SCGA History: Part 5

Prologue — A Study in Contrasts

After 80 years filled with wars interspersed by uneasy moments of peace, a great depression and unalloyed prosperity, assassinations and atomic energy, Americans in the last two decades of the 20th century might have hoped for a sustained period of calm.

No such luck. Instead, the last 20 years have been a study in wildly fluctuating contrasts.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan (at age 69) became the oldest person ever elected President of the United States. Twelve years later, Bill Clinton (age 46) became the second-youngest person ever elected to that office.

In one sense, it was a period of unparalleled prosperity. The country labored through an economic recession in the early 1990s but by the end of the decade had basked in several years of minuscule inflation and sustained economic growth. The New York Stock Exchange's Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was as low as 759.13 in 1980, climbed to with a fraction of the 3,000 level in 1990. By May, 1999, it had topped the 11,000 mark.

Yet this was also an era when the word "downsizing" entered the American employment lexicon. Millions of people lost jobs in manufacturing, defense and other areas. Others saw their standard of living drastically reduced as they re-trained for new employment. Two-income families became the norm, a far cry from the "Ozzie and Harriet" family model of the 1950s.

The Soviet Union—for half a century the focus of America's foreign policy and defense strategies—collapsed in 1991. The Berlin Wall, long a symbol of Communism, was torn down in 1989. Peace accords were signed in Northern Ireland and between Israel and its Palestine neighbors. Apartheid died in South Africa. However, several times during the 1980s and 1990s, America and other NATO nations committed air power and troops to battle dictators in Africa, Iraq, Bosnia, Serbia and other hot spots.

Space exploration entered a new era when the first space shuttle was launched in 1981. Five years later, the world watched in horror as the shuttle Challenger exploded a minute after lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Shuttle flights eventually resumed and as the century closed the Russians and Americans were collaborating on the space station Mir.

Perhaps the most uplifting moment in space during the two-decade span occurred on July 4, 1997, when Pathfinder, an unmanned exploration vehicle built at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, landed on Mars and transmitted dramatic, four-color photos of the Martian surface back to earth.

Chapter 1 — Reshaping Southern California

Few regions of the country were as impacted by the country's economic upheavals as was Southern California. The breakup of the Soviet Union led to a significant shrinking of the military-industrial complex and hundreds of thousands of local jobs vanished or were transferred to other parts of the country, an impact that was also felt at the SCGA as total membership declined six percent from 1991 to 1993.

At the same time, however, Los Angeles was becoming the new Ellis Island of America as millions of immigrants passed through the Southland en route to life in the United States. Many of these people stayed in Southern California and became golfers. SCGA membership has grown 13 percent in the past six years.

As has been the case throughout the century, golf course construction in Southern California has followed the economic fortunes of the region. In the early 1990s, during the depths of the downturn, only a few courses opened in the region each year. However, by the end of the century, dozens of new courses have been built, nearly all of which are high-end daily-fee facilities.

Chapter 2 — Reshaping the SCGA

As has been the case throughout its history, the SCGA continued to find new and diverse ways during the 1980s and 1990s in which to be of service to its individual members and member clubs. Under the leadership of strong boards of directors and Executive Director Newell Pinch, the SCGA pioneered several innovative programs for its members. As the inception of the affiliate club program in 1979 brought in thousands of new members to the SCGA, a key objective was to fully integrate these new golfers into the association.

One of the simplest but most visible means was the introduction of the now-familiar black SCGA bag tag in 1981. "We wanted to offer our members a bag tag what would provide prestigious identification as they travel to courses around the country," said Pinch.

Later that decade, the SCGA Tournament Rack was developed as a focal point at clubs for SCGA and USGA entry forms. Both of these programs remain in place today.

The SCGA continued its long-standing commitment to turfgrass research by joining with the Northern California Golf Association, United States Golf Association and the University of California Riverside in 1989 to undertake a comprehensive study of kikuyu grass, seeking to discover whether it could be eradicated (no) or successfully managed (yes, with a lot of work). Following up in the 1990s, the SCGA was a founding member of the Southern California Turf Council, which continues to sponsor turfgrass research at UCR.

