Ole, Captain Ajax
In 1891 a makeshift golf course was built on the island of Las Palmas, the largest of the volcanic atolls of the Canary Islands that lie in the mid-Atlantic, 1000 miles off the coast of North Africa. It was the first course ever on Spanish territory. Another 12 years went by before golf gained a foothold on the Iberian mainland when the Madrid Polo Golf Club was established where the Castellana race track had once been.
During Christmas of 1969, Alex Vik moved to Las Palmas and quickly whittled an 18 handicap down to a nine while playing on that original Spanish gold course. By 1973, Vik had become a regular on the European amateur circuit, winning the Norwegian amateur that summer. In the fall of 1974, the amiable Canary Islander with the tousled, leonine mane enrolled at Harvard and quickly became the linksmen's number one player.
Yesterday afternoon, Vik, who has earned the nickname "Captain Ajax" from his teammates, finished second in the Ivy League individual golf title, two strokes behind Dartmouth's Peter Tervainen.
Vik is one of a galaxy of young Spanish pros and amateurs who are dominating the continental golfing scene. The entire Iberian penninsula is experiencing a golf boom. In 1954 there were only 14 golf clubs in all of Spain. By 1970 there were 35 with a dozen in the works last year, including a 36-hole layout in Las Palmas.
Vik acquired his classical swing under the tutelage of Felipe Santana, the pro at his home course. While playing in the Felipe Santana Memorial Tournament at Las Palmas, Vik met Ramon Sota, the greatest Spanish golfer of the 1960s, and his nephew, Manuel Ballesteros. Manuel is one of the four Ballesteros brothers, all of whom followed in their uncle's footsteps by turning pro. The youngest brother is 19 year old Severiano, who finished in a tie for second with Jack Nicklaus in last year's British Open.
Santana himself is a teaching pro who shot a 69 in his own tournament. According to Vik, Santana has a terminal case of the yips, which forced him to forsake his putter and chip on the greens.
In 1972, Vik finished fifth the first time he played in the Spanish international Junior Championship after being bedridden with hepatitis. In 1973 he came in second in the same event, which was held at the Real Club de las Puerta Hierro, the name adopted by the Madrid Polo golf club when it moved in 1914.
Puerta Hierro is the permanent venue for the Madrid Open, which is a regular event on the British PGA tour. In 1974, Vik qualified for the Madrid Open and played in a field that included Tony Jackson and Peter Oosterhuis before missing the 36-hold cut by a stroke. Puerta Hierro also hosted the World Amateur Team Championship in 1970, in which Vik played this fall.
The men most responsible for popularizing golf in Spain are the Miguel Brothers and Ramon Sota. Both of the miguel brothers, Angel and Sebastian, learned the game as caddies at Puerta Hierro. Angel finished fourth in the 1957 British Open and the next year he beat Christy O'Conner in a sudden death playoff to win the World Cup individual title.
Like his nephews, Sota learned the game as a caddie in Sanander, the hometown of the Ballesteros clan. He played on the U.S. tour for a while and finished sixth in the 1965 Masters, the position ever reached by a European pro. In 1972 while playing in the Double Diamond tournament, Sota became the first professional ever to be penalized for slow play in the history of British golf, which understandably was taken as a national affront by his fellow Spaniards.
A year younger than Vik, Severiano Ballesteros had a mercurial rise to the top of the international ranks last year. The son of a Santander dairy farmer, Ballesteros shot a 65 at the age of 13 and Vik remembers he turned pro when only 16. Ballesteros qualified for this year's Masters by winning both the Manuel Pinero won this year's World Cup at Mission Hills, beating a U.S. pair of Dave Stockton and Jerry Pate by two strokes.
The two best tests of golf in Spain are Nueva Andalucia near Marbella and Sotogrande in Cadiz. Both were designed by Robert Trent Jones along the Costa del Sol. Angel migual is the pro at Nueva Andalucia, which played host to the World Cup in 1973 when Nicklaus and Johnny Miller won. Vik shot a 70 the first time he played this course just next to a bullring and the Sierra Blanca mountains.
Vik finished third in the Sherry Cup, an international competition held at Sotogrande. Sotogrande is a breathtaking course hewn out of the cork trees that grow in the lush valley of the Guadiare River. Two continents can be seen from the course as the misty silhouette of the Rock of Gibralter looms 22 miles out into the Mediterranean.
The sand traps of Sotogrande are filled with pure white sand, specially crushed in Andalusian quarries. It was also the first course in Europe to use Bermuda grass for fairways. A nursery from which all the fairways were sown established with only two bags of seed from Tifton, Georgia.
The professional of Sotogrande is Henry Cotton, the former British Open winner who was previously the pro at the Penina golf course in Portugal. Vik finished 35th in the World Amateur Championship played at Penina in October. Cotton fled to Sotogrande after the recent leftwing takeover in Portugal when his books were audited and the Penina caddies siezed the clubhouse after forming a revolutionary brigade.
Whether he is playing in this Andalusian golfing paradise or on New England's windburned fairways. Vik seems to come up with the clutch round. His second round 69 yesterday was not quite good enough, but nevertheless, ole Captain Ajax.