The Monterey Peninsula has long been known for its fabulous golf courses and the flashy tournaments played on them, but in recent years the area has developed another reputation in golf circles: a hotbed of junior talent. Local teens and tweens have been regularly making headlines on the state and national level, snagging prestigious trophies and earning scholarships to major college programs. Access to world-class
facilities and instruction is an obvious factor in the junior boom, but according to one local patriarch, there is another dynamic in play. “The kids here really encourage each other,“ says Bob Burlison, the Monterey County superior court judge whose four kids are all part of the local golf firmament.
“The camaraderie helps keep them going. And there’s no question it’s subtly competitive. When one of them wins something big, it definitely encourages the other kids to practice a little harder.” Burlison’s daughter Sydney put an exclamation point on her superb junior career with a record victory at the 2008 Wal-Mart First Tee Open. Teaming with Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 Masters champ, Burlison won the pro-am by eight strokes, as she and Zoeller went 25 under par.
Sydney, now a freshman on the Stanford women’s golf team, has enjoyed a national profile since 2001, when she reached the state amateur final at the age of 12…where she lost to her best friend Mina Harigae, a 2008 Stevenson graduate and the most celebrated of this generation’s local players. Harigae’s victory made her the youngest player ever to win the California amateur, and she went on to take three more in a row. Now a freshman at golf powerhouse Duke University, Harigae also won the 2007 USGA Public Links Championship.
The friendly competition between Harigae and Burlison helped make both players better, just as family rivalries have helped defined other prominent golf families in the area. R.J. Harper, a top executive at the Pebble Beach Co., has two accomplished sons: Tucker, a freshman now competing for Missouri University, and J.T., a junior at Pacific Grove High School.The boys’ competitive instincts have been sharpened in weekly cutthroat matches with their old man at Spyglass Hill, where the Harpers are members. There is a similar vibe among the Vivolo clan—David is the head pro at Monterey Peninsula Country Club; his son Chad, a redshirt freshman at Pepperdine University, holds the course record on MPCC’s Shore course with a 64; little brother Luke, a sophomore at Carmel High, made a hole-in-one on Pebble Beach’s famous 7th hole the first time he played the course. At the age of 8.
Having access to a course like Spyglass or MPCC is not a prerequisite for success—the Burlisons do not have a country club membership. In recent years Corral de Tierra Country Club in Salinas granted playing privileges to Sydney Burlison and her brother Jay, 13, who last summer won his age group at the JuniorWorld Championships, the prestigious San Diego tournament that launched the careers of Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa and numerous other future superstars. Jay’s and Sydney’s younger brothers Jack (11) and Joey (8) play and practice at public courses across Monterey County. A local program called “Kids on the Course” offers juniors $2 greens fees at tracks such as Poppy Hills, Bayonet/Black Horse, Laguna Seca and Rancho Canada.
The First Tee facility in Salinas is also an important portal for aspiring golfers. “The boys never know where they’ll be playing from day-to-day,” says Bob Burlison of his sons. “It adds to the sense of adventure.” The variety of playing conditions also makes for a more well rounded golfer. Having spent countless afternoons trailing his kids around the fairways of Monterey County, Burlison has come to appreciate all that the area offers. “There is a great spirit here,” he says. “All the parents are so supportive, as is the whole local golfing community. If you’re a kid who wants to play golf, I can’t think of a better place to be.”