Ten a.m. any day of the week. Nearly all 24 driving-range stalls at the par-3 Studio City Golf and Tennis Club are filled with men in pastel polyester or women getting golf tips from men in pastel polyester. At a nearby yellow table in the shade, a women's foursome sips freshly brewed coffee and exchanges wild tales about reaching the green in two. They automatically flinch every time a range ball clangs off a sideboard and ricochets who knows where.
Occasionally, a Hollywood celebrity like Bob Hope or Clint Eastwood stops by to hit a bucket or tackle the 1,010-yard, nine-hole course or make Hollywood small talk. The privately owned public club has been a hangout for stars ever since it was built by an actor for his studio cronies in 1955. Hope used to sit on a red Naugahyde couch in the knotty-pine clubhouse and watch "Monday Night Football" on an ancient black-and-white television. Jack Nicholson has been known to show up without money, identify himself behind his patented dark sunglasses and ask the cashier, "Am I good for it tomorrow?"
It was in the coffee shop, officially named the Cuckoo's Nest, that comedian Foster Brooks developed his shtick as a sloppy fall-down drunk. Carol Banderlin, who has run the shop for the past 28 years, recalls seeing unsuspecting women shriek after Brooks staggers over to them and explains how he is just about to drive a busload of children to Disneyland. Brooks entertained the customers so well that one of them got him his first paid gig.
In a small office off the main room, where a sign warns golfers that the new color TV "is only for watching sports," George McCallister Sr., 77-year-old former pro golfer, can be found most days attending to his new golf video or sorting through stacks of old photos. George and an Air Force general. George and a golfing great. "Do you know who that guy on my right is?" he asked, showing a small color shot of two men at a beach. "It's Zeppo Marx. We were in Mexico together."
Thirty years ago this December, McCallister and his best friend, Art Anderson, bought out actor Joe Kirkwood Jr., who played Joe Palooka in the movies, and began turning Studio City into a club whose reputation now stretches far beyond the studios. It is nationally known for being the place where a major redesign of the club head was made. Golfers from all over Los Angeles, not just the Valley, know about Studio City's driving range. In tennis, it was one of the first private clubs in California--maybe the first--to think of charging the public to reserve courts for an hour at a time.
When McCallister and Anderson bought the club, only about 250 foursomes used the course every week. Today, the number is up beyond 500, about a quarter of them senior citizens. But despite its growth, Studio City has retained it clubby feel. "It's like a semi-private country club," said Mike Tomich, who has been playing there for 21 years. "The course is kept in good shape, there's a lot of camaraderie." Regulars and employees go back for years. "The only people who don't come around here anymore have died," Banderlin said. And not because of her famous hot cakes, which are said to go down as easily as a three-inch putt.
While McCallister and Anderson remain the heart and soul of Studio City, John McCallister has become the brains. The youngest of George McCallister's five sons, John, 35, has been hanging around the club since he was 3. "I've known him from the time he had to stand on his tiptoes to order cherry Cokes at the Dutch window," Banderlin said. Manager of the club since 1978, John single-handedly has drawn national attention to Studio City. Two years ago, Arnold Palmer began marketing a set of McCallister's "Axiom" clubs with radically redesigned club heads. More than 40,000 sets, priced at $440, have been sold, and McCallister has a share of the action.
McCallister spent $10,000 of his own money developing the club, which has grooves on the head and a wide base to help golfers swing correctly. In his oven at his Westlake home five years ago, he fashioned a clay model of a design that had been rattling around in his brain for years. McCallister has no engineering degree, but "if they gave a Ph. D. for golf, I'd have one," he said. "My mind has been exposed to an awful lot of golf over the years."
In 1985, U.S. Patent No. 4,550,914 was granted to McCallister for "a golf club head with visual swing-directing cues." To get a utility patent, McCallister said, "I'd had to prove to the patent office that the design actually improved the swing." Once he filed for a patent and had a prototype built, McCallister, like thousands of other inventors, needed a backer. Enter Palmer. In a Seattle hotel room in 1984, Palmer took one look at the club and thought it was good enough to bear the signature of golf's most legendary name.