Jep and Steve Wille have been a part of the Austin Golfing Community for nearly six decades. At the invitation of GolfAustin.Org, they contributed the following article. We thank them for taking their time to provide an insight as to how their Austin golf upbringing has been such an integral part of their lives and how their history is threaded through the fabric of Austin golf.
Jep and Steve Wille have unique places in the story of Austin golf. Both were active competitors beginning with junior golf in the mid 1960s. Steve's photo on the left was taken at the 1966 Texas State Junior Championship at Brackenridge Park in San Antonio.
Their passion for the game led each not only down the path of developing their games, but also into golf related careers. Over time, each found ways to contribute to the game that they could not have imagined when golf grabbed their interest in the summer of 1961 at the “new” Capitol City County Club (now Balcones) way north of Austin (at the time).
Steve, who figured in Austin’s top 10 Amateurs in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, used his marketing skills to take over television advertising for the PGA Tour and the Ben Hogan Company. He helped establish the reputation of the PGA Tour’s charity role through TV commercials, which ran in golf telecasts featuring players like Curtis Strange, Raymond Floyd, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Peter Jacobsen and Davis Love.
Later Steve landed his dream job of heading marketing for Pebble Beach for a decade, where he helped organize two US Opens (including ’92 with champion Tom Kite) and served as chairman of the US Amateur in 1999 (won by UT golfer David Gossett). His favorite event was when pals from Austin would trek to Pebble to play a California vs. Texas Ryder Cup style event called “The Shivas.”
Note from the editor: "As a participant in one of "The Shivas" tournaments that Steve organized, I cannot say enough about how Steve honored his former youthful golfing friends in organizing the event and treating us with a sense of respect for the game and a nod to the past. It was truly a special event that I will remember always. We played all the courses in the Pebble Beach complex and stayed at the Inn at Spanish Bay. Great memories…"
So enough about Steve and on to Jep, shown below demonstrating the form that allowed him to become the only current player to win all four of Austin’s amateur majors. He won the Austin City Championship in 1974 and 1978, the Firecracker and The Harvey Penick Invitational in 1984, and the Blue Bonnet Cup in 1991.
Jep recalls their early years in golf, “Carlie Tice, who served as an assistant pro to Harvey Penick sometime in the ‘50s, was our first teacher at Capitol City. Later he got hired to run the Green Acres Driving Range out on Burnet Road. He hired both me and Steve and we got 75 cents and hour, all the balls we could hit in the slow times and an occasional lesson or tip. That’s where we learned how to swing,”
Steve remembers Hancock Golf Course as the epicenter of those early years. “Capitol City closed and Hancock was our Augusta National then, and it couldn’t have been any sweeter. We’d get dropped off in the morning, play 18, go for lunch over at the Rexall Drug Store at the brand new Hancock Mall, come back play 9, then caddie for money games featuring old guys in their ‘20s like Ramie Mays and Barry Bishop. The day would end with have putting games, particularly stymies, till our parents showed up. Felix George and a great guy named “Winnie” ran the clubhouse.”
“I think Jep was 13 or 14 when he had what I recall as a breakthrough,” Steve recalls. ‘One day on the ride home, my dad and I were trying to get Jep to tell us what he shot that day. “Not gonna tell you, you wont believe me”, he kept saying. Finally my dad, our biggest fan, demanded a response. “67” Jep said. Only a couple of years earlier, that could have been for 9 holes.
One peculiar family affair occurred in 1965. Jep was 17, Steve 15 and the occasion was the City Junior Championship at Muny. Jep was clearly one of the best juniors of the day and Steve was just finding a game. At the time, the format was medal qualifying followed by match play. Jep took medalist honors on a windy day with a 70. Steve made Championship flight with a 78. Based on their relative positions, they were paired against each other for the first day’s match. “The atmosphere around our house was strange, to say the least”, Steve recalled.
Steve explained: “I remember I somehow got up in the match and sort of expected that like just about every time we would play pick up games, Jep would get hot and obliterate me to win by a big margin, often taking most of my lunch money. But I kept plugging away and to my surprise got an unexpected couple of birdies and I saw my big brother start to press. In a result nobody saw coming, I ended up beating him 4 and 3. My diplomatic skills were more developed than my golf at that point, and I was smart enough to turn in a 1 up victory. “
Jep’s golf path took him from winning State in high school with St Edwards in the Texas Catholic Interscholastic League (George Machok was a team mate) to play for North Texas State. When he decided to change majors to architecture, Jep casted about for a school to play for and ended up at Temple Junior College where he won All American honors, going on the next two years to play for LSU.
Aside from his considerable talent as a player, Jep found his calling as a golf course architect, crafting a variety of courses in Texas and New Mexico. For example, when the second nine holes at the Llano River Golf Club was added, Jep was selected as the architect. Shown here is hole #12 on the second nine. Jep also designed The Taos Country Club. Hole #17 is shown below. In 2012, a groundswell of support from local golfers led to Jep being tapped to substantially revamp Austin’s Morris Williams Golf Course, which was in need of its first reconstruction since it opened. Click here to review the grand re-opening of Morris Williams Golf Course.
For Steve, the partnerships events were his fondest memories “Many of them were in the small hill country towns around Austin. We called it the “Barbecue Tour” because there was always a barbecue meal included with the entry. We’d win sets of irons in Llano, Rockdale, Smithville, Lampassas and the like and sell them for cash, it was a major income stream.
“The Muny Spring Partnership of 1980 sticks out in my mind. By this time, I was well down the road in my advertising career and had a big commercial shoot scheduled for the PGA Tour in Florida with Curtis Strange and Raymond Floyd. I asked Lloyd (Morrisson, head pro at Muny), if he could schedule us early on the final day so I could catch the last possible flight, which he agreed to do.
“Well on that day, Jep got hot on the front side and me on the back and we posted a stellar number that looked like it might hold and give us the win. I couldn’t wait to find out. I had to run to the airport. As it turned out, the team of Mike Allen and Richard Buratti also played well and tied us. While I was probably at 30,000 feet on the way to Ponte Vedra, Allen and Buratti took no mercy, ganged up on my brother in a playoff and took the title.”
It seems that “two on one” wasn’t the Wille brothers strength. Nevertheless, they each would confess that like so many others, Austin golf framed a big part of their world and had a lasting impact on their life’s work.
Jep continues doing golf design and landscape architecture work in Austin. Steve has returned from California to the University of Texas where he teaches sports communication.
The Wille family continues to contribute to the Texas golfing community as Chris Wille, Jep's son, is an assistant pro at River Hills Country Club in Kerrville. His other son Greg, the little guy in this picture, is a golf and sports writer for the Temple Daily Telegram..