The American amateur game begins in February, in Sea Island, Ga., in weather that can be 70 and sunny one day and 40 and blowing the next. It traverses the country for the next six months, and like a well-struck drive, it keeps rising, reaching its apex at the U.S. Amateur in late August. It then begins its fall descent, landing softly and rolling to its conclusion, eight months later and 3,000 miles from where it began, at the Preserve Golf Club, just around the corner from Pebble Beach.
The Stocker Cup, a relatively new event, was started in 1991 in memory of Peter Stocker, a Cincinnati native and prominent San Francisco real estate developer and sportsman. A member of The Olympic Club, Stocker was an accomplished tennis player and skipper of his own racing sailboat. He was thought to have had movie-star looks and charm. He was a fierce competitor, but he also enjoyed the post-round repartee. He was, according to frequent tournament player John Rodenburg, “very down to earth” despite his successes in life.
Stocker founded the Pacific Union Co., which would develop what was then called Rancho San Carlos. This was to become a 20,000-acre, master-planned private community with the Preserve Golf Club as an understated centerpiece. Stocker was surveying the property in 1990 when his helicopter hit a wire and crashed. The pilot walked away, but Stocker was killed.
Now known as the San Lucia Preserve, it is probably unlike anything you have ever seen or heard of – a 31-square-mile piece of land that sits on the coastal foothills of the San Lucia Range in Carmel. A nine-mile uphill drive separates the entry gatehouse from the first building, a 37-room Spanish colonial hacienda built in 1924 that is used for dining and to house overnight guests. Just 300 homes were allowed to be built on 2,000 acres, and the architectural guidelines were very stiff. The remaining 18,000 acres is untouched, overseen by the San Lucia Conservancy. This independent, non-profit entity was endowed by the developers to conserve and sustain the land and to protect the area’s wildlife habitat. Development is complete, and despite being just 10 years old, this paradise has a centuries-old feel about it.
Playing the Preserve has been likened to playing in a national park. Wild boar, bobcat, fox, deer and turkey roam the property and the vistas are incredible. Designed by Tom Fazio and former USGA president and northern California golf godfather Sandy Tatum, the course stretches to nearly 7,100 yards. It blends gracefully into the natural landscape, and it is intended to play fast and firm. There are less than 50 bunkers on the course, and they are intended to be directional, not penal. It didn’t take long for this gem to crash most of the top golf course ranking lists in America after it opened in 2000.
It was Stocker pal George Kelley who first conceived the idea for the tournament. He had played all the established East Coast amateur events, like Pine Valley’s Crump Cup and Seminole’s Coleman Invitational, as well as four-ball mainstays like the Chesapeake Cup at Caves Valley and the old Hugh Wilson at Merion. He wondered why the West Coast did not have an elite mid-amateur championship. So along with another Stocker pal, Jack Elliott, the Stocker Cup was born 20 years ago. It started in Napa Valley, moved to the Monterrey Peninsula, and became permanently anchored at the Preserve after it opened.
The tournament has a limited field, with 48 “A” players and 48 “B” players. “A” players are elite amateurs, who are invited or who qualify via an 18-hole open qualifier. The individual championship is played over 72 holes. “B” players are friends, colleagues and associates of Stocker, as well as supporters of the tournament. Typically, they have handicaps of 10 or less. A players are paired with B players in a 54-hole team event, now called the Elliott Cup, in memory of Stocker’s close friend Elliot, now deceased.
The list of champions is a virtual who’s who of northern California golf – Randy Haag, Mike Brannan, Randy Sonnier, John Pate and this year’s U.S. Mid-Am runner up, Tim Hogarth. A senior division was added 2004, named after Tatum. Haag won it last year, becoming the first to win both divisions.
What started as a gathering of friends and admirers of Stocker has turned into a tournament of national significance and a field to match it, just as Kelley hoped it would. The Stocker Cup is a perfect reflection of the man it honors. It is very competitive, and it is very social. The best guess is that Stocker would approve. It is a tournament that more of our elite mid-amateurs need to put on their annual schedule.