We lost a truly unique local sports legend last month with the passing of one of Santa Barbara’s most notable golf stars, Brian “Buddy” Allin. Buddy, as he was universally known, died at age 62 on March 10.
He was a San Marcos High graduate, and played on the Brigham Young golf team alongside Johnny Miller. He joined the Army in 1967 and volunteered for service in Vietnam. In his service career as an artillery officer, he attained the rank of first lieutenant. Though Buddy never talked much about the war, he was awarded a handful of medals, including two Purple Hearts and two bronze stars (one with a “V” for valor). Buddy struggled with cancer throughout the years, including melanoma, which some suspect may have been attributable to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.
After discharge, he went out on the PGA tour, backed by the sponsorship of a few local businessmen, and promptly won a tournament. He took home a trophy for the 1971 Greater Greensboro Open by the unlikely route of a Monday qualifier and a three-way playoff. He won five events on the tour between then and 1976. In spite of the fact that he was a little guy-I’ll bet he didn’t weigh more than 145 pounds-and a relatively short hitter, he held the tournament scoring record at the famous Doral “Blue Monster” Course for many years after winning the Eastern Open there in 1974.
Buddy was a scrapper. He played in the era of Arnie, Jack, Gary Player, Miller, and a few other “power golf” superstars who made it hard for shorter hitters to win. But when Buddy got hot and found himself “in the hunt,” he more often than not found a way to the winner’s circle. After turning 50, he qualified for the PGA Senior Tour, and won the 1997 American Express Invitational.
A modern-day, five-time Big Tour winner can be expected to live out his days in opulent comfort. That wasn’t Buddy’s fate-or his style-he got his rewards in other ways. Buddy was a soft-spoken, modest guy who had a personal magnetism that emanated from the regard in which others held him. When Buddy won, his peers cheered and hung around after the awards ceremonies. Pro golf stars are fairly laconic as a general rule. When I found myself, on occasion, struggling to generate polite conversation with one, the dropping of Buddy’s name could be counted on to bring them to the brink of effusiveness. On one memorable occasion, the ordinarily articulate Joe Inman became so consumed in Buddy nostalgia that he became tongue-tied, teary-eyed, and ended the conversation with, “Buddy Allin, he’s : he’s a man’s man!”
Similarly, tour players-as a species-aren’t noted for their generosity (a common utterance that comes to my recollection in dealing with many pro golfers is the question, “Isn’t this comped?”). Buddy, on the other hand, was of another breed. If an award was given for percentage of personal earnings graciously given away, Buddy Allin would rank near the top. After one tournament victory, desperate to find something handy to donate to a charity auction, he gave away the set of clubs with which he’d just won.
In days when tour caddies struggled to make a living, Buddy made space in his Santa Barbara Mesa home for his “looper,” a veteran who is still working the tour. In spite of having worked for a veritable who’s who of the golf world, this caddie speaks of his days with Buddy with singular reverence. One of the toughest things about Buddy-in my personal experience-was getting him out of my golf shop without buying up things he didn’t need just to be a “good customer.”
He didn’t much like being away from home. After replenishing his coffers on the winter tour, he’d generally spend his summers back here, playing with his buddies at Santa Barbara Municipal Golf Club. But Buddy’s true passion was teaching, especially when it came to passing on the joys of the game to kids. The Buddy Allin Junior Golf Program, to which he devoted considerable time, was legendary and responsible in large measure for Santa Barbara’s production of top players and its high schools’ golf predominance in more recent years. Buddy spent his last years teaching, including a stint at the San Diego Golf Academy, and writing on golf instruction. “He’s the most popular instructor I’ve ever seen,” PGA master professional Eric Wilson told Golfweek magazine in a story this year. “The students just flocked to him. He would do anything to help them. He would come in on weekends to work with them.”
Stopping by the Fairview Avenue golf range on a cold, drizzly morning a number of years ago, I looked out on the range. It was deserted except for two figures: Buddy Allin in a rain jacket, crouched over and adjusting the grip of a novice student.
The last time I saw Buddy was when he came back from his touring some years ago to visit one of his local golf pals-mailman Ted Lux-as he lay dying of cancer. Buddy died of several forms of the same disease in Hemet, California, where he’d lived for a number of years after leaving the Santa Barbara area.
We’ll miss you, Buddy.