A SCOTTISH GOLF PIONEER DEVELOPS THE AMERICAN WEST
GOLF COURSE ARCHITECT WILLIAM WATSON
William Watson was an important pioneer of early golf course architecture who is all but forgotten.
You know the names of Donald Ross, Alister Mackenzie and A.W. Tillinghast. You may not know William Watson, a man whom history has passed over, but you should.
William Watson had a successful career and designed more than 100 golf courses before his retirement in 1929, when the Great Depression began. Many of his courses have survived for nearly a century, including his first U.S. design, the Minikahda Club in Minnesota. That is where he also landed his first job as head professional.
Watson immigrated from Fife, Scotland, near St. Andrews to America in 1898. He was a prolific designer and a success in California. A number of his other best-known designs have hosted major USGA and PGA National Championships, including Harding Park, San Diego Country Club, the original Brentwood Country Club, Diablo Country Club, Berkeley Country Club and Orinda Country Club. He designed the original The Olympic Club Lake and Ocean courses plus many others which unfortunately did not survive housing developments on land that became more valuable as America grew.
He was guided by the primary principle of maintaining naturalness in his designs. Watson wrote: “A good rule is to stress the importance of fitting in all grading work to harmonize with the surrounding territory, mounds, slopes, grassy hollows, sand pits, all have their values in beautifying the setting of our greens and in giving them distinctive definition — if artificially arranged without appearance of artificiality.” He also believed that a course is more interesting if
every green has a character all its own, giving the player something besides the flag to view in approaching the hole.
Watson arrival in Los Angeles at the end of the 19th century was a time when there were only 16 courses in California and the greens in southern California were mostly hard-packed as described in Thomas Arnold’s 1900 book, Golfing in the Far West:
“Greens have gone the way of all grass in Southern California—burned up for want of rain. In California turf greens are a luxury that very few clubs can afford to indulge in. It does not rain enough to keep even an imitation of life in the grass, and it would cost a small fortune to irrigate the green properly. And so, it is that we find all of the putting greens there made of hard-packed earth sprinkled over with a fine layer of white sand. The course of the Oakland Golf Club and that at Del Monte are the only exceptions to this rule. About the most lucid description of the earth greens that can be given is that they look like huge grindstones sunk into the earth. Golf playing on sand-greens is a vastly different matter from playing on turf. Sand-greens are decidedly easier for putting, because the surface, being perfectly smooth, offers little resistance, and the ball rolls with a precision equal to what it would be on a billiard table. Accurate approaches are next to impossible for if the ball lands short of the green where there are sand-greens, it stops dead, and if it strikes on the green it shoots across and off the other side. This makes the game partake of a very undesirable element of luck.”
Course designs in America at the beginning of the 20th Century often featured rectangular shaped greens and trenched bunkers surrounding the greens edge. In the next 20 years, hole designs rapidly modernized, although many courses still were built with horses, which permitted shaping min-contours in the fairways and roughs.
Watson’s Construction crew in action
After becoming well-known, Watson also became a promoter of golf in California—including a challenge to Northern Californians to build more golf courses than were being built in Southern California. This interview given in
Northern Cal is an example:
February 1922 San Francisco Call: WATSON TALKS OF GOLF FUTURE; NOTED LINKS DESIGNER IN SAN FRANCISCO By FRANK P. NOON
“WITHIN five years California will be known as the “golfing state,” according to William Watson, nationally known golf authority and links architect. “In Southern California.” says Watson, “there are forty-eight golf clubs and at least five new courses under construction. Hardly a week passes that I don’t read of some new club being organized. Practically all of the clubs in Southern California have waiting lists bearing hundreds of names.
“In Northern California it’s different. Until very recently there was little talk of organizing any golf clubs. Now that a group of business and professional men have organised the Lake Merced Golf and Country Club the members of the Concordia Club have come forward with an announcement that they, too, want to have a course of their own. The fact that 120 members pledged their moral and financial support to the project seems to Ensure the success of the venture. “It is my honest opinion that within a very short time Northern California will have twice as many courses as there are at the present time. A city the size of San Francisco should not only have two municipal courses, but at least ten or twelve private courses. “The trouble is that most men when arranging the details of organizing a club all want to have their course within “twenty minutes from Powell and Market.” Property within such a distance will cost at least $32000 an acre. Between San Francisco and Burlingame there is room for at least four courses. The
contour of the land is such that the courses would in each case be a real test of golf. What if it does take an hour enroute to your club? The idea of playing on an exclusive course should more than make up for the inconvenience of spending an hour to reach your club. When the average person realizes that, it is my humble opinion that there will be more golf courses in the vicinity of San Francisco.” Watson’s work in laying out courses here and in southern California has been commended by such experts as Jim Barnes, Jock Hutchison, Charlie Mayo and others. He designed and superintended the construction of the Chula Vista, Annandale, Flintridge, Long Beach, Culver City, Hillcrest and Berkeley Country Club courses. His work in rearranging the La Cumbre and La Jolla courses also earned for him considerable praise from close students of the game in the south-land. At the present time Watson is rearranging the links at Burlingame and has charge of the construction work there. He is also planning and carrying on construction work on the municipal links at Lincoln Park, besides completing plans for rearranging the first eighteen holes at Lakeside. He will also superintend the construction of the Lake Merced Golf and Country Club course, work on which is expected”.
William Watson’s early years.
Watson was born March 31, 1860 at his family’s Dura Den Cottage in Kemback, Fife, just eight miles from St. Andrews. He was the first of seven children, three boys and four girls, to Mary & John Cobb Watson.
When this crescent of Dura Den cottages was built in the 1830s, the renters worked in a flax yarn spinning business owned by David Yool, a major employer. High quality flax was used for making linen. William’s father, John Cox, was listed as a flax spinner in 1876. John became a member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1869 when William was nine and John shared his love for golf with his son. William attended Madras Academy in Cupar which is now called Bell Baxter High School. He attended St. Andrews University for a year (1876-1877), taking a full schedule including mathematics 1 and 2, chemistry, literature, history and Latin. He then worked for his father’s business.
