Contributed by Jeff Hildebrand ’67
I really enjoyed reading Mark Soltau’s article on Stevenson’s golfing legacy dating back to the mid 70’s in last Spring’s alumni magazine. A number of older alumni would argue Stevenson’s golfing legacy goes back much further than that. Some might say it goes clear back to the founding of the school and Mr. Ricklefs eldest son, who I have heard was an excellent player in his own right, but that is a story for others, who know better, to tell.
Prior to coming to Stevenson in the fall of 1965 as a junior transfer, I had attended Bakersfield H.S., considered to be the largest H.S. in the world at the time with a student body of over 5,000. With so many students to draw from all of the athletic teams were excellent and golf was no exception. As a freshman with a 5 handicap I was fortunate to even make the team and played in only 2 of 22 varsity matches. Sophomore year I had improved tremendously and after another undefeated match play season we capped it off with our 4th consecutive Southern CIF team championship, winning by a record 17 shots over the second place team. Individually I finished tied for 3rd one shot behind future touring pro’s Jerry Heard and Dave Barber.
In the summer of 1965 my parents moved to Pebble Beach and I was enrolled in Stevenson as a junior day student. Needless to say, after the sophomore year I’d had, I thought I was going to be the proverbial “Big Fish in the Little Pond” when it came time to tee it up with the Pirate golf team. Boy did I have another think coming!
The 1965-66 Stevenson golf team that I joined was comprised of George Kelley, Peter Fluor, Steve Barlow, Skip Manning, Lee Danielson, and Jackson Booth. They were not only a very talented and deep group but they had a wealth of experience on all of the local courses. Rarely did a Stevenson player end a round scoring much above 80 and more often than not it was at or near par. There were a number of very good high school players on or near the Peninsula, Larry Cram and Bob Berg of Pacific Grove and Clem Richardson of Palma immediately come to mind, but the cream of the crop was at Stevenson. The team ended the season with only one loss and as had become it’s habit won both the league tournament and championship. I struggled with my own game throughout the season, and even with all of the practice and effort I put into it, only rarely did Coach Dave Wilson find any reason to move me above 5th man.
After my miserable (in my mind) junior year, I worked hard all summer, won a couple of Southern California Junior tournaments and capped off the summer as the second low qualifier from Southern California for the 1966 USGA National Junior. Coming back to Stevenson for my senior year in 1966-67 I was ready to go and playing well. We no longer had Peter Fluor or Lee Danielson but Claude Wynn took over as 6th man and we were as strong as ever.
Spyglass Hill opened in 1966 and it became our second “home” course after Pebble Beach. Newly carved out of the sand dunes and dense forest bordering the gym and dorms of Stevenson it was an absolute monster of a course back then. It had no rough and because it was so new the edges of the fairways were still as dense as the forest it had been carved out of! I’ll never forget the first round we played there. We all thought we were pretty good “sticks” so we teed it up from the absolute back of the back tees and “let it rip”. I remember I was very proud of the 5 birdies I made that day, but I was relieved and completely drained when my last putt dropped in the cup on 18 because it was the last ball in my bag! If you missed the fairway or green by even so little as a few feet it was virtually a lost ball. I barely broke 90 that day!
One of the great things about golf at Stevenson in those years was that a number of the best NorCal H.S. teams and even some collegiate teams would schedule us in order to have the opportunity to play Pebble Beach or Spyglass Hill. We played and beat Los Altos High of San Jose at Spyglass. They were the reigning San Jose Area Champions and were led by Brian Inkster, Now a teaching professional and husband of LPGA Hall of Fame member Julie Inkster. We also had home and home matches with the University of California frosh team and the Pac 8 Conference Champion Stanford varsity, who were led by Collegiate All Americans Rich Harris, Sandy Adelman, and Bob Bouchier. By then George and I were pretty much alternating at number 1 and 2 and we held our own at Stanford GC shooting 76 (George) and 77 (Me) to pick up 4 points against the Stanford Varsity.
Coming from Bakersfield I had very little experience playing in wet, cold and windy weather, and it seemed like every match we played in 1967 was a composite of some or all the three. I remember one match in particular at Pebble. We were playing George Washington High of San Francisco, the reigning SF City Champions. It was pouring rain and I was playing 1st man against the San Francisco city Junior Champion, Stu Whitman. No matter what I did I couldn’t keep my hands from slipping on the grips. I think I went through 4 gloves on the front nine, shot 41 and was 4 or 5 down to Stu. I was so miserable and frustrated that Stu felt sorry for me, so on the 10th tee he told me to come over to the ball washer and he would show me a trick to help me with my grip. In those days the ball washers had a thin terry cloth towel (unlike today’s synthetic towels on most ball washers) to dry your ball off with. He took the cloth and ripped it into one inch wide strips the length of the towel and showed me how to make a spiral wrap down the length of the grip with one of the strips and then grip the club over the terry cloth wrapping with no glove on. It worked like magic! I made 5 birdies on the back nine, shot 32, and won the match. He wasn’t real happy about it!
We again won the C.A.A. league and tournament championships and ended the year by playing in the Norcal Tournament of Champions at Lake Chabot GC in Oakland. I think only our Captain, Steve Barlow had ever even seen the course and it didn’t turn out to be a notable day for us. Unfortunately for us, all of our team members had early tee times and played the first 12 or 13 holes in a driving rainstorm. Both George and I managed to shoot 75, which was pretty good under the circumstances, but our team couldn’t compete with the schools that teed off later and played the course in soft and dry conditions. The only really memorable thing for me that day was playing the 18th hole, which is 673 yards long and is the only par 6 hole I’ve ever seen!
After graduating from Stevenson I went on to the University of Southern California and won three Varsity letters competing on Trojan golf teams that had Three National Junior Champions, one Northern California Amateur Champion, one future 2 time USGA Senior Amateur Champion, one future 2 time US Open Champion, one future Masters Champion, numerous touring and teaching professionals and one future farmer; Me.
Golf on the peninsula in the 60’s was much more collegial than back in Bakersfield where the juniors played almost exclusively with other juniors. The Stevenson team had almost unlimited access to Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and the Dunes and Shore courses at Monterey Peninsula CC in the afternoons, and it wasn’t uncommon to get a game in the afternoon at Pebble with accomplished local golfers like Dan Searle Jr or Wheeler Farrish. Dick McLean was almost a regular. Over at Monterey Peninsula Larry Cram or Bob Berg could often be found, but more often than not it would be one of the seniors like former Club Champion Warner Keeley or 7 time Club Champion Buck Henneken who would join us to “show the kids a few tricks” (which translates to “try and take our money!”)
It was a truly great time to be growing up and playing golf on the Peninsula. Unlike today where tee times at Pebble Beach need to be secured 6 months or even a year ahead of time, there was little play in the afternoons. Ray Parga and Roy Drcovic ruled the pro shop and tee times at Pebble Beach like their own private fiefdom but they always found time to help and support us. Ray would get a new set of irons in, play them once or twice and then offer to sell them to us for $100. I know George and I took advantage of that and to this day I still have my set of 1967 McGregor VIP’s by Nicklaus.
There are many more stories that can be told about the Stevenson golf team back in the mid 60’s, like our connection with Arnold Palmer’s famous red visor from the 1960 US Open, the golf team’s connection with “The Doors”, and with Tom Watson; but those stories are better left to be told by those who know them best.