A Magazine from California State University, ChicoSpring 2016 Issue

A Golden Victory

Photo of The 1966 National College Division Golf Champions: (clockwise, from top left) Bill Barkhurst, Varsity Coach Hal Bishop, Robb Shultz, Junior Varsity Coach Fred Reith, Ron McElroy, Jim Olsen, and Jess Crawford.

1966 team recalls winning Chico State's first and only national golf championship.

Players were coming from all across the nation. It was a little bit intimidating.

It was victory by a single stroke. 

Fifty years ago this spring, Chico State College hosted the 1966 National College Division Golf Championships at both the Bidwell Park Golf Course and the Butte Creek Country Club in Chico. Eleven schools and 69 athletes competed at the 72-hole tournament—the fourth annual national tournament and first ever to be held on the West Coast.

Each athlete’s and team’s scores were totaled daily to determine the winner.

After 54 holes of play, Chico State trailed Lamar State College on the final day of the tournament but put together a miraculous final round to win by one stroke.

For the first and only time in program history, the Chico State men’s golf team was the national champion. 

In 1992, the 10-member 1966 team was honored by the Chico State Athletics Hall of Fame for its efforts. As the 2016 team progresses through a strikingly similar season, the legacy of those national champions lives on.

Overcoming Adversity

Articles following the 1966 championship described “Little” Robb Shultz leading Chico State to victory. They weren’t wrong. Shultz shot a 3-over par 287 to tie for second place in the tournament.

“This was a whole new stage for all of us,” said Shultz (Attended, 1964–68). “Players were coming from all across the nation. It was a little bit intimidating.”

With home-course advantage in their favor, the Wildcats broke out to a 13-stroke lead after two days. During that second day, Shultz teed off on the 18th hole, his ninth, at Bidwell Park Golf Course. He found his second shot in a riverbed, nestled among the rocks.

Coach Hal Bishop, chomping on an unlit cigar, walked away shaking his head. Shultz was in big trouble, he said.

But he saw an opening in the canopy of trees in front of him and gave it a shot. He hit the ball off the rocks and through the canopy opening, landing 12 feet from the hole. He made the putt for a birdie.

As the smallest golfer on the Chico State team, Shultz said everyone could outdrive him but no one had a better short game. The recreation administration major was a two-time First Team All-America selection as a Wildcat and owned six hole-in-ones.

As a child, Shultz battled polio and was paralyzed for a year from the waist down. As he recovered, his father took him to play golf, and Shultz decided to never be a victim.

“My attitude was always ‘You’re not going to beat me. If anyone is going to beat me, it’ll be myself,’” he said.

After he left Chico State, he went on to be a minister, an author, a teacher, and a coach. At Rosehill Christian School, Shultz started a golf team that went to the regional championships during its first year and made state championships one year later.

 “I’ve learned to be an overcomer,” said Shultz, who was individually inducted into the Chico State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015. “I learned to overcome adversity on the golf course. I’ve come back from 33 major operations. I’ve faced failure. But I’ve become an overcomer in life by not giving up on the golf course and my teammates when it counted way back when.”

Team Effort

The tournament’s third round was Chico State’s worst, and Bill Barkhurst knew it. 

The sophomore was upset with his scores, much like the rest of the Wildcats as they trailed by four strokes heading into the final day of play.

They knew they could play better. Quite frankly, they had to.

In what is now the sixth hole at Butte Creek, Barkhurst (BA, History, ’68) sank a putt that ran the width of the green for a birdie. He remembered thinking that it was an important putt, maybe even a winning putt. 

Breaking even on the last three holes, the only time he felt nervous was at the 18th hole. Standing over a long birdie putt, with the Wildcats closing in on a title, he didn’t want to screw things up.

He didn’t. The Wildcats won by one stroke.

 “It’s a team effort, and that’s the way we felt right then and there,” said Barkhurst, whose tournament score of 303 was good for eighth place. “Everyone was rooting for everybody else.”

Barkhurst later became an attorney and returned to his hometown of Coronado. He holds onto not only great times with his teammates but with his coach as well, even though none considered the victory’s lasting impact.

“It felt great at the time,” Barkhurst said. “We didn’t think of the consequences of how it would be 50 years later. Or 10 years later. Or five.”

Thrill of Victory

On the final day of the tournament, Earl Behrens played a lousy few first few holes. He knew exactly why.

 “I had sleep deprivation,” Behrens said.

He doesn’t recall a lot from the tournament, other than hooking one on the front nine at Butte Creek and sinking a shot later for a birdie. But he remembers staying up until 3 a.m. the night before, planning his wedding with his soon-to-be wife, Linda, with whom he’ll celebrate their golden anniversary this summer.

“What I remember was I got a wife out of it,” said Behrens 
(BS, Biological Sciences, ’66; Credential, ’67).

Fifty years later, he does more hunting and fishing now than hitting the links. When he was a Wildcat though, Behrens’ strength was match play.

“I was a tough match player. The pressure never got to me,” Behrens said. “That would really zero me in. It focused me.”

Behrens, a sophomore at the time of the championship, finished with a 307, good for 11th place.

He went on to be a teacher for a decade, followed by a career in the sales and installation industry. Three or four years after the championship, Behrens said he could have told you every last shot he took. 

“It was pretty thrilling to get in there and win,” Behrens said. “God, that was fun.”

Swinging for a Second

Three other golfers played for Chico State in the national championship. Jess Crawford shot a 309 for 15th place, Jim Olsen scored a 312 for 21st, and Ron McElroy had a 313 for 22nd.

“We inspired each other,” Shultz said of the ’66 team, which also included Alex Stewart, Donald Wilson, Terry Lackey, and Terry Myers. “My relationship with my fellow golfers was the most important thing to me at school. It was a group of guys I bonded to.”

Inspiration also came from Coach Bishop, the varsity coach for 18 years (1952–70) and a 1987 honorary inductee into the Chico State Athletics Hall of Fame. 

Chico State achieved a national reputation as a golfing powerhouse during his coaching tenure. His teams won 212 matches, lost 44, and tied 10. They won or tied 19 Far Western Conference dual and medal play championships.

Shultz said Bishop was an encouraging mentor for whom the team wanted to play its best. After coaching Chico State to the title, he was named the Coach of the Year of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division.

Team unity leads to successful programs, and creating a family atmosphere is as important today as it was five decades ago, said current coach T.L. Brown. With that in mind, it’s hard not to find similarities in the 1966 and 2016 rosters.

A new trio in seniors Lee Gearhart, Alistair Docherty, and Justin Wiles headlines a team that reached match play in the NCAA Championships three of the last four years. Many—the 1966 team included—agree there’d be no better time to win it all again. 

Shultz has seen this year’s team, and he said they’re better than he and his fellow victors. He’s rooting for today’s Wildcats because he never wanted 1966 to be Chico State’s only title.

“I was honored to be part of the first of many more to come,” he said.

About the author
Nick Woodard is Chico State’s sports information assistant. A senior journalism major, he’ll graduate in the spring with a double emphasis in news and public relations.