William played in golf tournaments at St. Andrews and won sometimes at his home course, Cupar. While Watson was playing at St. Andrews, four-time Open Champion Old Tom Morris was St. Andrews’ greenskeeper and professional and designed many great golf courses. Other apprentices under Old Tom’s tutelage included the Foulis brothers, David, Jim & Robert. (Young Donald Ross from Dornoch apprenticed in 1899 before going to America, designing 400 golf courses). William Watson took an early interest in course design, designing his first layout in England — Hexham Golf Club, Northumberland, in 1892. He was 32 then and designed it as a nine-hole course in a park. It moved to its present location about 15 years later and Harry Vardon designed the new 18 holes. Watson had two major breaks in this period. First, he became friends with and had played golf with banker and golfing enthusiast David R. Forgan (1856-1931). David, four years older than Watson, was the son of the famous founder of Forgan Golf Club company. He completed his secondary education at Madras College in St. Andrews before going to Canada and America to become a successful banker in Minneapolis and then Chicago, where he rose to be the President of the First National Bank.
David also won the first Western Amateur Championship in 1899 played at Glenview Country Club in Illinois. (He also is known for his popular “Golfers Creed”). Forgan introduced Watson to Judge Martin ‘Mart’ B. Koon from Minneapolis (1841-1912) who would change William’s life.
The Judge came to St. Andrews to experience Scottish golf and became well acquainted with William. He was impressed by Watson’s golfing knowledge, playing skill and enthusiasm. Upon his return to Minnesota, Koon and a group of influential Minneapolis businessmen discussed the need for their own golf links. It was decided to hire William Watson to design a course, which became the Minikahda Club. Watson boarded the RMS Etruria in Liverpool, England, in October of 1898. Watson designed the new course and became its first club professional. Robert Foulis from St. Andrews was the first professional at St. Paul (MN) Town and Country Club (the first golf course in Minnesota) and his brother James Foulis, also a Scottish immigrant, won the second U.S. Open in 1896. Both are given credit for assisting Watson in his first American venture.
Judge Koon was elected the first President of Minikahda Club and he drove the first ball on the opening day, July 5, 1899. After the course opened, Watson provided golf instruction to members as well as to members at another course, Bryn Mawr, which he also designed. He was allowed to make a trip to Ferndale’s six holes on Lake Minnetonka once a week to give lessons to that club. In 1901 when Watson’s father and brother, J. Martin Watson joined him in America, the two became summer instructors at Minikahda and later at Lafayette Club and Northland CC in Duluth. In this era, the top professional golfers were British — the great triumvirate of Harry Vardon, John H. Taylor and James Braid. The USGA was organized in 1894 and the top American amateur at the turn of the century was Walter Travis. Golf really took-off in America when Vardon came to America to tour golf courses and perform demonstrations. Vardon also won the U.S. Open during this visit in 1900, thirteen years before Francis Ouimet became the first American born U.S. Open Champion. Judge Koon also encouraged Watson to visit California. The Judge had lived there for two of his college years. After he retired from the bench, he became a corporate lawyer and usually stayed in California during the winter months. In late 1899, Watson moved to Los Angeles, where golf was just developing. His first job was as greenkeeper and instructor at the Green Hotel course in Pasadena. Los Angeles Country Club first started in 1897 and moved a few times until, in 1899, it was built as the first 18-hole course in the region. The Southern California Golf Association was formed the same year with five clubs (LACC, Pasadena CC, Redlands, Riverside and Santa Monica). The population of L.A. in 1899 was just under 100,000 but growing rapidly as a winter haven for easterners. Golf was a game for the successful and these early courses were private. The average hourly wage was then 20 cents an hour. In his first year in Los Angeles, William laid out Casa Loma in the Redlands over the simply “skinned” fairways that had been built in 1897.
This became the first 9-holes of Redlands Country Club. He also built a course for Hotel Raymond, the first major resort hotel of the San Gabriel Valley which served mainly as a winter residence for wealthy Easterners. The hotel was built by Walter Raymond of Raymond & Whitcomb Travel Agency of Boston, Mass., but was torn down during the Great Depression. Also, in a significant move, the City of Los Angeles hired Watson to build its first public course in 1900. It was called Garvanza Links, named for the artsy Garvanza neighborhood (now known at Highland Park and close to what has become Pasadena) where Garbanzo beans grew wild. The course also was referred to as LA-Pasadena GC. It was nine holes with oiled-sand greens on land that remains a L.A. city park, although there is no golf. It now sports a skateboard park instead. In the American GOLF, published in New York City and named ‘USGA Bulletin’, this was a noteworthy 1901 mention:
“The first public links to be established on the Pacific coast have been opened in Los Angeles, which already boasts two strong clubs and several minor organizations. The course is within a couple of miles from the centre of the city, is beautifully situated, and is well laid out for good golf, William Watson, an old St. Andrews graduate, having superintended the work. These links, on which any one can play by the payment of a nominal green fee, will be of great value in accommodating the over- flow of golfing visitors during the winter months.” Watson lived in Garvanza then and opened his first golf equipment store at West Third St. in L.A in 1900. Watson showed great foresight in 1900 when he created William Watson Golf Accessories to sell golf equipment, at a time when essential golf supplies were scarce, especially in the West. He soon opened a distribution office in the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce building, where he drew his course designs. When his father and brother John Martin Watson joined him in 1901, they helped operate the store, made golf clubs, balls and gave lessons. They also operated the Garvanza Links course in the winter months. In the summer months they also worked at Minnesota courses. The most significant early course remodel for Watson was in the winter of 1900 for the Hotel Green in Pasadena. It was a nine-hole course for this elegant hotel filled in the winter months with the wealthy from the east and mid-west. Watson got the contract to remodel the course on the condition that he also would become greenkeeper.
Here is a description of the course in American Golfer, December 1900 issue:
“HOTEL GREEN GOLF LINKS. —A nine-hole course situated about a mile from the hotel and quickly reached by conveyance or by electric car. The course, which is excellent, extends over fifty acres of land of a rolling nature. On the northwest corner a cozy clubhouse has just been erected, with excellent accommodation for golfers. The holes are: 1, Get Away, 265; 2, Cross Road, 195 ; 3, The Hollow, 218; 4, Trouble, 230; 5, Gauntlet, 220; 6, Tourist, 320; 7, The Swing, 235; 8, Elbow, 245; 9, Pasadena, 215, a total of 2,143 yards. Greenkeeper, William Watson.”
