Stanford University Golf Course

By: Mark Soltau

Appeared in January/February 2000 LINKS


Tom Watson called it home. So did John Elway and Tiger Woods. Regulars include George Shultz, Willie Mays, Jim Plunkett, Charles Schwab, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and more Nobel laureates that you can shake a 5-iron at.


Situated in the heart of one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Stanford University Golf Course is home to alumni scholars, politicians, celebrities and athletes, and most importantly, students. Of course, the admissions process could be more stringent than at some of the country’s finest clubs.


Built by legendary golf course designers George C. Thomas Jr. and William “Billy” Bell, Stanford opened in 1930. Almost immediately, Stanford was ranked among the top 15 courses in the nation. It features gently rolling terrain, subtle elevation changes, strategic bunkering, a meandering creek, majestic oak trees, spacious fairways and large greens with subtle contours. The 11th and 18th tees provide spectacular panoramic views. On a clear day, you can see San Francisco, 30 miles to the north.


“I loved it,” says Woods, who spent two years at The Farm, as the university is sometimes called. “I thought it was a great golf course, especially after the changes. It’s simple, straightforward and one of those courses where you have to hit good shots to score.” Other Stanford’s admirers are Fred Couples and President Bill Clinton, who played while visiting his daughter, Chelsea, a Stanford alum.


The university has a long legacy of outstanding golfers, including Lawson Little, who won U.S. and British Amateur titles in 1934 and 1935. Sandy Tatum and Grant Spaeth, both former presidents of the U.S. Golf Association, had prominent playing careers. In 1942 Tatum won the NCAA individual title and led Stanford to the team championship, while Spaeth helped the 1953 team win the national crown.


During his collegiate days, Tom Watson always attracted small galleries during dual matches because of his length and wildness off the tee. According to legend, Watson once hit a drive off the 9th tee into the 12th fairway—no easy feat, considering that the massive slice carried a creek, tall trees and more than 100 yards of trouble. In 1996, members and former teammates placed a plaque in his honor behind the 1st tee.


The women’s program has also produced many outstanding players. Among the notables are three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champ Anne Quast Sander, LPGA veteran Shelley Hamlin, Sally Voss, Pat Cornett, Joanne Pacillo, Kathleen McCarthy and Mhairi McKay.


Woods, who claimed the NCAA individual title in 1996, can usually overpower any track with his drives of 300-plus yards, and that was often the case at Stanford. For instance, at the 511-yard 1st hole, which features a 30-foot drop from the first tee, Woods has found the green with a driver and a 9-iron. At the 520-yard 7th, a sharp dogleg left bordered by mature oak trees that discourage short cuts with a driver, Woods ignored the intended routing and bombed his tee shots over the trees. He once reached the green with a sand wedge.


Woods’ favorite hole is the downhill but diabolical 474-yard 12th, considered the toughest on the course. Although the hole looks deceptively inviting from the elevated tee, it is anything but. About 280 yards out a split-trunked oak resides in the middle of the fairway and obstructs approach shots.


Many rank the 12th among the most challenging holes in northern California. More than one member has threatened to chop down the large oak or drive nails into it. Newcomers should take heart in knowing the hole once had a menacing pot bunker in front of the green and a large oak about 200 yards off the tee. That tree fell during a winter storm in 1983, and three other oaks have been lost to bad weather as well.


As Stanford’s golf tradition continues—the team won the 2007 NCAA title—its course remains one of the best in the country. It’s pure, peaceful golf that’s steeped in tradition. It’s easily walkable, enjoyable to play and never boring—not even for a Tiger.


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