Thursday, November 1, 2007

Interview with Grant Spaeth - Part I of IV

Grant ("Biggie") Spaeth. Stanford men's golf team letter winner 1952, 1953, 1954. Member of the
1953 national championship team. USGA President 1990-92.

Intro: As part of an ongoing project to create a new website for the Stanford Men’s Golf Team, and to preserve the oral history of Stanford golf, interviews with notable Stanford golfers will be made. This is the first of those interviews. On Monday, October 8, 2007, Grant Spaeth was interviewed overlooking the 18th green at Stanford University Golf Course. The interviewers were Lyman Van Slyke, Bob Stevens and Richard Peers. Dr. Van Slyke initiated the interview.

INTERVIEWER: So, thank you for taking the time to join us today.
GRANT: No, no, my pleasure.
INTERVIEWER: Well, I’ve been curious Grant, obviously when you arrived at Stanford you were already a competent golfer, maybe a very a good golfer already. How did golf start for you? When did you start playing? Was your dad an active golfer?
GRANT: My father became a golfer. He was good athlete in college at Dartmouth. He was stationed in Montevideo, Uruguay, and there were none of the American sports, and so no football, baseball or basketball. We lived across the street from a golf course, so I learned there. For a couple of years we were down there. I played golf every day as a kid. So I was then what? 11, 12 years old.
INTERVIEWER: Self taught?
GRANT: No, there was a wonderful pro at the course. As a matter of fact, I was in Mexico teaching rules of golf and came across a fellow from Uruguay and asked him about the name of my pro. His nickname was “Espinaca”, spinach, which is bizarre and I don’t know how he got that name, but in any event. The fellow answered he’s still alive and he’s down there and he’s close to 90 and he’s very, very famous in Uruguay. So he was my teacher.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to high school in Uruguay?
GRANT: No, I went to high school at Paly High and, as a matter of fact, was a regular caddy for the Stanford golf teams. That’s why I have some feeling for the traditions, it going back earlier than my college years because I lived here on the campus and caddied for the golf team fellows. I was kind of a general workman around here on the golf course.
INTERVIEWER: As I recall, your dad became Dean of the law school in ’46, right after the War.
GRANT: ’46, that’s right.
INTERVIEWER: You were how old in ‘46?
GRANT: I would have been 14.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a golf team at Paly?
GRANT: That’s right, there was, one fellow who later was a golfer here at Stanford was Dick McElyea - Dick and I were on the Paly golf team.
INTERVIEWER: He just passed away.
GRANT: That’s right; he just passed away. He is in the Golf Hall of Fame. He was a wonderful fellow. He and I were on the golf team and his father had a station wagon and so we played here and Crystal Springs, Palo Alto Muni, San Mateo Muni. There are a lot more golf courses around here now than there were then.
INTERVIEWER: It’s interesting that there was high school golf in those days.
GRANT: Absolutely, and it was a league that then extended from Daly City to San Jose, and we played them all in head-to-head matches.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a hierarchy of tournaments?
GRANT: No, there was no hierarchy. That was it.
INTERVIEWER: Just kind of regional play.
GRANT: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: So you came to Stanford in?
GRANT: Class of ’54, so I came in ’50.
INTERVIEWER: The golf coach then was?
GRANT: Bud Finger. When I was in high school, the Stanford golf coach was Eddie Twiggs, who had been a golf coach for many years here and after the war, I can’t remember when he stepped down and when Bud came forward, but it must have been around 1950.
INTERVIEWER: ’48 to ’76, is what I have. Finger became coach in ’48 and Twiggs was coach from ’32 to ’47.
GRANT: Okay, yes, so Twiggs was basically the first golf coach, with a remarkable record, as you know.

Note: Coach Twiggs is shown with his 1939 national championship team including Bud Finger on his left.