Watson also pulled-off a major deal for the hotel when he convinced Willie Anderson to spend several winters at the Hotel Green teaching golf to its guests. Willie had won the U.S. Open in June 1901 at Myopia Hunt Club. He had emigrated from North Berwick Scotland at age 17 and went on to win four U.S. Opens and four Western Opens (another most important major of that era. He died suddenly in 1910). This is a description from Golf in the Far West by Arnold in 1900 when there were only 16 golf courses in the state: “The course of the Hotel Green is situated a mile from the Caravansary, on the electric car line that connects Pasadena and Altadena and is the best hotel course in the State. It consists of nine holes. the distance from back tees being something over 2,700 yards, and bogey 37. The ground is rolling, with a small ravine and an old railroad right-of-way to offer natural obstacles, while a number of great oaks, standing in excellent positions, form hazards that if disregarded in the least will prove very disastrous. Two earth bunkers, one on the fourth and the other on the eighth hole, complete the list of obstacles.
On the northeast corner of the grounds a pretty little clubhouse has recently been erected, with reception rooms, lunch room, lockers, etc., and a large veranda on three sides. There is nothing lacking in the golf grounds, and it is thoroughly in keeping with the Hotel Green, which, by the way, is one of the most magnificently constructed and equipped and most perfectly operated resort hotel of this continent. It is the property of Col. G. G. Green, of “Green’s August Flower” fame, and is under the management of Mr. J. H. Holmes.” The first California Open championship was held in 1901 at the Del Monte course in Monterey, CA and Watson competed in it. However, Robert (Bob) Johnstone who was much younger and had emigrated from North Berwick, Scotland the year before won the championship commandingly, as he did for years until he moved to Seattle Golf Club and won for years more in that area. It is interesting that Johnstone re-built Presidio’s 9 holes in 1901 and Watson further remodeled it in 1905. In 1910 Johnstone returned to lay-out nine more holes. Watson’s architecture career in the west quickly took off. He built courses that included Pasadena GC and Los Angeles Golf Links and the first Seattle Golf Club, a nine-hole course in Laurelhurst, close to where the University of Washington football stadium stands today. Seattle Golf Club’s first course The club had only 54 acres on which Watson could work but had great views over Lake Washington. To get to the course, members took a streetcar to a small boat owned to transport them to the club’s private boat dock. Eight years after it opened, the land on which it stood was sold, and the golf professional Robert Johnstone designed an 18-hole course north of Watson’s. Watson’s first course, Minikahda, also had a popular boat dock to receive members.
Previously in Scotland, John Cobb Watson’s father Alexander Watson had bought the Blebo Flax Spinning Works in 1857 from David Yool at Dura Den. John Cobb Watson became his partner. They operated 4,500 spindles powered mostly by a stream, employing 53 men and 160
women and youths (small hands were preferred to operate the mill). Alexander Watson and Son received a 2000-pound loan from the mill’s customer British Linen Company (An enormous Edinburgh company that became its own bank and even printed currency.) The Watsons also had flax farms by tenanting land at Dairsie Mains north of Cupar. In 1868, Alex tragically died in his son’s arms while standing at the train platform in Tayport. His obituary said that Alex had “…great business energy and intellectual capacity and was a God-fearing man.” John continued to run the company until 1898. He had bought a home in Blebo, Cupar on 17 acres. His wife Mary Martin Watson died in 1894 at age 58.
British Linen sued John in July of 1898 for the 2,000-pound loan amount (More than $300,000 in 2020 value). Newspaper reports said that there were recent failures in the linen business in Scotland because flax mills in other countries operated for much less money and the rise of cotton in America had severely reduced the importing of linen. John Watson, named as the flax spinner in a legal case could not make payment. The mill was shut down by the sheriff, laying off all employees and it never re-opened. He lost his home and property, and creditors were hounding him. This was the year that William Watson had emigrated to America in the fall. Watson’s father and his brother John Martin (the youngest and 14 years younger than William) joined William in 1901in the Pasadena area of Los Angeles. They were employed as assistant professionals—Among the first dozen professionals in Southern California. They also joined William in the mid-west during the summers to be golf instructors. Henry Huntington had bought 300 acres of land in now Pasadena and he leased half of it to a group of men in 1905 who in the first year called themselves the Millionaires Club. It became the Annandale Golf Club in 1906 and Watson was paid to lay-out the course. Instead of sand tees, Watson had 10 by 20-foot coconut fiber mats made for the teeing grounds with oiled sand greens. The club hired his father and brother as assistant professionals. The father was called John and to prevent confusion John Martin simply went by “Martin”. Martin worked at Annandale until his retirement in 1938 including summer trips to Minnesota. Annandale Country Club in 1909, a panoramic photo from the Library of Congress J. Martin Watson was responsible for the original Arroyo Seco links, and then eventually had a part in building Griffith Park’s first course, which was remodeled by William in 1921. George C. Thomas built or rebuilt two Griffith Park municipal courses in 1923 and 1925. Watson’s course was lost when one of the early Los Angeles Zoo sites took the land.
Watson designed the Hollywood Country Club near Studio City, California, shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles, but it was quickly built over by developers who, despite the absence of a golf course, continued to promote the non-existing facility as Hollywood Country Club or Hollywood Hills Country Club in a sales ploy by the developers to sell houses. Their father John died in Pasadena in 1919 and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, less than five miles from Annandale Golf Club. Watson advertised frequently in the Los Angeles Times and maintained a second office in Chicago. Watson made at least one trip back to Scotland early in his career, possibly in 1901 when he is believed to have brought his father and brother to America. His ad below said, in part: “An extensive and critical study of the best golf holes in Scotland and England during the past summer enables me to apply the fresh knowledge gained of bunkering, trapping and other matters connected with scientific course construction to American golf courses.”
