This story is part of a Hispanic Heritage Month collaboration with Voces Oral History Center based at UT-Austin’s Moody School of Communication.
Today, Gene Vasquez calls his high school team’s journey to becoming Texas state champions as a fight against “two very brutal forces.”
“We were fighting brutal discrimination and brutal poverty,” Vasquez said. “We didn’t look at the golf game as a sport. We saw it as a job.”
Vasquez and four of his friends worked as caddies at the San Felipe Country Club in Del Rio. The club did not allow Mexican American members so Vasquez and his friends could not play themselves on club green.
But Vasquez says when they caddied, they observed. They studied the golfers’ swings and learned to predict how the golf balls would glide.
Being restricted from the country club’s golf course gave them an idea.
“We decided to improvise,” Vasquez said.
They created their own golf course in an empty field. It had only one hole and the boys would reposition themselves to pretend it was different after every stroke.
“Nothing but cactus and caliche and mesquite wood. It was just plain texture,” Vasquez said. “We started playing and we started getting better and better and better.”
The community began to talk.
“Now, once they started seeing us play, we could tell there was a lot of interest, because even the Anglos who didn’t allow us to play on their golf course started gathering around us,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez says J.B. Peña, the superintendent of schools at the time, and Hiram Valdes, an avid golfer himself, decided San Felipe High School should have its first-ever golf team. The team consisted of Vasquez, Joe Trevino, Mario Lomas, Felipe Romero, and Lupe Felan.
“We didn’t have any facilities and no money,” Vasquez said.
Then, the golf pro at the country club relented and invited the team to practice on the greens on Mondays when the club was closed. Still, Vasquez says uniforms and equipment were ragtag.
“We would wear Levi’s and T-shirts, and that was about it,” Vasquez said.
Club members gave the teens their cast-off shoes and golf clubs. The team traveled to tournaments in their coach’s station wagon and packed lunches for long trips. When they competed, Vasquez says, they did not look or sound like the other competitors.
“The rest of the teams would make fun of us,” he said. “They would make fun at the way we spoke. Our accents were very heavy. They would make fun of our clothing.”
But in 1957, the San Felipe Mustang Golf team traveled from Del Rio to Austin for the Texas State High School Championship game. Against all odds, they became Class A State Golf Champions.
“It was a miracle really, because we had no business winning state – and we did,” Vasquez said.
The team also swept individual awards. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place golfers were all on the Mustang team.
Vasquez says their story should inspire.
“Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do something, because we, our genes are good, and we are hard workers, and we have already proven it,” Vasquez said.