Not every program was successful. In 1984, the SCGA founded a travel division, hoping that its expertise in golf would be of benefit to both travel agents and members. But after several years, the SCGA board concluded that SCGA Travel wasn't accomplishing its objectives and ended the venture.

Chapter 3 — Computerized Handicapping

Perhaps no single invention has altered life in the United States in the past two decades more than the personal computer. Less than half a century ago, only about 100 computers existed in the entire world. Even two decades ago, computers were cumbersome machines relegated, for the most part, to large companies.

However, since 1980 computers have become commonplace not only in businesses of all sizes but in homes as well. Moreover, the development of the Internet and, in particular, the worldwide web has connected millions of people to the information superhighway.

The SCGA was already using mainframe computers to calculate handicaps by 1980, but a decade later it began a study to investigate the best way to fully integrate personal computers into that process.

Out of that study came the SCGA Electronic Handicap System, which the SCGA developed in conjunction with its long-time handicapping vendor, IDC Safeguard. From 1992 to 1994, the SCGA worked with all golf clubs in Southern California to have computers installed at every course and link those computers to the SCGA mainframe computer. All amateur associations in Southern California, representing both male and female golfers, have participated in a unified handicap system since that time.

In 1997, the SCGA began working with other associations around the country to found the International Golf Network, fulfilling a long-sought dream that would allow members of one association to post scores anywhere in the nation and have those scores routed back to their handicap files. As the decade comes to a close, 51 associations in 37 states and four countries are participating in the IGN.

Looking toward the new millennium, the SCGA is preparing to implement SCGA EHS 2000, a state-of-the-art upgrade which will used touch-screen monitors, a Windows-based application and the internet to make it easier for members to post and provide more timely updates to their files.

Chapter 4 — Climbing Up the Slope

The 1980s was also the decade when the Slope system was introduced to Southern and Northern California. With more than 250 golf courses in Southern California at the time, the SCGA waited until it was sure that Slope would be a permanent part of handicapping before it began introducing it to Southern California. The delay also allowed it to evaluate how other associations fared as they introduced this alteration to traditional handicapping.

Based on what it learned, the SCGA elected to forego the use of "home course handicaps" and, instead, issue handicap indexes to every golfer.

In 1988, the SCGA began an intensive indoctrination program for all members, with articles in every issue of FORE Magazine through 1989, a pamphlet - "Everything you wanted to know about Slope (but were afraid to ask)" - distributed with the November/December 1989 issue of FORE Magazine, and regional meetings at which every SCGA club was required to attend. The theme was simple: "99 percent of all golfers need to know only two things: here's your index and here's how you convert it."

The implementation program was a huge success. "We felt that the best way to encourage golfers to use the Slope system correctly was to make them calculate their course handicap every time they played," says SCGA Director of Handicap and Membership Ray Tippet. "Looking back on it, I think we were correct."

Chapter 5 — Sending the Message

That the SCGA was able to distribute vast amounts of information about Slope and handicapping was the result of a decision made in 1985 to shift FORE Magazine from a quarterly to bimonthly publishing schedule. With the exception of a short-lived attempt by an outside firm to publish the magazine monthly, FORE had been published on a quarterly basis since it was founded in 1968

However, as the association's activities began to become more varied, and with the building of a golf course seemingly on the horizon, the board approved a recommendation to shift to a bimonthly publishing schedule beginning in 1985. It was the first of several significant steps that would be taken over the years.

In 1989, the SCGA Directory of Member Clubs, which had been published as a part of FORE's March issues, was changed to a digest size and issued as a separate publication. In 1996, the SCGA joined forces with the Southern California Section of the PGA to produce the Southern California Directory of Golf, a complete listing of all Southern California courses along with a vast amount of information about both organizations. Today, this directory is the region's most comprehensive Southern California golf reference book.

The growing popularity of the internet and the SCGA's desire to provide more up-to-date news and information led the association to become one of the first regional golf associations to open its own web site ( The site was unveiled during the 1996 SCGA Amateur Championship, which allowed people to follow the tournament's progress regularly, as well as the U.S. Public Links Championship which was won that year by SCGA member Tim Hogarth.