When the Watson family worked at Annandale, the head bag boy and caddie master was Billy Bell. Bell learned quickly from Watson and was supervisor of construction for some of his designs. Bell became George C. Thomas’s preferred construction supervisor. Bell went into business on his own and ironically, became famous for re-modeling William Watson courses,
often within a decade of their original design and build. In many cases, Watson’s name disappeared as the architect and Bell’s name replaced it. In 1919 Annandale hired Watson as architect and Bell as supervisor again. In six months with the goal of being open by winter season they plowed-under the entire course and had the assignment to build an all grass course with irrigation. Bell was in charge of installing more than 50 bunkers and he used more than 5,000 tons of sand. The course re-opened on November 1st with a total cost of $55,000. However, they still had difficulty in growing grass in the fairway and the new bunkering was judged too difficult for the membership. In 1922 the club hired Jock Croke of Chicago to add contour to the greens and re-grass them. He followed his plaster models for the new greens. Billy Bell stripped the previous greens first and used the grass to create grass tees. This was finished in November of that year. It took years later for the club to get enough irrigation to keep turf on its fairways, but it was known for at least a decade for having 15 inch rough which obviously grew quite well. Bell became a significant competitor to Watson, but there was plenty of work for all skilled architects in the Golden Age of golf. Although Watson had great success in the San Francisco area (Olympic Club, Harding Park, and others), his competition there was another Scotsman, William ‘Willie’ Lock, who had a part in laying out San Francisco Golf Club, the California Club and others. The course that Watson very much wanted to build was at Lake Merced due to its wonderful terrain. The club says that the design contract went to Willie Lock. However, newspaper accounts stated that Watson was superintendent of construction:
16 February 1922 San Francisco Call By FRANK P. NOON
“WITHIN five years California will be known as the “golfing state,” according to William Watson, nationally known golf authority and links architect, who is here to superintend the construction of the Lake Merced Country Club’s course and to rearrange several others.”
Watson was known to provide consulting services to Lock to provide him routing advice, for which Watson was unequaled. In 1916 Lock was listed as the club professional at Sequoyah Country Club, which could be played for 50 cents.
Watson was called back to Minneapolis in 1909 to design Interlachen, which sported his trademark design of a large double green, at the 9th and 18th holes. The green was 175 feet deep and 100 feet wide. The club opened with great fanfare, according to the verbatim club president’s report printed in the Minneapolis Journal. (In 1919 Donald Ross was hired to re-route the course and Bobby Jones won the 1930 U.S. Open on the way to his Grand Slam. Ross’ new 9th over a pond became the scene of Jones’ famous Lily Pad shot. Jones was attempting to reach the par-5 9th in two shots when two spectators ran onto the fairway during his swing. He mishit the ball toward the lake where it fell about twenty yards short of dry ground. Incredibly, the ball skipped off a lily pad and onto the far bank, just thirty yards short of the green. Jones would get up-and-down for an unlikely birdie).
In 1906 William Watson married Ada Grace Sanborn from Hebron, New Hampshire. He was 46 and she was 34. Ada quickly became a major factor in their business. In 1913 Ada took over the golf equipment company and moved their one-room office to the Knickerbocker building on South Olive St. in downtown L.A., taking over half the eighth floor (seven rooms) in 1922. Now, Watson could devote all his time to designing and constructing golf courses. Ada visited some work sites with him to learn the supply-side of the construction business and began ordering the construction supplies. For example, in Watson’s 1911-1912 building of Westmoreland Country Club in Evanston, IL, Ada obtained the raw material to make a 25-foot-deep gravel bed under the golf course.
This 1912 piece in American Golfer Magazine added more about Westmoreland Country Club:
“Active work on the grounds of the Westmoreland Country Club golf course one mile west of Evanston will be started in about a month according to announcement made by the officials recently. All preliminary work possible has been completed and all that is holding back the other is the arrival of William Watson, the professional who is to lay out the course and who has been arranging a course at Altadena, Cal. The Westmoreland club is, for the greater part, made up of members of the Evanston Golf Club, who are making the change because they feel their hold upon the present location is insecure, and they wish to get a permanent home. The land, which consists of 121 acres and lies between the Glen View car line and the Glen View road, was purchased outright in preference to leasing. The course will not be ready for play until next year and those members of the Evanston club who belong to the new organization will continue at Evanston this season. The land is considered among the best in this part of the county for a course and the members are expecting to have unusually good conditions for play. The course will be about the longest in the vicinity. At first the members will use the Glen View electric line for transportation but hope to obtain other means of getting to the club later. It will be a country club in every respect, and will be equipped for other sports beside golf, and the club house will be kept open the year round. As soon as the frost is out of the ground, work will be started get-ting things into shape for Watson. English grasses will be used exclusively on the course, seed having already been imported for that purpose. The club house will not be built until fall, as it is not considered necessary to erect so long be-fore the course is ready for play. Already there are about 250 members in the new club and as the limit is 350 there is room for only about 100 more. It is thought there will be little difficulty in filling the list. A tentative plan is calling for a distance of 6,442 yards. Watson, with the aid of maps of various local courses and a plan of the grounds, has outlined a course of this length”.
A 1921 view of the 16th green at Westmoreland after Tillinghast and Langford added bunkers Another innovation that Ada helped in was the revolutionary design of green foundations described in this 1911 issue of American Golfer magazine:
“In the new golf course at the Altadena Country Club, recently laid out by William Watson and said to be the finest on the Pacific Coast, there is a putting green innovation that is calculated to conquer climatic conditions. The putting greens are built upon a foundation of crushed rock and are eighty feet in diameter. The drainage of the putting areas and the fair greens will make the course safe in any kind of weather. The course is 6,566 yards long. A club house to cost $25,000 soon will be built.”
American Golfer magazine reported middle western news in December 1913 that showed Watson’s newest contracts:
“Preliminary steps have been taken in the formation of the Moorland Golf and Country Club. The promoters have obtained an option on 230 acres located just south of the Homewood Country Club. It is planned to purchase the ground outright and this will necessitate an outlay of $100,000, the cost of the ground being $70,000. Originally it was planned to sell memberships at $250, but at this season of the year the demand is not as keen as in the spring and a holding company will be formed which will advance the first payments on the option. William Watson and Tom Bendelow, the golf course architects, have been over the property and pronounce it admirably fitted for golfing purposes.”
