by John B Jones
Rancho Golf Club 1922
In the Beginning
The Rancho Golf Club was founded in 1921 with legendary Los Angeles lawyer Henry O'Melveny as president. The club played on what was first known as the Ambassador Hotel golf course, at Pico Boulevard and Motor Avenue in Sawtelle. The course was designed by English golf course architect W. Herbert Fowler, and opened in July of 1921 to guests of the new Ambassador and Alexandria Hotels. Arthur Clarkson of Wisconsin was the club's first head professional and was joined by assistant Cy Johnson, California champion Eddie Loos, and golf course creators Jack Croke and Billy Bell from Annandale.
Willie Hunter & George Von Elm
British Amateur Champion Willie Hunter was the club's first secretary in 1922. Hunter beat Bobby Jones in the 1921 U.S. Amateur on his way to Los Angeles from England. Hunter played with member and amateur star George Von Elm of Utah in many exhibition matches, promoted by manager and Rancho member Scotty Chisholm, against an onslaught of visiting professionals.
The Barnes Hutchison Red Cross Exhibition 1922 at Rancho
In 1923 the Rancho Golf Club signed a 10-year lease for the course and buildings, and went on to field the trophy-winning S.C.G.A. Team-Play champions of the 1920s, with Hunter, Von Elm, Howard Hughes, Charles Soldani, Leon Keller, Bruce Bundy, and W. Beckwith, on the winning teams. Their opponents included George Thomas at LACC, Norman Macbeth at Wilshire, Max Behr at Lakeside Golf Club, and Jack Warner at Hillcrest CC. The Rancho course was also home to the Los Angeles Athletic Club, before the opening of their own course, the Riviera Country Club, in 1927. George Von Elm went on to win the U.S. Amateur Championship, beating Bobby Jones in 1926, after losing to him in the 1924 final. W. W. Beckwith won the U.S. Senior Golf Association and Pacific Coast Senior Championship in 1926, and Bing Crosby won the 1933 Musician's Championship at Rancho.
The Peter Cooper Bryce SCGA Team Play Trophy
By August of 1933 the club was evicted from the land and locked out of the buildings due to a dispute and a misunderstanding between the landowner and the U.S. Internal Revenue. The club was forced to disband and sell their assets at a downtown auction.
Rancho Golf Club Auction Notice
Many members joined Lakeside Golf Club and Riviera Country Club. Rancho head pro Arthur Clarkson also moved to Riviera CC. He retired in 1936 and was replaced by Rancho alumni Willie Hunter, who stayed on at Riviera for another 28 years!
The Rancho Golf Club 1935
A Second Chance
Within months, in the fall of 1933, a new lease was arranged for the property by A. La Verne Nichols, the USGA Public Links representative for Southern California. Ralph Guldhal was hired as the short lived head professional. A new Rancho Golf Club was formed when the course reopened in January 1934 as the Rancho Public Golf Course. Members of the old Rancho returned to join the Rancho Southern California Public Links Golf Association team, who went on to win team titles throughout the 1930s. Nichols promoted a failed attempt at bringing the SCGA and SCPLGA together in 1935, by holding a Southern California Amateur Championship at Rancho, which was open to members of both organizations. The UCLA Golf Team chose Rancho as their home course in 1936. Arthur Clarkson returned for a short time in 1939, and the Rancho club continued to compete in team competitions until 1943-44, when the lease on the land ended, and the old Herbert Fowler links were closed for good.
The Founders: Frank Andrews, Lefty Poulin, Pepper Reinhart Brenkus, Gene Andrews,
Dorothy Packham, Irene Lacey, Harry Packham, and Charlie Lacey, July 10, 1949.
A New Course, A New Start
After acquiring the Rancho golf course in 1946, the City of Los Angeles Parks department, headed by golf superintendent William Johnson, hired William "Billy" Bell and advisors George Von Elm and Johnny Dawson, to lay out an all new Rancho Golf Course. The new course opened in July of 1949 with the U.S.G.A. Public Links Championship. The Rancho Golf Club reformed late in the year with Donald Douris, and then Harry Packham, taking over as President, and Chuck Brenkus winning the first Club Championship in 1950.
English touring and ex-Hillcrest Country Club pro Charlie Lacey became the new head professional. Lacey had helped Gene Sarazen invent the sand wedge and had introduced the use of light-weight drivers in the 1920s. He would be instrumental, along with Riviera and Rancho-ex Willie Hunter, in bringing the Los Angeles Open to Rancho in 1956. Lacey's Rancho students, Ted Richards and Gene Andrews, won back to back USGA Pub Links championships in 1953-54, and Eddie and Millie Meyerson, were National Junior Champions, while Bobby Howe and Freddie Brown won LA City and Pasadena titles respectively. Rancho won the SCPLGA Team Championship in 1958-59.
Charlie Lacey and Jane Mansfield, Miss 1957 LA Open
Rancho lost head pro Charley Lacey, Harry Packham, and Scotty Chisholm in the winter of 1957-58. Lacey's place as host pro for the 1958 LA open was filled by Willie Hunter. Eventually Lacey was replaced by Jimmy E. Thompson of Bakersfield, who was the vice president of the Southern California PGA. Thompson was shot and wounded by one of his assistants pros in the pro shop at Rancho in 1964. The professional's job was taken over in 1965 by his Scottish assistant pro James Fairbairn, and local man Ron Weiner. Fairbairn died in 1967 and Weiner took over as head professional, a title that he held until 2003. The course today still has many great professional teachers, but there has been no official head professional since Ron Weiner.
In 1963 the golf course changed it's name to Rancho Park after the nearby chamber of commerce lobbied the Parks department to help promote the Rancho Park business area during the Los Angeles Open.
The Rancho Park Golf Club continues today as one of the largest clubs in Los Angeles, playing on one of the great golf courses of Southern California.