Molalla, Oregon, had maybe 2,000 residents when golf professional Joe Clarizio bought Arrowhead Golf Club with a lease/purchase agreement in 1972.
Arrowhead was the only golf course in town. Today, 42 years later, it still is.
Molalla, about 25 miles south of Portland, remains a reflection of small-town America where the biggest event each year is the Buckeroo Rodeo on July 4 (and the accompanying Buckeroo Golf Tournament, of course).
So how did three golfers from this rural club qualify for the 2014 U.S. Senior Open? Practice, of course, plus a little luck.
Rob Gibbons, who is Joe Clarizio’s son, is head professional at Arrowhead. Bruce Stewart has been a teaching professional at the club for more than 30 years. Pat O’Donnell is an amateur who lost in the final of the 2013 U.S. Golf Association Senior Amateur.
All three are in Edmond, Okla., for this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National.
“Never underestimate Oregon golfers,” said former U.S. Senior Open champion Peter Jacobsen, who played a practice round Tuesday with the Molalla trio.
Jacobsen, Oregon’s most famous golfer, is fond of outlining the virtues of Oregon golf: “The weather can be beautiful. The weather can be miserable. Oregon golfers have to learn to play in all kinds of conditions.”
Clarizio credited Jacobsen for inspiring a long line of Oregon golfers. Not that Clarizio himself needed any extra inspiration.
“I always figured it would be good for the club and good for the people who play golf here if we had good players around,” Clarizio said. Thus Stewart is playing in his third Senior Open and Gibbons in his second.
As part of his commitment, what Clarizo did was establish an enduring family golf dynasty that includes three other family members besides himself and Gibbons.
Clarizio’s wife, Jean, performs the duties of general manager. His daughter, Cheryl Weigel, is a certified public accountant who oversees the finances and handles member services. Son J.D. Clarizio is the head golf course superintendent.
Along the way, there have been plenty of eye-catching accomplishments, such as the Molalla High School girls golf team, playing out of Arrowhead, winning five Class 4A state championships in a row.
Three golfers from Molalla in the U.S. Senior Open is just one more reason to celebrate small-town golf. Actually O’Donnell lives in adjacent Happy Valley, another quaint little Oregon village, but the message is clear: Whether it is found in a big city or tiny town, golf is a wondrous game that can bring people together for all their lives.
Clarizio, 78, has now been a PGA golf professional for more than 50 years, presiding over a golf mecca in the Oregon countryside.
“Golfers at Arrowhead are like a big, happy family,” Gibbons said. “Everybody knows everybody, and that’s the way we like it.”
Stewart, who once caddied for former U.S. Amateur champion John Fought on the PGA Tour, added, “It’s such a thrill to be here with my boss of 32 years (Gibbons). Whatever we can do to encourage golf or support golf, that’s what we do.”
At the Senior Open qualifier at Creekside Golf Club in Salem, Ore., Stewart birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 71 and earn medalist honors. Gibbons was right behind him with 72.
O’Donnell, a maintenance analyst for Boeing, was exempt for the Senior Open after his loss to Doug Hanzel in the final of the 2013 USGA Senior Amateur. Coincidentally, O’Donnell, a former Oregon state senior champion, also lost to Hanzel in the quarterfinals of the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur.
Clarizio, the patriarch of Arrowhead, knows a lot about the U.S. Senior Open. In 1989, the year that Arnold Palmer turned 60, Clarizio qualified for and played in the U.S. Senior Open at Palmer’s Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa.
“Good people and good players,” Clarizio said. “That’s what we’ve always believed in.”