“Bernard Darwin, the English critic, after playing over the Onwentsia club course, pronounced it entirely too easy. His opinion may have had some weight with the directors, as William Watson, the California expert, has been engaged to make improvements which will consist largely of additional traps and mounds. William Marshall, the club professional, has just completed a tour of some of the leading eastern and middle western courses, among these being the Detroit Country Club and the Mayfield course of Cleveland, both of which drew high praise from Edward Ray, the English player. Marshall will confer with Watson and their suggestions will be acted on by the green committee”.
The Los Angeles Herald reported in November 1912 that Watson would be wintering in Pasadena area: “The Raymond hotel will open for the winter season December 19. Already a large list of guests have been booked. The golf links are being placed in first class condition and William Watson has been secured as golf instructor”.
This piece appeared in the March 2013 American Golfer:
“Thirty businessmen of Tucson, Arizona, at a meeting held last month at the Santa Rita hotel, took the preliminary steps in the formation of a Country Club. A committee was appointed to outline a plan of organization and to draft a constitution and by-laws. Preceding the meeting William Watson, the Los Angeles golf course expert, visited a number of available sites and recommended the Stewart property, located about three miles from the city. Mr. Donau announced he had secured an option on 145 acres of this land and on 80 acres additionally adjoining. Watson stated that the Stewart property would furnish a course similar to those at Pinehurst”.
Tucson Golf and Country Club was built by Watson and opened the next year. The course was mostly sand and the greens were oiled sand with rakes covered with carpet used to smooth the putting line to the hole. Winds sometimes created sandstorms and the greens had to be regularly oiled to keep them in place. The club shut down during World War II.
Tucson Golf and Country Club taken from the air in 1929 In the summer of 1914, The Chicago Club arranged for Watson to be ‘professional in charge’ of their Charlevoix (Mich.) Golf Club whose links, on the north side of Charlevoix, were gaining a national reputation for routing and course condition. Watson returned seasonally to the Charlevoix Golf Club from 1914 until 1935.
Also, in 1914 Watson built a nine-hole sand green course at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena the same year the hotel was opened by Henry Huntington. The hotel was the finest winter retreat for the wealthy in the west. Customers came from major cities in the east and mid-west. Called the Huntington Country Club and Huntington Links, it was exclusively for hotel guests and Watson was listed as the club professional in the 1916 American Annual Golf Guide. The Huntington Hotel in Pasadena Within the 75 acres that Henry Huntington owned was a grinding mill built in 1816. Called the Old Mill and standing a half-mile from the hotel, became the clubhouse for Watson’s golf course
(today it is a historic site called El Molino Viejo which is open for tours). The Old Mill The Huntington Links had wonderful hills and was so popular with the guests that the plan was to expand to 18-holes. However, Huntington also formed the ‘Oak Knoll Improvement company’ across the street from the hotel. It was a luxury area of upscale houses and mansions which he built. In 1918, Huntington saw an opportunity in real estate and abruptly sub-divided all his golf course land and sold off parcels for additional high-end homes. He also sold his hotel, which remains a 5-star part of the Langham collection — The Langham Huntington, Pasadena.
South of Chicago, Olympia Fields founder Charles Beach had a dream of building the largest country club in the world. With nearly 700 acres, Beach decided to make Olympia Fields the first private club in America to offer its members four 18-hole courses all built by well-known Scottish Americans. His clubhouse was built to 110,000 square feet – the largest private golf clubhouse in the world complete with an 80-foot clock tower. (another reference put the square footage closer to 200,000).
The first course was designed by Tom Bendelow and opened in 1916. Bendelow had emigrated from Aberdeen Scotland and gained fame while selling golf equipment for A.G. Spalding. In order to drive sales for golf equipment, he laid-out hundreds of courses, many in one day each with stakes for tees, fairways and greens. He quickly graduated to becoming Spalding’s Director of Golf Course Development at its Chicago headquarters. He is especially remembered for carefully designing the first versions of Medinah’s #1, 2 and 3 courses and for the Eastlake Golf Course in Atlanta that was the first Atlanta Athletic Club. His total golf course count exceeded 700 in his 35-year American career.
Tom Bendelow (1868-1936)
James Foulis, Jr arrived at Olympia Fields in 1917 as head professional and construction supervisor. Watson designed the second course at Olympia Fields in 1918. Bendelow and Watson collaborated on the third course that opened in 1920. Then came the big finish – a course along the northern edge of the property designed by famed Scottish golf architect Willie Park Jr. opened in 1922. It is Park’s North Course that has continued to host big championships.
American Golfer, April 1921 issue reported—”Two courses from plans by William Watson and Tom Bendelow were started and the work was carried forward rapidly. In 1917 James Foulis, Jr., came to the club as professional, and under his construction supervision the No. 1 and No. 2 courses were completed and put in first-class shape, and the No. 3 course was constructed and opened for play in June of 1920.”
“Park was first hired in 1919 by the club to review and modify the first three courses, concentrating on No. 3,” wrote Tim Cronin, author of “Golf Under the Clock Tower.” “Park spent four days and came up with improvements for all three. The minutes aren’t specific, but the presumption is that the board liked his work so much, they hired him for No. 4.”
Park, a two-time Open champion, eventually spent 40 days on property to oversee Olympia Fields’ signature course. It was one of his last designs – and one of his best. “I am satisfied now that your Number IV Course is the equal of any golf course I have ever seen,” Park once wrote, “and I know of none that is superior, either in beauty or natural terrain.”
After World War II, Olympia Fields faced economic hardships and sold off half of its land, keeping the No. 4 course intact while creating a composite South course from holes used on the
other three courses. Most of Watson’s work was lost in the downsizing and only a couple of his holes remain on the South Course. Diablo Country Club in Northern California (the Mt. Diablo name was shortened) recently renovated its Watson-designed course back to its original layout, work performed by golf course architect Todd Eckenrode. The club shared the design drawing by Watson from 1920 below. Diablo Country Club design by Watson
Also, in 1920, the Hacienda Golf Club in an area near Whittier, Fullerton and Anaheim was created and as written by founding member Dr. Herbert Tebbetts, the club reversed supervision roles. It hired Billy Bell to supervise Watson in constructing the first nine holes. According to the Whittier Daily News in 1924 just Watson was brought back to design the back-9 through barrancas and canyons. Having personally just played the course, the back-9 clearly is different than the front. The 380-yard 15th and 200-yard 16th are spectacular designs.
