My Fab 5: Mike Bender

My Fab 5: Mike Bender

No. 16 at Cypress Point Golf Club
Otto Greule/Getty Images

1. Cypress Point Golf Club
Monterey, Ca.
No. 2 on GOLF Magazine Top 100 in the United States list
No. 2 on GOLF Magazine Top 100 in the World list
Lots of people rightfully say that Cypress Point is one of the best golf courses in the world, but for me, its extra special because it’s the place where I played my first PGA Tour round. In 1987, in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, I got played with baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays. We started on No. 10 Thursday and when we reach the famous par-3 16th I was two under par. I had been told to watch the ocean because the ball will carry farther when the water is crashing against the rocks. I closed my eyes, hit a 3-wood that flew to the back of the green and somehow made par. Of course, Mays jinxed me by saying that everyone he’d played with went on to a star; I missed the cut.

2. Riviera Country Club
Pacific Palisades, Ca.
No. 19 on GOLF Magazine Top 100 in the United States list
No. 29 on GOLF Magazine Top 100 in the World list
Like almost every other golfer, I’ve always been fascinated by Ben Hogan, and The Hawk won so often on this course it seemed like he owned the place. In 1988 I played in the L.A. Open at Riviera with Hal Sutton, who’d previously won a PGA Championship on the course. Shooting a lower score than he did meant a lot to me.

3. Turlock Golf & Country Club
Turlock, Ca.
This is the place where I played college golf as a student at Cal. State Stanislaus. While I was there I scored my first hole-in-one there, made my first double-eagle and set my first course record, a 65. Because the greens are so small, I became a much better iron player and really learned how to shape my shots from the fairway.

4. Wakonda Club
Des Moines, Iowa
People in Iowa, my home state, now that this is one of the most challenging course around. It’s hilly and the greens are very tough. In 1979 I qualified for the U.S. Amateur there, so it will always be a very special place for me.

5. Porky’s Red Carpet Club
Waterloo, Iowa
Honest, there really was a guy named Porky, who along with his brother, Elmer, ran a tiny golf course. Today it’s called Sunnyside Country Club, but when I was a kid, it was where I grew up playing and practicing. I used to play 54 holes a day and when I was 15 I shot a 64 in the second round of the club championship en route to winning the title. The course is also the place where I won my first professional event, beating Mark Wiebe and Mike Holbert in 1983.