Let us show you the footsteps of those who looped the links of Altadena in rounds long past.
The History of The Altadena Golf Course
The meeting began sometime after dark on the evening of March 31, 1911 at the home of A.F. Gartz, a plumbing magnate from Chicago who moved to Altadena with his bride of the Crane Plumbing dynasty. Two adjacent five acre lots were available below Mendocino and the demand for golf around Pasadena exceeded its supply in turn of the century Pasadena. Annandale membership was full and only guests of the Hotel Raymond could play its nine hole, oil and sand green golf course. While Professor Lowe’s cable incline cars climbed their Echo Mountain grade, several of the larger Pasadena area hotel owners, industrialists along with local men of banks and financial institutions gathered to discuss building a country club and 18 holes of golf in Gartz’s mansion. John Coulston, GG Green of the Green Hotel, DM Linnard of the Raymond and later Huntington hotels were all present as they envisioned world class golf on the alluvial fan below the San Gabriels in an old section of what was known then as the “Rubio Wash”. The fast-percolating soil of the centuries-old riverbed provided a perfect base for future golf course fairways and greens to drain quickly, but at the risk of periodic flooding from 5000 foot San Gabriels at whose base the course sits to this day.
It was decided that 200 members, each with equal ownership would purchase the land which the club would then own. Huntington’s Pacific Electric rail line promised to build a line off its track running up Lake Avenue across Mendocino to ease transportation to the course and country club. On that last night in March in an Altadena hillside mansion a deal was struck. A deal that would soon attract the biggest names in professional and amateur golf to the alluvial fan which defines Altadena. The overall slope of the property from north to south would prove to be a confounding part of the challenging putting experienced at the early course layouts, a facet which still befuddles the players and putters of the present day.
The available 12 acres spread from Mendocino to New York Avenues and from Allen to Hill Streets with all of these roads maintaining close to the same footprint to present day. For 36,000 US dollars in 1911, the land was optioned and the purchase of around 12 acres finally cost a total of $110,000.00, but the ground was theirs to move and shape by April. A Scotsman, William Watson, designer of international renown was selected to lay out and construct the original 18 holes which would become the Altadena Country Club and Golf Course. Greens would be a combination of oil and smoothed sand and tee boxes were just that, wooden boxes with sand in them waiting to be scooped, packed and placed in a cone beneath a ball for play off the tee. Watson was a respected designer with a track record of top end courses in Scotland, New York, the Midwest and California. In addition, he was already responsible for overseeing the maintenance and care of the 9 holes of golf available below the Raymond Hotel and familiar to the founders of the newly formed Altadena Country Club.
Watson took the reins, literally, and began moving soil with plows and the Morgan horses that pulled them. Willie was given 8 months and a promise of “enough money to make it one of the best courses in the country” (LA Times 4-13-11) from the appointed directors in charge of construction budgets. By November, Mr. Watson and his team had nine holes ready for play with a complete 18 christened in late 1911.
Plans for a $25,000.00 clubhouse were completed by architect J. Blick and a beautiful craftsman style building grew on the plateau on the high northeastern corner of the property. Opening day festivities showcased the completed clubhouse and greens, with a guest list covering the elite of Pasadena and Altadena.
But Mother Nature had a few tricks up her sleeve: in 1912 the clubhouse roof blew off in a windstorm as club members gathered to play cards, and 1913-14 brought floods to the property. After the 1914 flood the oil and sand greens were replaced with Bermuda grass and the Altadena Golf Club got ready for its first invitational in 1916, with teams from Los Angeles, Victoria, San Gabriel, Midwick, Annandale and Redlands country clubs all competing. During the first world war, many of the club members are off fighting or volunteering for the country in some manner and financial struggles begin. By allowing the public to play the course for the first time, at a nominal fee, the club stays afloat for another two years.
Cecil B. Demille built an airfield on the vacant southeast corner of the property, to the east and below the 18 hole course. It is opened in 1919 and operational for a couple of years before it closed down. Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson among other Hollywood celebrities would fly out from other Demille airfields west and north of downtown Los Angeles and ride horses in the foothills or play a round or two of golf. They could stay overnight in the club’s bungalows and retreat to a place away from the city with the towering and untamed San Gabriels beckoning to the north.
In March of 1920, leaders of the Altadena Country Club decided a re-design of the course was necessary and asked George O’Neille and Jack Croke to head the effort. They hired William P. Bell (senior) to assist with designing and constructing the new layout. Bell had worked with Watson on the original layout and by this time had invented his revolutionary “traveling sprinkler” which allowed for more precise irrigation of all golf courses.
It is planned at this time to build a total of three separate 18 hole courses in hopes of making Altadena the “Pinehurst of the West”. The course is at its peak nationally until the mid-twenties and top pros from all over are playing sanctioned tournaments on the slopes of Altadena at the Pasadena Golf Club’s challenging 18 hole course.
Professional and Amateur players in the 1920’s represent the very best of the era where the touring pro is considered more blue collar than the well heeled amateur. Walter Hagen, Jock Hutchinson, Frank Stranahan, Leo Diegel, Eddie Loos, Gene Sarazen, George Von Elm and other less well known amateurs walked the same slopes as today over 90 years ago in golf’s adolescent stage in the United States.
Unfortunately, the great depression deals a crippling blow to the membership of the club and it falls into bankruptcy and bank ownership. Mason jar magnate Alexandre Kerr purchases the building and golf course property with plans to build a college for girls on the site. The populace of Altadena come out in great numbers at the hearing to change zoning and overwhelmingly vote down Mrs. Kerr’s plans.
A spurned Kerr then sells off half of the course land for development as well as all of the furniture and trappings inside the clubhouse. The development directly east of the present course to Allen street was created after Mrs. Kerr’s sale. The county purchased the remaining part of the golf course and a few years later the country club re-forms and once again, the halls of the great clubhouse are filled with the cheer of new and returning club members. The golf course remains public and under the control of the county at present and following another re-design in 1940, exists as the 9 hole gem you can play today.
And you can walk in the footsteps of the pioneers of professional golf on what was once planned to be “Pinehurst West”.