La Habra Star, 16 June 1920 NEW GOLF COURSE ‘DIFFERENT’ IS PROMISE
“The Hacienda Country Club is no longer a possibility, but a reality, announces the president, Alonzo Bell, ex-tennis champion. About 150 acres have been secured north of La Habra, in a valley surrounded by hills opening toward the setting sun, giving the long twilight much
appreciated by business golfers. William Watson, who is laying out the course, declares it will be a sporty one and that it will utilize many natural canyons and undulations. The length between holes will be as follows: One, 458 yards; two, 82b yards: three, 351 yards; four, 160 yards: live, 335 yards; six. 508 yams seven, 137 yards; eight, 430 yards; nine, 371 yards; ten 342 yards; eleven, 400 yards; twelve, 314 yards, thirteen, 125 yards; fourteen, 393 yards: fifteen. 194 yards, sixteen, 480 yards: seventeen, 381 yards; eighteen, 447 yards; total. 6152 yards. Two nines that balance are quite a hobby with Mr. Watson, he having achieved the same result in the San Gabriel Country Club’s newly arranged course. Each hole will have its own particular feature, and the entire course will have grass greens and fairways, and in many ways will be different from any other Southern California course.”
15th tee shot at Hacienda Golf Club
In 1920 Robert Hunter found hilly land that would become Berkeley Country Club. Hunter gave credit to William Watson as the architect and Hunter was construction supervisor, yet Watson himself once stated that when he was engaged as architect, he found little to alter in Hunter’s plans. Hunter had even made models of each green. (Hunter is well-known for his co-design credits with Alister Mackenzie on Cypress Point Club, the Meadow Club and Valley Club of Montecito).
San Francisco Call, April 1921 reported on Watson’s work at Berkeley Country Club
GROUND BROKEN FOR GOLF CLUB; Work On Links Under Way at Berkeley Country Club
“Ground has been broken for the construction of the Berkeley Country Club and President C. C. Newkirk of the club declared that the building operations will be speeded up as much as possible in order to house the members on the golf course at the very earliest date that good work will allow. “The golf course of the Berkeley Country Club, which is still under construction, nine holes being nearly completed, has been visited by a great number of golf experts and all agree that we have one of the choicest courses that ever lay outdoors,” President Newkirk said. ” For this splendid result we have to thank William Watson. who laid out the course, and his assistant, James S. Watson, who has been superintendent of construction from the beginning, Robert Hunter, secretary of the club, has contributed vastly to the success of the undertaking by his advice, his knowledge being founded on experience by playing over nearly every golf course of prominence in America and abroad. Joseph F. Brooks, vice president of the club, has rendered invaluable service in every department of the work. Among the members of the board, as well as of the club, there has been manifested a fine spirit of co-operation, the enthusiasm being remarkable. The other members of the board of directors, in addition to those mentioned, are Fred G. Athearn, William Cavalier, E. M. Downer, A. F. Hockenbeame*. James B. Keister, E. F. Eouideck, W. J. Mortimer, Frank L. Naylor and Vernon Peck, all of whom have devoted much time and energy to the development of the beautiful property of the club, which comprises 165 acres.”
Watson also designed the San Diego Country Club as described in the San Francisco Call, 22 August 1921
GOLF CLUB TO BE OPENED IN SOUTH; San Diego Course Ready for Play on September 3
SAN DIEGO, Aug. 22.—Another golf course -will be added to the long list of southern California links when the San Diego Country Club opens its new course with a tournament September 3, 4 and 5. The course is within convenient distance of San Diego and affords a view of ocean and mountains. Experts declare it to be strictly Scottish. Approximately $250,000 has been invested by the club in the course, there being 160 acres of land. and a $50,000 clubhouse on the property. Three tennis courts are being built at the clubhouse. The course was designed by William Watson of Los Angeles and will be in charge of “Jimmy” Simpson, one of the best-known professionals on the Pacific coast. The yardage for the course is as follows: First hole, 360; second, 410: third. 164: fourth. 505; fifth, 388; sixth, 186; seventh. 318; eighth, 465; ninth. 385; tenth. 480; eleventh. 320: twelfth, 198; thirteenth. 449; fourteenth, 382; fifteenth, 525; sixteenth. 139; seventeenth. 321; eighteenth. 425. The eighteenth hole is declared to be one of the most remarkable on the coast, being well trapped and with the natural undulating fairway affording a keen test to the experienced golfer. The sixth hole also plays a prominent part in contributing to, what experts’ term, a “sporty” course. The three and one-half miles of fairway, sufficiently wide at all points, is all in grass, kept green by seven miles of water piping, while the greens themselves are a vast expanse of velvety turf. The course is composed of two big nine-hole loops, which will have “right of way” at all points, crossing neither each other nor being crossed by any roadways. Par for the new course is 36 on each nine and this will give contestants something to shoot at, as par is figured on yardage alone, no consideration being given the hazards. The total yardage is 6420 for the eighteen holes.
Watson at San Diego Country Club
Also, in 1921, Watson’s new Virginia Country Club opened as reported in this article:
Los Angeles Herald, 30 August 1921 NEW VIRGINIA LINKS OPEN THURSDAY; Long Beach Club Will Add Classy Course to Ranks of So. Cal. Golf Organizations
By E. W. KRAUCH Another new golf course with grass greens and tees will be officially added to the ranks of the Southern California Golf Association Thursday, when the links of the Virginia Country club at
Long Beach are thrown open for play. And at the same time the old course of the beach club, where many championship events have been staged in the last 12 years, will be formally placed in the discard.
The new course Is located on a site practically adjoining the old affair. It Is 6424 yards in length. It covers 135 acres. William Watson, considered one of the best golf course experts in the country, laid out the
links and had full charge of all construction work. Professionals who have looked over the course during the last few weeks declare it to be a truly championship affair and there is but little doubt that it will be
the scene of many title events in coming years. A new clubhouse has also been constructed and will be formally opened Wednesday night, at which, time a big dinner dance is to be held with over 300
attending. Galen H. Welch is president; Dr. A. C. Sellery, vice president, and Phillip McCaughan, secretary and treasurer. The board of directors Is made up of the following members: Llewellyn Bixby, William
W. Campbell. C. J. Curtis, Col. Charles K. Drake, Dr. A C. Holladay and Ed J. Gillette. The present membership of the club is 360. with a limit set at 400. Dr. A. C. Bellery has been appointed chairman of the
green committee, which is composed of Llewellyn Bixby and C. J. Curtis. How many persons are members of golf clubs in Southern California who have never played the royal and ancient game to date?
