“Rogue waves are rare, unpredictable, may appear suddenly or without warning, and can impact with tremendous force.”
On an idyllic Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, as the sun made its way through the towering trees of Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, Calif., the inaugural Wishbone Brawl came and went like a rogue wave.
This modern match involving current tour players using vintage clubs to play a mini municipal in the spirit of a meaningful cause hit with so much force, it left everyone involved feeling as though there isn’t just hope for the game of golf, there’s hope for mankind.
“It has already exceeded my expectations,” says Dean Wilson, the former tour pro and two-time Goat Hill Park club champion, as he watched the caravan of gallery park their cars and scamper toward the practice area. “They’re filing in at 8:30 for an 11am tee time. It doesn’t get much better than this.”
But it did.
And getting back to the rogueness of this particular wave, The Wishbone Brawl was a rarity because hundreds of people no longer get to see four relevant tour pros wearing shorts and flip-flops while playing persimmon woods, void of grandstands, ropes and “Quiet!” signs.
It was unpredictable and appeared suddenly because the idea only had a month to marinate. On a mid-October afternoon, Wilson pitched his friend John Ashworth on the idea of “an event” involving tour players on Thanksgiving weekend at Goat Hill Park.
“I was all in,” says Ashworth, “but to be honest, when Dean said that, I didn’t think the idea was going anywhere.” [Laughs.] “And then, like a day later, Charley Hoffman was in. It looked like Mike Weir was in. At which point, I said, ‘Jesus, we might have to start working on this!’ ”
Ashworth co-founded Linksoul, a golf and lifestyle apparel company based in Oceanside, and it was Ashworth in 2013 who led the locals into a golf frenzy when they dramatically saved Goat Hill Park from becoming a billionaire’s brand new set of soccer fields. Having spearheaded the protest, Ashworth is now the name on a 30-year lease to manage “The Goat,” and when Wilson’s idea intersected with Ashworth’s momentum at the muny, no one could’ve predicted the scale and soulful outcome.
The Brawl itself included Wilson, who teamed up with Xander Schauffele, the PGA Tour’s rookie of the year, a season that included two wins, one of which was the Tour Championship.
They played in an 18-hole best-ball match against Hoffman, who was coming off a season on the PGA Tour that included seven top-5 finishes, a top 10 at the U.S. Open and a win at the Presidents Cup. He teamed up with Chris Riley, the golf coach at the University of San Diego, who has a win on tour (2002 Reno-Tahoe Open), a Walker Cup (1995) and a Ryder Cup (2004) on his resume.
The trophy was a big wishbone, but more importantly, the cause was Raegan Donovan, the five-year-old daughter of Ryan Donovan, the golf coach at San Diego State, which is Schauffele’s alma mater. Raegan has been battling Rett Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, and although she seems to have won the war, the Donavan’s have been left with hefty hospital bills.
Tickets to the Brawl were $25 for adults, kids were free. There were food trucks, drink stands, music and a range clinic, which was hosted by Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella, a Linksoul ambassador and longtime supporter of all things Goat Hill Park.
“The Goat, and all that happens here, is what golf is all about,” said Ginella. “And today is yet another day I walk away proud to be a small part of something special at such a unique short course.”
Ginella was joined on the mic by Erik Lang of Scratch TV’s Adventures in Golf, who said he felt like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. “It was as if I had been transported to a different time,” said Lang, “but I was still wearing current clothes.”
There were cameras, microphones and drones, and the referee of this particular feel-good adventure in golf was Peter Beames, a swing savant who once played professionally, gave lessons to Gary Player and who now roams The Goat like Gandalf the Grey, spreading wisdom to kids about how to hit fairways and greens and how to avoid the deep bunkers of life.
“A day like today shows you the sort of people who are out there on the PGA Tour,” says Beames, who wore a tie, jacket and an umpire wrap on his left arm and played the part to perfection. “That they’d give up their time to come play in something like this, it’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. I think we should applaud them.”
And applaud they did.
From tees to greens, all 18 of them, the foursome was surrounded by support and smiles, none bigger than what were on the faces of the four caddies, all who are members of Goat Hill Park’s junior caddie academy.
“It seemed like everyone from Oceanside came out to watch,” says Wilson. “It was so positive. It was a good thing for the community. Especially good for the Goat community.”
Also especially good was the team of Wilson/Schauffele, who, at the 4,454-yard par-65 venue, both shot gross scores of 59, which included a combined 15 birdies and a team score of 53.
Schauffele, who opened the back nine with four birdies in five holes, enjoyed the Linksoul persimmon woods so much, he kicked around the idea of using the 3-wood as his 5-wood when he gets back out on tour. “They look and feel so sweet,” said Schauffele, 24. “I had hit a persimmon wood once before, but it was a long time ago.”
In the grand scheme of things, the outcome of the match seemed insignificant, but for the record, Wilson/Schauffele closed out team Hoffman/Riley on the 14th hole (5&4) after Schauffele drove the 253-yard par 4, which played uphill, into the wind, with an elevated green. Hats were off, followed closely by handshakes, and then on to a four-hole press for $100 per man, which was halved.
But what went to the Donovans as a result of the basic concept of “locals helping locals” was almost $20,000.
“It was so special,” said Ashworth. “All the guys and caddies were great. It was organic, had a home-spun feel and it has changed the way we think about future events at The Goat. And it all happened so fast.”
There in lies the rub of a rogue wave, and thus, the tremendous force that was the first of many Wishbone Brawls at Goat Hill Park.
-- Words courtesy of California Golf and Travel.