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History of Stanford Golf Course

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"The first of January 1930, saw the realization of a dream of 15 years, a golf course on the Stanford campus. And what a golf course ... the site is gloriously inspiring. The panorama of hills, valleys, and Bay will surely etch itself on your memory so you can readily understand our inability to do justice with mere words." * Garry Bennett, 1930.

In the 1920s, Stanford students lobbied for a golf course. The golf team was using the Burlingame Course for practice and was coached by Burlingame pro Harold Sampson. Luckily they found an enthusiast in Almon E. Roth '09, the University Controller, who had become hooked on the game and was a member of the Los Altos Country Club. In February 1929, he persuaded the Stanford University Board of Trustees to provide the land and finance the construction. Then he gave instructions to Al Masters, the manager of the Athletic Department, to hire George C. Thomas Jr. and William "Billy" Bell to design and build the course. In the photo from the left: Billy Bell, George Thomas & Alister MacKenzie

Roth had his own ideas as to the layout of the course. When Bell arrived in March they walked the area. Bell immediately saw the possibility of incorporating San Francisquito Creek into the design. To get the land on the other side of creek, which belonged to the Buck Estate, required a change in the California State Constitution to permit a land swap. Roth flew to Sacramento from the Palo Alto Airport in an open cockpit biplane to lobby for the change.

Construction began in May 1929 with great care to preserve the oak trees. Only 75 had to be removed. At that time water from the irrigation of campus came from Searsville Lake. A lot more water would be required for the golf course, so Felt Lake was enlarged to a capacity of 278,000,000 gallons. By December the course was ready. It opened January 1, 1930. "Dink" Templeton, the track coach who first used starting blocks in track meets, was in the first foursome.

Thomas designed the course and Bell managed the construction. Bell traveled back and forth to Beverly Hills updating Thomas on his progress and getting further instructions. Thomas was ill and died a couple of years later, having never seen the results of his effort. A very unique feature of the course was Bell's bunker design. It was very natural with edges that were not well defined.

The course cost $188,000 and enlarging Felt Lake was $190,000. The clubhouse, which cost $54,000, was designed by the architects Bakewell and Brown, who had designed many buildings on campus and were noted for having done City Hall in San Francisco. Club member Wells P. Goodenough was the contractor.

In 1930 the course was ranked in the top 15 by Dr. H.J. Morlan, who had played more than 800 golf courses in the world. As recently as 1993 it was ranked in the top 100 by Golf Magazine. The 12th hole is one of the most difficult in Northern California, having two large trees down the middle of the fairway. The 18th tee is probably the most picturesque because of the spectacular view of San Francisco and almost the entire Bay Area.

In 2004, noted golf course architect Donald Knott of Knott Brooks Linn Golf Course Design Group was commissioned to redesign the third and fourth holes, along with restoring the original location of the fifth tee. The two new par-3 holes were opened for play in the Spring of 2005.

Stanford University Golf Course has produced many influential golfers throughout the years. Notables include PGA & LPGA Tour professionals Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Mickey Wright, Shelley Hamlin, Bob Rosburg, Notah Begay III, amateur star Anne Quast-Sander plus former USGA presidents Sandy Tatum, Grant Spaeth and Walter Driver.

Stanford golf teams have won 9 national championships while alums have won 34 major professional championships including 10 US Opens, 10 PGA Championships, 8 British Opens, 6 Masters titles plus 11 US and British Amateur titles and four individual NCAA championships.

Throughout the years, Stanford has hosted many intercollegiate and non-collegiate events, including U.S. Open Qualifying, Women's NCAA Championships, NCAA Regionals, Pac-10 Championships, a former Senior PGA Tour event (The Gathering at the Farm) and USGA Junior Amateur Qualifying.

* Story and quote from member Gordon Ratliff's "Stanford Golf Clippings (1899-1931)" book about the history of Stanford golf

Updated October 29, 2015 by volunteer webmaster Bob Stevens -