In addition to rapidly changing news pages, the SCGA became the first association to allow its members to look up their handicap index files on the internet, a feature that continues to be the most heavily used section. The complete listing of Southern California golf courses was included on the site and SCGA members quickly became accustomed to using the e-mail and feedback features to communicate with the SCGA on a myriad of questions.

In addition to the web-site, handicap-lookup feature, the SCGA added first a "900" and then a toll-free telephone number (1-888-724-2202) through which members could also verify their handicap indexes, the first association to offer this service.

Chapter 6 — The Search for a Golf Course

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the SCGA spent a great deal of time and effort seeking to either build or purchase a golf course for use by its members and by the association for some of its qualifying and championship events.

As early as 1973, the board of directors had recognized the growing need for such a facility, as even then the growing popularity of the game was making it difficult to find golf courses for tournaments.

Moreover, as golf courses once open to the public began to be converted into private clubs, the SCGA believed that it was imperative to create a daily fee facility for its members. The advent of the affiliate club program in 1979 gave this desire even more prominence.

Although several projects were discussed, the two most significant proposals were the Laguna Canyon project and the Firestone Ranch development.

In 1978, after meeting with The Irvine Company, the SCGA identified a parcel of land in Laguna Canyon and hired golf course architect Ted Robinson to lay out a 36-hole golf course. But after beginning the Environmental Impact Report process, a Laguna Beach city election saw the defeat of two proponents of the project, and the succeeding city council would not approve moving forward.

In 1986, the SCGA began negotiations with the Boy Scouts of America to develop a portion of its Firestone Ranch property in Brea. The original concept called for two 18-hole courses, a clubhouse, a new SCGA headquarters building and, in the future, a 200-room lodge. However, the inability to find a suitable access road into the SCGA's portion of the property led the quest to be abandoned in 1991.

At that point, the board began to shift its emphasis to finding a suitable golf course that could be purchased. Again, several properties were discussed and in 1993, the SCGA learned that Rancho California GC might be for sale.

Originally constructed as Murrieta Hot Springs Golf Club, the course was a classical example of the design work of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (whose work in Southern California was well known through clubs such as Valencia CC, Pauma Valley, CC and Mission Viejo CC). Murrieta Hot Springs GC had been abandoned by its developers and the course had later been brought back to life as Rancho California GC.

In 1994, after lengthy negotiations, the SCGA purchased the course, renamed it The SCGA Members' Club at Rancho California, and undertook a series of extensive renovations throughout the remainder of the decade. Today, it is one of the nation's finest public golf courses, used by many of SCGA affiliate clubs and other groups for their events. It is home to dozens of SCGA qualifying events and is the site of the CIF-SCGA High School Invitational Championships and the SCGA Thursday and Saturday Team Play Championships.

Chapter 7 — A New Golden Age of Champions

While the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s are often remembered as a "golden age" of golfers in Southern California, the 1980s and 1990s have become another glittering time for Southern California.

Perhaps the most noteworthy is that from 1978 through 1998, Southern Californians won at least one USGA national championship in every year except 1986. In each of two years (1988 and 1991), local golfers captured four national titles. During this time frame, SCGA members won nine U.S. Amateur titles and eight U.S. Junior Amateur titles and the SCGA had 15 representatives on U.S. Walker Cup teams.

Two SCGA members won multiple USGA titles during that time frame, headed by the incomparable Tiger Woods, who captured three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur titles followed by an unprecedented three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles (see page 11). David Berganio, Jr., won the 1991 and 1993 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships (and, for good measure) the 1991 Pacific Coast Amateur Championship). On the women's side, Pearl Sinn won the 1988 and 1989 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championships and added the 1988 U.S. Women's Amateur title, as well.

The list of other major amateur titles was extensive in this period, beginning with the California Amateur Championship, which has been won by SCGA golfers 11 times in the last 15 years. Phil Mickelson captured NCAA Division I titles in 1989 and 1990. Ron Commans won that event in 1981 and Todd Demsey captured top honors in 1993.