INTERVIEWER: So you were on the golf team all fours years?
GRANT: Yes, I can’t remember whether freshman played on the varsity, I think we played on the Freshman team. It’s gone back and forth over the years. We played always with the varsity, I mean, there was no distinction as far as play, practice and so forth.
INTERVIEWER: That’s probably right, I know we are about the same age, I am couple years older than you are and in the Mid-West inter-collegiate sports there was always a freshman team.
GRANT: Uh-huh. It’s gone back and forth over the years.
INTERVIEWER: So who were your contemporaries/fellow team members?
GRANT: Well, I was thinking about that, the fellows, who, when we were good, the guts of the team were fellows named Fred Brown and Warren Daily. They were terrific. Fred Brown used to tackle Ken Venturi in our home-in-home matches against San Jose State. Warren Daily from Wisconsin was a very, very long hitter. Art Schroeder, who is still around here and works part-time at the golf course, was on that team. Stu Ledbetter and Bob Blackburn - the reason I’m good with the names right now is we had a reunion – 50th reunion - of our NCAA win and so that’s easy. In the earlier years there was Dick McElyea, Keith Beekman, who used to be a member here at Stanford; Dick Taylor from Arizona; Paul Palmquist, and I need to go back to the books to the get the names of some of the others. Phil Getchell was after us.
INTERVIEWER: Stewart Rhodes? Is that a name that rings a bell?
GRANT: It doesn’t.
INTERVIEWER: Phil was the fellow who was a friend of Bob……
GRANT: Yes, yes. Went into the church; into the cloth and spent a good portion of his life in Brazil, maybe as a missionary, maybe you wouldn’t describe him as that; maybe it was more sophisticated duty.
INTERVIEWER: So I think probably you fellows have the specific record of when titles were won and so on.
INTERVIEWER: Well, Grant played on the 1953 national championship team, so it would be great to hear some about that year and your experience of winning.
GRANT: The experiences of winning? Well, we were pretty good, vis-à-vis the rest of the Pac 10. I think we won every single championship and also the individual titles. McElyea. Art Schroeder won. I can’t remember the third year, but it was not very competitive as far as the Stanford golf team was concerned those years, with all due modesty.
INTERVIEWER: You were too good.
GRANT: [laughs] They were weak.

Note: The photo below of the 1953 national championship team includes Grant 2nd from left, top row.

INTERVIEWER: When we talk about a golf coach, I’m sure each one has his own style, but how did Bud Finger coach, how do you coach in golf? It’s not a team sport; it’s not like basketball or football.
GRANT: Well, I think the relationship differs one player to another. When Bud first became coach and I entered Stanford, I went and explained to him that I was taught by Art Bell at California Golf Club and that I really wanted to stick with Art Bell in terms of the golf swing, and Bud said “okay”. So our relationship wasn’t so much about the golf swing, except he was very good with the short game and was terrifically helpful with putting, chipping and all of the strategies associated with that. So we were kind of friends. But I had a sense that Eddie Twiggs, for the great teams that preceded, was very much involved in the golf swing, course management and the mental aspects of the game. So, you’d have to speak with others about what impact Bud Finger may have had on them because it wasn’t very great with me because we established this relationship when I was a freshman, and so it was understood and I abided by everything he did. We used to kid him a bit, because he was an easy mark for naughty undergraduates. We called him “Charles Bud” rather than “Mr. Finger”.
INTERVIEWER: Did he layout what he wanted out of the practice sessions, so much for short game and putting and so much for full swing, or did he work with each player one on one?
GRANT: As I say, I think it differed player to player, because he knew that I was in pretty good hands and I think they talked. Bud Finger talked with Art Bell, what should Grant work on? But it was not a highly disciplined arrangement as I sense is now the case. I remember Bud said he’d kick me off the golf team if I skied, because he was worried I’d get hurt. But there weren’t too many no’s and yeses and there was not much discipline of the sort that I see today.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have to dress in a certain way?
GRANT: Yes, we certainly did, on traveling. We were Stanford people who had to be a cut above everyone else.
INTERVIEWER: So you all wore the same blazers and slacks?
GRANT: Not so much the same. I don’t think we ever had uniform blazers. We all had to wear ties at almost all occasions where we would be seen as a group, unless it was on or near the golf course. That’s my recollection. But I don’t recall ever having been given a red coat. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER: Navy blue with a Stanford “S” on the back of it
GRANT: No, never got one of those. We’d occasionally get a golf shirt. It wasn’t a very fully funded program you understand.
INTERVIEWER: Where there scholarships?
GRANT: I guess there were. It was a different world and I really don’t know. I was the son of a faculty member, so I got to go to Stanford for nothing. I’ve never really inquired what the deal was with others, but it certainly was not loaded with scholarship money. Grants in aid, maybe, but I don’t know whether any of our teams needed it. Chuck Van Linge was after me and he came from a modest family and he may well have had a scholarship or some help of some sort, but I think it was more, it was kind of improvised and I don’t think the NCAA had a huge set of rules, the sort we find today.

EDITOR'S NOTE - To review the Stanford golf team members over the past 75 years go to:

Posted by Bob Stevens

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