There probably are a few in every club who hold membership cards but have yet to play their first game. The Virginia Country club at Long Beach has one member who has been connected with the beach
club for close to 12 now and has yet to feel the thrill that goes with a perfectly hit ball. He is Dr. W. Harrison Jones, one of the men who was Instrumental in organizing the beach club some 12 years ago. “I
have not yet got to it,” was the reply I got.”
“Here is the yardage of the new Virginia Country club course at Long Beach:
Hole Par Length Hole Par Length
1 5 560 10 3 160
2 4 436 11 4 358
3 3 193 12 5 434
4 4 341 13 4 374
5 4 400 14 5 554
6 4 375 15 3 163
7 3 128 16 4 416
8 4 385 17 4 365
9 4 328 18 4 435
The grand opening of the California Country Club reconstructed by Watson was announced in this article in the Los Angeles Herald on 12 March 1921:
Members of the exclusive California Country club will tonight enjoy for the first time their new club home, the occasion being the formal opening of the building. Tomorrow they may play on their reconstructed
18-hole links. The club site is composed of 57 acres near National boulevard at the western outskirts of the city. The building itself crowns the brow of the highest point between the city and the beach and
commands a view of the Wilshire district, the ocean and the beach towns all the way from Santa Monica to El Segundo. While the building of the clubhouse has been going on the course has been entirely
reconstructed by William Watson, famous golf course expert. And while the links bear the reputation of being one of the “sportiest” in Southern California because of its hills and natural hazards. Mr. Watson
has added nearly a hundred sand pits, chocolate drops and bunkers to enhance the enjoyment of the game. Many experts claim the course to be unsurpassed. EASILY ACCESSIBLE The club’s proximity to
the city makes It easily accessible while its position gives it the advantage of the cool ocean breezes in summer, the golf season. The officers of the club are Harry H. Culver, president, Watt L. Moreland. vice
president: Harry McNutt, secretary: John C. Carson, treasurer.
San Francisco Call, 14 March 1921;WORK ON SEMI-MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE NEAR OAKLAND TO START WITHIN FORTNIGHT New Links Situated “Twenty Minutes From Oakland”; William Watson,
Noted Designer, to Draw Up Plans and Superintend Construction Work By FRANK P. NOON
“WORK on a semi-municipal golf course “twenty minutes from Oakland” will commence within a fortnight, it was learned today. The course will be a nine-hole affair of 3100 yards, situated on the east of
Foothill boulevard, between Ninety-second and Ninety-fourth avenues. William Watson, well known here and in the West as a golf course designer, expressed himself as pleased with the “location” and
predicted that with a few minor changes the proposed course could be made into one of championship caliber.
The new club will be known as the Beverly Terrace Golf Club. W. I. McNicoll, well known here and across the bay in golfing circles has been appointed secretary pro tem. A charter membership list has been
started and persons here and in the transbay cities may secure further details of the club, etc., by communicating with McNicoll, at’ the offices of the Tribune in Oakland. The idea permeating the directors of
the club is to keep the cost within the reach of golfers unable to join even the least expensive of local and transbay golf and country clubs. To meet such a demand, it will not be necessary to supply inferior
greens, fairways or tees, as many might believe necessary where the initiation fee is reduced to the minimum. The clubhouse as proposed by the directors will consist chiefly of locker and lounge rooms. The
initiation fee will be $60 according to McNicoll, who points out that but 200 members will be taken in at that fee. Watson. who will supervise the construction of the work on the new course, is now constructing
the new Berkeley Country Club course, as well as remodeling the Claremont and Mount Diablo course. During the past few years Watson has designed and laid out such courses in Southern California as
Annandale, San Gabriel, Flint Ridge. Hill Crest and San Diego, as well as
numerous courses in and around Chicago. The idea of starting this semi-municipal course, McNicoll points out. is not to discourage direct municipal course constructon. hut rather to encourage civic
authorities to construct similar courses where people of limited means may play golf without having to pay exorbitant prices, such as membership fees and other incidental expenses incurred in joining the
Watson also grassed the Coronado Country Club course by the end of 1920 as reported locally: “A study of the program will show Coronado players and the visitors who will come here from all parts of the
country that a season of splendid sport is in store for them. Invitation Tournament New Year’s Day, 1921– Opening of new Grass Course by architect William Watson.” This course was shut down in 1952 and
sold as Country Club Estates by the Spreckels Estate.
1920 to 1933 was the era of Prohibition of alcohol in America and developers were looking to build resorts in Mexico just south of San Diego. Also, in 1921 this San Diego article announced that Watson
became architect for a Rio Rosarito Organization Selected a site in Baja Mexico:
By E. W. KRAUCH “New golf clubs are sprinkling up like weeds in all sections of Southern California, but the latest in this territory is down in Lower California, about 25 miles due south of San Diego. This
club, which is to be known as the Rio Rosarito Golf and Field club, has just been organized and is backed by a large number of big businessmen and sportsmen from all over the country. A 500-acre site of
the famous Rancho Rosarito, located on the ocean, just below the border, has been acquired by this organization and it is planned to eventually put in four separate golf courses of 18 holes each. Besides the
links, numerous other sporting contraptions, such as handball courts, tennis courts, blue rock traps and others, will be installed to take care of the members. (Note: Today it is known as Real Del Mar Resort
near Ensenada). TO LAY OUT COURSE The acreage covers both flat and rolling country and over this land officials of the club will lay out the proposed golf courses. The first 18 holes are now being laid out
by William Watson, one of the golf course architects in the and actual construction work Will be started in a short time. Watson has looked over the land and declares that conditions at this spot for golf are as
ideal aa anywhere on the North American continent. All-year golf is a certainty. One course is being laid out on the shore line, representing conditions in Scotland, with the level ground for fair greens and the
fairways cut with natural canyons, sand dunes and gorges for hazards. The other three links will be built combining the level ground with hilly, rolling land a little farther back from the ocean.”
