A Bond 100 Years in the Making
March 6, 2011
FRESNO, Calif. - Since its inception, the Fresno State Lexus Classic has developed a strong and prestigious tradition. Future PGA stars such as Tom Watson, Craig Stadler, Phil Mickelson and Nick Watney have hoisted the championship trophy and many others have walked the fairways of the local Fresno golf courses that have hosted the tournament.
This year's host, Sunnyside Country Club, is steeped in a rich history of its own. Not only does the country club have deep roots in the Central Valley and helped shape the Fresno community, but they have developed a special bond with Fresno State which goes all the way back to the beginning.
It is only fitting the 2011 Fresno State Lexus Classic is held at Sunnyside because both institutions are celebrating their 100th anniversary.
A Brief History of Sunnyside Country Club
In the early 1900's, 13 golf courses could be found in the Los Angeles area and five around San Francisco but the Central Valley was without a single one. That would change with the opening of Sunnyside Country Club in 1911, consequently the same year Fresno State opened their doors. Sunnyside would be the only golf course in the area for twelve years until Riverside Golf Course and Fort Washington Country Club both opened in 1923.
To make the creation of the course possible, developers worked hard at cultivating the land and channeled in water from the nearby Kings River. Due to the improvements of the area, city officials changed their previous plans of building Fresno near Friant Dam to the region surrounding the country club.
Sunnyside was originally a 9-hole course with a mixture of sand and oil for the greens, but in 1925, legendary course developer Billy Bell converted it to an 18-hole course with grass greens. The course was later redesigned in 1990 by John Steidel.
The Bond Between Sunnyside and Fresno State
For many years Sunnyside has been one of the biggest supporters of Fresno State golf and the relationship continues to grow as the country club is going out of their way yet again to hold this year's tournament.
"Sunnyside forever has been an awesome supporter of Fresno State golf," Fresno State's head golf coach Mike Watney said. "I played here a lot of years ago and ever since then nobody could have hosted us in a more supportive manner."
Sunnyside's head pro, Steve Menchinella, has been there since the 1970's and he is the main reason why Fresno State has developed such an incredible and unique relationship with the golf course.
"Steve has been hiring and mentoring Fresno State golfers ever since he has been there," local golf historian Bill Finn remarked. "About one out of every three players has come out of the Fresno State-Sunnyside tutoring. All the Fresno State greats have played there. Steve has been very open to every Bulldog golfer."
"Steve is a pro's pro and that is why he has been there so long," Watney added. "It is very, very unusual."
Come Show Your Support
The 2011 Fresno State Lexus Classic will be held March 7 & 8 at Sunnyside with tee times set for 7:45 a.m. on Monday and 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday. It is open to the public and the team would greatly appreciates any support from the local community.
"Some of the guys here will be future tour pros." Coach Watney said when asked about why the public should come out to watch the action.
Seven of the players competing this year are ranked in the top-100 for collegiate golfers, according to Golfstat.com. Some of the individuals to watch include Fresno State's Bhavik Patel, owner of the Bulldog's lowest scoring average since PGA star Nick Watney, San Diego State's Alex Kang, JJ Spaun, Todd Baek and Colin Featherstone, all of which are ranked in the top-100, Nevada's Scott Smith, ranked No. 85, and Duke's Wes Roach, Brinson Paolini and Yaroslav Merkulov.
This year's field includes No. 7 San Diego State, No. 19 Duke, No. 35 Michigan and returning champion BYU, along with many others.
A very special thank you to Bill Finn for providing the historical information.
"We Are Your Team!" - The men's golf team will host the 2011 Fresno State Lexus Classic at Sunnyside Country Club on March 7 & 8. Check www.gobulldogs.com for more information.