The U.S. Open was not on television at the Manley household last weekend, even though Kirk Manley knew at an early age that golf was his passion and would become his livelihood.
“The Nick Jr. channel is probably our main channel 24-7,” said Manley, the head professional at Shady Canyon Golf Club in Irvine.
Manley, 44, wouldn’t have it any other way. His 2-year-old son, Colt, and wife Catherine come first in his life, with golf coming in second place. But that doesn’t mean Manley and his Shady Canyon teammates won’t try to make their debut at the Jones Cup a memorable one.
The Jones Cup, in its 13th year, pits local golf and country clubs in a team format that includes five members from each club — director of golf, head pro and the club’s men’s, women’s and senior champions.
The Newport Beach Country Club will play host to this year’s Cup on June 27, featuring teams from Newport Beach, Mesa Verde, Big Canyon and Santa Ana country clubs, and this year, Shady Canyon Golf Club.
“I was at Big Canyon Country Club last year just to get a feel and see if it was something we wanted to get involved in,” said Manley, who has been the head pro at Shady Canyon since 2004. “It looked like it was very well-received by all the clubs that compete, so it looked like something we wanted to get involved with as well.”
All five players from each team play every hole, with the teams using the two best scores per hole.
Joining Manley on Shady Canyon’s team are Director of Golf Brian Gunson, men’s champ Kevin Baker, women’s champ Isako Takada and senior champ David Clare. There is a festive atmosphere to the event, but don’t be fooled. Teams play to win.
“It looked like there was a mix,” Manley said of his perspective of the event last year as an observer. “It wasn’t an overly competitive environment but I don’t think there was anyone that took part that didn’t want to win. I think every team was out there to compete.”
Manley will do his part for Shady Canyon, taking about 30 years of golf experience onto the course.
“My passion has always been golf and I thought that was my calling,” said Manley, who said his dad introduced the game to him when he was 13. “I enjoy being at the golf course and being involved with all aspects of golf. It was kind of a no-brainer.”
Manley was a four-year varsity letterman at Burroughs High in the High Desert. He also played at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but soon realized the PGA Tour wasn’t going to happen.
“It just seemed the game got harder as I got older,” he said. “So I realized at a fairly young age I wouldn’t be playing on television. I’ve still got a relatively competitive game but I was always one step or two steps behind the guys on TV.”
Manley said his accuracy is his strength, but his length off the tee is his weakness.
“In order to compete at the highest level you have to hit the ball so far nowadays,” he said. “Our men’s champion, Kevin Baker, he absolutely annihilates the ball. I average about 260-270 (yards), which is out there, but Kevin’s average is probably 290-300.
“The game has changed. Back in the day you didn’t have to hit the ball quite so far. Accuracy was really a benefit. On golf courses that were narrow and had heavy rough, I could compete pretty well. But you put me on a 7,300-yard golf course and I’m going to struggle.”
The good news for Manley and his Shady Canyon teammates is that Newport Beach CC is 6,584 yards from the blue tees. If Manley is on, watch out. His best round is 64, accomplished twice — at Mission Hills North (a course record at the time) and at Los Coyotes in Buena Park.
Manley, who is 6-foot, 250 pounds, played outside linebacker for the varsity football team at Burroughs High and admits he looks more like a football player than a golfer. But it would be unwise for the other teams to underestimate Manley and the Shady Canyon team.
“I think we’ll be competitive, but which team will win, who knows?” Manley said. “We’ll find out about 4:30 p.m. on the 27th. We’re going to go out and enjoy ourselves. Our first commitment is to have a good time, and our second is to win.”
Win or lose, Manley will be happy, knowing he can go home to Catherine and Colt … and maybe SpongeBob.
Joe Haakenson is an Orange County-based sportswriter and editor. firstname.lastname@example.org