Contributed by George Kelly '68
(on left with Cam Puget, former head pro at Pebble Beach)
When my parents purchased a second home overlooking the 1st green at Pebble Beach in 1962 I had no idea what a profound impact it would end up having on my life. Initially I was miserable as I was missing all of my friends at home back in the Central Valley. I used to complain that there was nothing to do and that I had no friends. I remember my father saying, “quit your bitching and I’ll get you some golf lessons”! Those lessons ended up changing my life forever in a positive way.
I began taking lessons at MPCC from Dean James, an Assistant Pro at the time. Dean is currently the Pro Emeritus at Fountain Grove GC in Santa Rosa. I took to golf like a duck to water. From the time I was 13 until I discovered girls golf consumed my life. We had a family membership at Pebble Beach and I was able to play that course every day. I would usually come home from school and either hit balls at the old Beach Club driving range, where you had to shag your own balls after hitting a bag or I would jump on the 2nd tee and play 2-5 and jump over and join a group on the 15th tee and play in. There was a TV ad recently where a little kid would ask a group of adults if he could join them and they look annoyed until he rips the ball down the middle. That’s what it was like for me. I was very small until my junior year in high school, however I was also developing into a rather good player. I recall that when I was a freshman and 15 years old I was a 3 handicap and played #1 on the team.
Those days at Pebble bring back many wonderful memories. When I tell people that I used to use the 1st green as my personal practice green and that our family membership only cost $450 for the year, they don’t believe me. I am the oldest of four boys and I remember my younger brothers playing baseball on the 1st tee late in the day with some of the caddies. Ray Parga ran the shop and seemed to be a curmudgeon, however Ray really had a heart of gold. Cam Puget was the Head Pro and his brother Henry was the Head Pro at Cypress Point. I began taking lessons from Cam and he would arrange for me to play Cypress about anytime I wanted. I didn’t realize how good it was until I left for USC in 1968.
I was a letterman on the RLS team from the 7th grade on. In those days if you were good enough you could play high school sports. I’m pretty sure that I annoyed some older and much bigger high school guys when I would routinely beat them in a 9-hole match. At that time I was barely 5 foot tall and didn’t weigh much more than 100 pounds. I’d give anything to have my old short game today!
I remember my early years on the team playing with guys like Byron Washburn and Roger Manwell. I was playing #1 as early as my freshman year. I also remember playing a lot with Ron Krieger who was from Pacific Palisades and was a great guitarist. Ron always told me that he had a twin brother who was a much better guitarist. To this day, I remember walking off the 4th tee at Pebble when he told me that his brother called the night before and was ecstatic because he landed a record deal. I asked him, “What’s the name of his band?” When he told me The Doors, I thought to myself “that’s the dumbest name in the world, they’ll never make it.” Curiously through golf I have become friends and currently play often with Robby Krieger. Robby is a member of Riviera and still is actively involved in the music industry. Unfortunately Ron has passed away.
Matches against Stanford University when I played against their #1 man were very intimidating. I remember playing against guys like Sandy Adelman, Rich Harris and Greg Pitzer at Stanford. Later in my senior year I had an epic match against Tom Watson. I had not lost a match all year and came to Stanford with an undefeated record. I heard that they had a freshman that was really good. I wanted to win that match in the worst way. We were all even coming to 18. Unfortunately that day they didn’t play the 18th hole as the club was rebuilding the green. Our last hole was a temporary green from in front of the 18th to a practice green that was uphill and looked to be about 100 yards long. Watson knew exactly what club to hit and knocked it in the middle of the green. I hit a wedge and came up short and ended up making bogey and lost the match.
Our team in high school was clearly one of the best in Northern California. In those days I don’t remember having regional championships like they do today. What I do remember is that we seldom lost a match. Depending on what year, my recollection of players on our teams includes Peter Fluor, Lee Danielson, Claude Wynn, Steve Barlow, Fred Manning, Jackson Booth, John Swanson and of course, Jeff Hildebrand. When Jeff joined the team in 1966 he and I would battle for the #1 spot. Our competition for the top spot made me a better player. What’s great about this is that I am still in touch and still play with most of these guys.
I went on to play college golf and had a brief stint attempting to make it as a tour pro. I describe my career as having “flashes of brilliance”. It would be 65 one day and 74 the next. My claims to fame would be that I played in two major championships, the 1974 US Open at Winged Foot (the hardest Open ever) and the 1975 British Open at Carnoustie (Watson’s first Open win). Other notable happenings would be that I played on the Australian tour in 1975 and traveled with several Aussies including young Greg Norman. We became good friends and while it is a long story Greg caddied for me in my last tournament as a professional the 1976 Spalding Pro-Am played on the Monterey Peninsula. Not a highlight in Greg’s career, but fun for me to remember.
As I mentioned earlier, my introduction to golf in the early 1960’s has led to my career in golf. I am one of the owners and developer of Stevinson Ranch GC. I am very proud to mention that last year GolfWorld Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards ranked Stevinson Ranch #5 best public golf course in America. Currently I serve as President of the California Golf Course Owners Association. I was also responsible for putting together the development deal at Mayacama GC in Santa Rosa. My efforts to understand how to be profitable in the golf business led me to a couple of very talented people and as a result I am the CEO of Greenway Golf Management Co. The golf business is extremely challenged these days as fewer people are playing golf and there are far too many courses. I think that we need to completely revamp the way that we approach selling a round of golf. We are entertainers and in the entertainment business. Golf as we know it needs to change. I am currently looking for the way to rescue a struggling industry just as snowboarding rescued the ski industry twenty years ago.
I must say that I’ve met many great people on my golf journey and nearly every close friend of mine shares a passion for golf. The early golf years at Stevenson provided me with a self confidence competing and playing with guys much older and bigger than me. It has also provided me with many fond memories playing Pebble Beach nearly every day of my high school life. I realize that I am a very lucky man to be able to have memories like that and so many great friends.