “James, what color was the ball you hit?” “White”, he replied. “What color ball were you playing?” “Yellow”, he replied. At which point we both burst out laughing. What are you gonna do.
         James continued on in golf and made the team as a walk-on at ASU. That process involved about 100 guys teeing it up and the coach taking only the single best player after a set number of rounds. Here are a few of his accomplishments.

James Contreras PGA

Currently Teaching Professional, Las Sendas
2002 U.S. Open Sectional qualifier

2000 Third place in Hawaiian State Open
2000 Played in Phoenix Open

1991 Played in Hogan and Nike Tour events

1991 Southwest Section PGA Assistant’s Player of the Year

1991 Southwest Section PGA Assistant’s Champion

1984-1986 ASU golf team
1984 Invented the term “Serial Wrong Ball Hitter”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From "Weed" Puller to Golf Course GM in One Year

“Do you realize that you just spent two hours totally destroying a bed of desert wildflowers?”  Richard Bermudez was the Vice President of American Golf Corporation and oversaw golf course maintenance of the company’s entire portfolio. I had noticed him watching me intently over the past hour so I really made sure that I did the most thorough job ever of clearing the area of “weeds”.  “I thought they were weeds.” I replied. The year was 1991 and I was working on the golf course maintenance crew at Painted Desert Golf Club in Las Vegas. As the above conversation indicates I was not very good at what I was doing. Bermudez said, “I don’t think we can afford to have you on our maintenance crew. There is an opening over at Sahara Country Club for a Head Golf Professional/Tournament Director. Take the day off tomorrow and go interview… and please leave the flowers alone.”
Bermudez must have put in a good word for me as I was hired immediately at the Sahara Country Club. For some reason, Painted Desert did not want any notice and allowed me to leave their employ the next day. I think that if I had stayed much longer at Painted Desert that they would have had to change the name to just Desert. The Sahara CC, now Las Vegas National was one of the original courses in Las Vegas and being located just two miles from the Las Vegas Strip it was very popular with both tourists and locals. It is a true Championship Course having hosted both PGA and LPGA tournaments. As I started to work, the sheer volume of golf outings that the course hosted almost overwhelmed me. My predecessor had not kept up with the job so I had over 100 contracts to send out that required an old fashioned typewriter and triplicate copies.  I dug in with exuberance, as I was better at this than I was working on a maintenance crew. Over the next year we were a very successful operation that was becoming more successful as the Dunes Golf Club and Tropicana Country Club were bulldozed to make room for the Bellagio and the MGM Grand resorts.  I had been at the Sahara CC for less than a year when the GM of the property, Gary Klein, dropped a bombshell that would change my professional career. “Bruce, the company is moving me to Phoenix where we have several new properties coming on board. This place needs a full time General Manager and I choose you.”  This was September of 1992 and the course was starting to get inquiries several years in advance from many of the events that had played at the Tropicana and the Dunes. We had already taken our Green Fees from $65 to $75 and still we seemed to be turning people away. As I assumed the duties of GM the natural market pressures of decreased supply of golf courses and increased supply of rooms continued to drive fees upward every three months. In less than a year we were a $100 golf course. At this time, I was blessed to have a Regional Manager and true leader named Steve Harker (currently President & CEO of Touchstone Golf). He became very involved in the Las Vegas market but really let me take the reins and fly. He suggested that we needed to find a way to keep our local clientele to fill times in the summer and to fill early morning tee times that tourists in Las Vegas typically shied away from.  I don’t generally like to take credit for good ideas but since I received the kudos I will on this one. We created a club for Las Vegas residents with a newspaper ad that screamed “Free Golf”. For $100 a local resident could purchase a card that allowed them to make tee times 3 days in advance and pay a much-reduced rate. When purchasing the card they received a “Free” round of golf. We made it a true club and partnered with Las Vegas Golf Magazine to mail their magazine to our members with a monthly newsletter and special offers just for our members.  Since we sold 1,000 of these cards in July and August ($100,000 in sales) Steve Harker was very happy. As a reward he sent my wife and I on a trip to Pebble Beach with a room at the lodge overlooking the 18th green. The golf portion of that trip will have to wait for another story.  While working under the guidance of Harker the property flourished. The course changed its name to Las Vegas Hilton Country Club, hosted the Re/Max Long Drive Championship and the PGA Tour Las Vegas Invitational and boosted green fees to $145. This was a fun, almost giddy time of working 70 hour weeks and loving it because success occurred daily and trips to Pebble Beach aside Steve Harker knew the value of simply saying, “Thank you. Nice job team.”  By 1996, Harker was reassigned and the magic, at least for me, ended. For four years I had been given goals and it had been up to me and my team to figure out how to achieve those goals.  The new regional manager gave me similar goals and told me how he wanted them achieved. I might have missed out on another good mentor but at the time it felt like the difference between driving a team of horses 70 hours a week and pulling a wagon 70 hours a week. I like to drive. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Turtle Bay Golf, Mai Tais, Baywatch & Miss Hawaiian Tropic Contest

