by Bob Young – Feb. 11, 2012 09:02 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com
Golf has deep roots in state’s history
They played on dirt and oil-soaked sand instead of the emerald-green fairways and greens that lace the Sonoran Desert today. But when Arizona became a state 100 years ago, golfers already were teeing up the little white gutta percha ball in Phoenix and in the far reaches of the state.
How many courses were operating in Arizona in 1912, and when they were built, is the subject of some conjecture.
“The overriding message is golf was already part of the landscape at the time of statehood,” said Forrest Richardson, a Phoenix-based golf course architect and golf history buff.
Perhaps the first golf course was built in 1899 by a group that later would be known as Phoenix Country Club.
Their course was a nine-hole layout of dirt fairways and sand “greens” located near what is now Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street.
The first tournament was held there Feb. 22, 1900.
It would be the first of four course locations for Phoenix CC, including the current one at Thomas Road and 7th Street.
But golf also was being played near the Arizona-Mexico border.
Another course of sand and oil-soaked putting surfaces opened in 1908 in the Warren District of Bisbee, operating there until a new course was built down the road in Naco by the Works Progress Administration in 1936.
“For a while, members could play the nine-hole course in Warren and also play the other nine in Naco,” said Pete Campbell, general manager of the Turquoise Valley Golf Course in Naco.
Thus, Turquoise Valley lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating course in the state.
Wigwam in Litchfield Park to Gold Canyon, there are many golf choices
Evidence exists that golfers were playing not far away in the smelter town of Douglas at about the same time.
Cardcow.com, a website that sells vintage postcards, has in its inventory a postcard of the Douglas Country Club clubhouse – with a Sept. 14, 1910, postmark. According to the Douglas Historical Society, the clubhouse was located on 12th Street with the golf course situated on what are now 13th and 14th streets in Douglas.
“There definitely was a golf course there at that time,” said Gary Spivey, who operates the Douglas Historical Society with his wife, Lavinia.
Spivey speculates that development might have pushed the course to the outskirts of town, where the Douglas Golf and Social Club was built in 1947, but little is known about the original course.
Chandler gets golf
Meanwhile, the oldest golf resort in the Valley is believed to be San Marcos Golf Resort in Chandler. While the course that exists there now wasn’t designed until 1922, the hotel and a nine-hole course were under construction at the time Arizona celebrated statehood.
Dr. A.J. Chandler’s sparkling resort opened the next year, and a story in The Arizona Republican said of the resort’s amenities:
“First, there is golf. One of the best nine-hole courses in the southwest has been laid out on the hundred-acre golf grounds, which lie but a short walking distance from the hotel.”
But San Marcos was well behind Phoenix CC, as well as Bisbee and Douglas.
Encanterra, Las Sendas everyone plays
Richardson said it makes sense that golf courses popped up in mining towns such as Bisbee, Douglas and, later, Clarkdale, near Jerome.
“The catalyst would have been a connection to the British Isles or at least someone from the East Coast who had already been playing golf,” Richardson said. “So in Arizona, my suspicion is that you would have had miners in Douglas and Bisbee or near Jerome, and a lot of these people would have been involved in mining in the British Isles or on the East Coast because that’s where the technology of smelting and ore separation was based.”
Richardson said Arizona golfers in 1912 and earlier would have looked similar to what was seen on the East Coast at the time. Their equipment would have included hickory-shafted clubs and so-called “gutta percha” and “Haskell” golf balls. Yes, women were playing, too.
“They probably dressed a bit more casually than on the East Coast, where it was quite formal,” Richardson said. “They would have worn plus fours — or what we call knickers — with coats and ties. They would have been quite well dressed.”
Rather than stroke-play golf — counting each stroke to tally a score — golfers would have engaged in match play: competing to win each hole.
“Likely, there were caddies, because that’s the way the game was,” Richardson said. “It was very rare for people to carry their own clubs, but I’m also open-minded to think it might have been different in Arizona, especially in the mining towns.
“There were no warm-season grasses at that time in Arizona. The Bermuda grass that we take for granted and that grows everywhere and flourishes when the weather is warm wasn’t out there.”
Sadly, many of Arizona’s earliest layouts no longer exist.
Phoenix Country Club moved from its first location off Central — then known as Center Street — to a location near what now is Van Buren Street and 17th Avenue.
Then it relocated farther north near Central before moving to its present location near 7th Street and Thomas in 1920 when golf architect Harry Collis was hired to design an 18-hole layout.
Collis left quite a mark. He designed the new San Marcos course a few years later and is credited with the design of a course called “La Palma” located around 11-mile Corner near Casa Grande in Pinal County.
The now-defunct Bulletin newspaper in Casa Grande reported in 1927 that the $100,000 course designed by Collis was to be built there by Chicago investors, although Collis’ biography states that he designed the course in 1919.
“It’s not too shocking that some of this stuff didn’t survive,” Richardson said. “Arizona had a lot of wide-open spaces and not a lot of population.
“So a town might expand or the copper mine grew and the golf course was swallowed up. That would have been a part of Arizona changing face.
“It’s an Arizona hallmark and a factor that erased a lot of our golf history. Our state was a work in progress.
“The good news is, golf has certainly endured here. Golf will always do fine in Arizona.”
When Dr. Chandler opened the San Marcos Hotel in 1913 he also opened a nine hole San Marcos Golf Course on the east side of Arizona Avenue straddling today’s Chandler Boulevard. One year later nine more holes were added. The pro shop was located on East Commonwealth Avenue, one block from the railroad tracks. The original course was made of oiled sand with cottonseed meal greens. In 1914, the entire course was planted to rye grass, giving it the distinction of being the first turf course in the entire state. In 1928, a new course, in its current location behind the hotel, was laid out on land donated by John Dobson. In this picture George Lewis tees off on the original course in 1913. Courtesy of Chandler Historical Society