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Stanford Golf Course

by Gordon I. Ratliff

The Stanford Golf Course is among the finest private courses in the nation, with a spectacular view from the 18th tee which looks out toward the San Francisco skyline.

In the 1920's the Stanford students lobbied for a golf course. The golf team was using the Burlingame course for practice and was coached by the 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" Bill to design and build the course.

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 the 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 started in May 1929 with great care to preserve the oak trees. Only 75 were 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 on January 1, 1930. "Dick" 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 club house, 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. Wells P. Goodenough, a club member was the contractor.

In 1930 the course was ranked in the top 15 by Dr. H. J. Morlan who had played over 800 golf courses in the world. Not too long ago it was still ranked among the top 100. The 12th hole is one of the most difficult in Northern California, having four 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.