Commans and Demsey were two of six SCGA golfers who won the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship during the last two decades of the century. Another Pacific Coast winner was Jason Gore, whose Pacific Coast Amateur title and Walker Cup appearance capped a remarkable summer of 1997 that also saw him win the California Amateur and California Open on consecutive weekends, be a featured member of the Pepperdine University NCAA Division I champions and miss winning the NCAA individual and SCGA Amateur titles that year by a whisker.

In the midst of all of this glory, however, three names stood out: Woods; Mark Johnson (see page 10) who won 14 SCGA-related titles during a remarkable quarter-century run; and Craig Steinberg (see page 8), who won four SCGA Amateur championships in a 10-year-span, a feat equaled only by Johnny Dawson and exceeded by Dr. Paul Hunter.

Chapter 8 — A Golden Age of Championships

The SCGA's explosive growth, a membership maturing in age along with the rest of the country, and the success of the SCGA Senior Amateur championship (begun in 1978), led to a rapid expansion of SCGA tournaments during the 1980s and 1990s.

The SCGA Four-Ball Net Championship (originally called the Two-man Better-Ball Championship) debuted in 1980 and quickly became one of the association's most popular events. The Tournament of Club Champions, which had begun in 1975, shifted to two sites in 1984 and three venues in 1993 to accommodate the growing number of clubs.

In 1984, the SCGA Mid-Amateur Championship began, and each year has the strongest championship fields outside of the SCGA Amateur Championship. It became a 54-hole event in 1998. The SCGA Four-Ball Championship was added in 1991 and a year later, the California Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship made its debut.

The burgeoning number of affiliate clubs led to the SCGA Affiliate Club Team Championship in 1988 and to Affiliate Leagues a decade later. A growing number of entries caused the SCGA to take the flights of the SCGA Amateur Championship and create a separate event, the SCGA Amateur Net Championship in 1993.

Finally, the SCGA and NCGA created a team competition in 1998, the Seaver Cup, named in honor of legendary amateur golfer Charles Seaver, one of only two people to hold the SCGA, NCGA and California Amateur titles at the same time.

An eight-man SCGA team, including many of the premier golfers in the association during the past 20 years, defeated its Northern California counterparts, 251/2 to 221/2 at the historic Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, whose golf course had been designed by George Thomas, Jr.

Throughout the century's last two decades, the SCGA has increasingly made its presence felt on a national scope, as well as regional. Many SCGA members have sat on the USGA's Executive Committee (Peter James, a member of The Los Angeles Country Club, is currently secretary on that body). In addition, the SCGA was instrumental in founding the Pacific Coast Golf Association (which annually conducts the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship) and the International Association of Golf Administrators, a group of more than 150 golf association executives from around the world.

Epilogue — To Catch the Vision, to Dream the Dream

One hundred years ago, five clubs founded the SCGA with the following purpose: "to promote interest in the game of golf; the protection of the mutual interest of its members; to establish and enforce uniformity in the rules of the game . . . to establish a uniform system of handicapping; to decide on what links the amateur, open and ladies championships of Southern California, and such other championships, as may be decided by the executive committee, shall be played."

Throughout the century, hundreds of board members, thousands of committee members and dozens of employees have worked unceasingly to make that dream become a reality for the hundreds of clubs and millions of individuals who have made up the Southern California Golf Association. Those members, in turn, have provided the reason and inspiration for the association's ever-widening scope of activities.

The men and women who founded the SCGA at the end of the 19th century could not even imagine the changes that would be wrought to this nation and to the game of golf in the succeeding 100 years. Yet, it is the genius of the game and of those who play it that, despite incredible advances in technology and other areas, the essence of the game remains as it was in 1899: genuine sport, fulfilling fellowship, constant challenge, ever-changing landscape.

On the horizon for the SCGA are EHS 2000 (a second generation of the association's highly successful handicap system) and many other innovations and concepts—many not yet dreamed. But the purposes established 100 years ago remain in force today as the SCGA enters a second century of service to the game.