            September 2002. A year after 9/11 and the world was still in shock from the events that rocked New York City and Washington DC. I was still working for the Pointe South Mountain Resort but we had a new management company and my mentor (Brad Jencks) had left to take the position as General Manager at the Turtle Bay Resort in Hawaii. Airlines were flying half empty planes to Hawaii and room rates were low. It was a great time for a vacation.
           Now settle in for a long story and I promise I did not make this up. My wife and I were/are good friends with Kim Hinshaw who was a Captain for Northwest Airlines. My wife was giving Kim golf lessons and she was totally hooked on golf. Over a cold beverage we started talking about golfing vacations. In the middle of the conversation I picked up the phone and called Brad at Turtle Bay. I was patched through to his voice mail and I left a detailed message about the dates we were thinking about and that we were coming to play a lot of golf. Kim committed to getting us to Hawaii if I could set up the rooms and golf. I was excited at the prospect of the trip as Turtle Bay had 36 holes and was set to host a Champions Tour event in early October. I got the call the next day. “Bruce, I have some good news and bad news. The good news is that we have rooms available and I can give you a great rate.” “What’s the bad news?” I asked. “Well Bruce, the bad news is that the week after you are here we are hosting the Turtle Bay Champions Tour event on the Palmer Course and the tour officials have asked us to close the course the week prior to the event.” I said, “That’s not bad news, we can still play the George Fazio course can’t we.” “Well you can but as GM of the property I need your professional input on how the Palmer Course conditioning is coming along so we will play the Palmer Course anytime you want and we will be the only players on the course.”  Ok. This sounds like a dream vacation. Companion pass for the airfare, low rate for a luxury Hawaiian resort and we will have our own private, tour conditioned, course to play whenever we want. No way this could get any better. Brad interrupted my daydream, “One thing I failed to mention is that while you are here we are hosting the USA Miss Hawaiian Tropic Pageant. This means that you are going to have to put up with beautiful young women dressed in swimsuits constantly strolling around the property.”As my mind once again began to wander Brad interrupted again, “And so the ladies are not left out we also have the cast of Baywatch Hawaiian Wedding staying here and they work out in the fitness center every morning. I think Lynn and Kim will enjoy their workouts.” I asked if that was about it and Brad replied, “Yes except that you should know that we have a secret Mai Tai recipe and our Mai Tais are Internationally acclaimed as one of the top 5 Mai Tais in the world.” 
                I am really not making this up. Since we were flying standby we Fedexed our clubs to Hawaii and started our journey from Phoenix to Hawaii. Things went great getting out of Phoenix and we only waited a couple of hours to get on a plane in Los Angeles. Three passengers and only one seat available…in first class that is. The ladies wanted to sit together and talk so they actually volunteered to have me sit in first class. Who am I to disappoint? Well rested we arrived in Honolulu and at the car rental place the car we had reserved was not available so they upgraded us to a convertible…chaching! Picked up our clubs at FedEx and we were off to the North Shore and Turtle Bay. The rooms were great with an incredible ocean view and we quickly settled in to seats at the Hang Ten Bar and Grill in preparation for the Sunset Happy Hour that featured $5 Mai Tais. Now you can’t even get a Coca Cola for $5 in Hawaii so we decided that since there was fruit attached that the Mai Tai would suffice for dinner. As we sipped dinner we were treated to the most amazing sunset I had ever witnessed. Brad was not there that first evening but he left a message for us that he was available for a “course tour” at 11 am.
                 Lynn and Kim were up at 6 am to go to the fitness center for their workout. Lynn spent more time putting on makeup than she did for our wedding and since I seem to be allergic to working out they went down to the fitness center/Baywatch beefcake facility without me. When they returned I think I remember them saying something about J.D. and Hobie and that I should start working out but I really did not know that there were guys on the Baywatch show. I think I was the victor that morning as we got in the elevator and I held the door for 5 or 6 Hawaiian Tropic contestants who “squeezed” into the elevator with us. I am glad it was only a few floors down as I probably could not have held in my gut for more than 10 stories. We had a quick breakfast…real food because the Hang Ten Mai Tai Bar was not open yet.
It was 10:00 so we went looking for our host and found Brad in the executive offices letting his personal assistant know that he would be at the “tournament site “ for the next 5 hours. The Palmer course at Turtle Bay is incredibly scenic and although it had only been closed for a few days it was immaculate. Playing golf on a great course with your wife and good friends is just incredible. Add the fact that it is absolutely private to only your group and it becomes a surreal experience. It was incredibly quiet and each divot one made seemed like a crater that would show up on TV the following week. After golf we headed back to the Hang Ten and for a late lunch we had a Mai Tai that according to the menu consisted of Hana Bay Rum, Orange Curacao, Pineapple & Orange Juices Topped with Hana Bay Dark Rum Served on the Rocks . Now I happen to know at least one more ingredient that makes the Turtle Bay Mai Tai a world class drink but I am sworn to secrecy as disclosing this secret would be a devastating blow to the economy of Hawaii.
         This was our daily schedule for the trip other than our overnight stay in Waikiki and the afternoon spent at the mansion on Diamondhead where Lynn learned how to surf but we will save that story for another day. One thought to add is that I am amazed at the places I have been privileged to visit and the people I have met thanks to the game of golf. This story is the 52nd story I have written in a year’s time. I will continue as long as I feel I have something you will enjoy reading.