This article in the San Francisco Call, 12 May 1922 debunks the frequent claim that Willie Lock designed the Encinal Golf and Country Club course:
WORK ON ENCINAL COURSE STARTS; McLEOD TO DIRECT CONSTRUCTION By FRANK P. NOON; “THE site of the proposed Encinal Golf and Country Club course on Bay Farm Island (Alameda),
across the bay, reveals a veritable golfers’ paradise. The rolling ground is covered with a rich crop of grain and William Watson, the Chicago golf architect, has expressed himself as being highly pleased with
the quality of the soil. Watson today appointed Jack McLeod to superintend the construction of the course. McLeod has been in charge of the reconstruction work at the Burlingame Country Club and is said to
be quite expert in his work. The original site that was being considered on another part of
the island was abandoned after consultation with Watson and other golf experts As most of those behind the project held out for the seaside course, the board of directors officially approved the new site and
ordered Watson to start the construction work Immediately, So far as seaside courses are concerned, it is expected by those in charge of the construction work that new course will be superior to the
Lakeside and Pebble Beach courses. At the Encinal course you may step off the tee at the tenth and got a handful of the finest of white sand, still wet from the receding tide with which to tee up your ball and
drive a screamer down the fairway, with the salt of the sea bracing you. The combination of rich peat soil and an unlimited supply of sand will make this new course one of the finest on the coast. Watson’s
greens are all patterned after famous holes on Scotch and English courses, and great care has been given to the location of the tees, which will also conform to best models at home and abroad. Watson
considers the location of his tees as seriously as he does the placing of his greens. As the first essential of a modern golf course is a cheap and sufficient water supply, the Encinal course in this respect is
ideally situated. Wells with an unlimited supply of water have been located. The essential conditions to make the Encinal course the future scene of championships are many. Climate, soil, and a plentiful
supply of water gives Watson the opportunity to create a second St Andrews. Louis James, president of the club, announced today that the membership fee for the first 200 members would be $500, the next
fifty $550, the next hundred $600 and the last fifty $750. Membership in the club is proprietary. Monthly dues will be $l0 payable from the date on which 200 members have been elected to membership.
Information regarding membership in the club may be obtained by addressing the secretary, Encinal Golf and Country Club, 816 Syndicate building, Oakland.”
Another of Watson’s best-known surviving courses is Orinda Country Club that he designed in 1924 and that Eckenrode restored in 2015-2016. The longtime golf course superintendent Josh Smith
summed-up his course by saying, “Watson’s routing here is particularly impressive. He went up and down and around the hills and over creek crossings but created a nice walk and with no two holes alike.
Watson clearly cared about the variety of holes and especially the par-3’s, including a short one that was challenging. He also didn’t overuse bunkers.”
Meanwhile, at The Olympic Club, the existing course on the Lake was unsatisfactory, with too many blind shots and poor routing. Both Seth Raynor and Herbert Fowler proposed plans for changes to the
layout. Nothing progressed until after the club purchased over 300 acres of land that William Watson laid out as two new courses, the Lake and the Ocean as reported in this article:
San Francisco Call; 26 April 1922 PLANS FOR 0. C. LINKS WHITING TO SUPERVISE WORK By FRANK P. NOON
“THE plans recently drawn bv Sam Whiting. Olympic Club pro. and William Watson, Los Angeles golf architect, for the new course at Lakeside have been officially approved by the board of directors and the
golf committee of the Olympic Club, it was learned today. Work will start within a fortnight. Plans for the piping of the course are practically completed it was stated, and the members of the golf committee are
anxious for the work
to get under way. Members of the Olympic Club and the Lakeside Golf Club will be to play eighteen holes throughout the period of construction, it was explained. Upon completion of the “Lake” course work will
commence on the, “Ocean” course, giving the Olympiads who go in for golf thirty-six new holes to play. The announcement that work will commence on the new course will be received with much
enthusiasm by the members of the Post street club. Sam Whiting will supervise the construction of the course.”
The courses were built in 1922-1923 using bent grass on the greens and fescue in the fairways. The Lake and Ocean courses opened in May 1924 and were heralded as the ‘St. Andrews of America’ in the
San Francisco Chronicle. But, in February 1925, portions of the holes on the West side of Skyline Boulevard were damaged by heavy rains. Another slide-induced rainstorm in February 1926, and a
subsequent geologist’s report on the cliffs proved that changes had to be made to both courses. Whiting, working on his own, drew-up plans later that year for what is now considered the Lake Course.
In 1924 Watson did a total remodel of San Jose Country Club. At the same time, Watson designed Harding Park, a municipal course with Whiting as his construction supervisor. That opened on July 18, 1925,
nearly two years after President Warren Harding — a widely scorned leader and avid golfer — died at the Palace Hotel while visiting San Francisco. Watson’s fee was $300. Construction costs were about
$295,000. It was the site of the 2020 PGA Championship.
By 1925, Watson’s reputation as golf course architect had earned him national distinction and his counsel was requested by some well-known designers of the time, including George C. Thomas, Donald
Ross, Billy Bell, Tom Bendelow, Sam Whiting, Willie Lock and Robert Hunter. Since his first American design in 1898, Watson had laid out more than 100 golf courses throughout the United States.
Los Angeles Athletic Club decided to build a golf course for its members, which later became Riviera CC. Watson was the early years consultant to LAAC and his routing plan was approved. George C
Thomas and Billy Bell completed their own design and completed construction in 1925-1926, but much of Watson’s routing was retained.
Watson continued to place advertisements in American Golfer magazine, sometimes marketing an economical approach to design as in this one:
In 1924 Watson designed Westward Ho Golf Club in Sawtelle (now West Los Angeles) as a nine-hole private course on 25 acres. It later became public and then was purchased by developer George
Cordnely, Sr and bulldozed by his building crews in 1951 to build more apartments/condos. Land there today is worth billions. Watson would spend twenty-two summer seasons in Charlevoix, yet Belvedere
Golf Club is his only known original Michigan design. By early 1926, the design work for Belvedere was completed.
Watson’s drawing of Belvedere’s 11th hole (Compliments of Golf Course Architecture in America by G.C. Thomas) In the summer of 1927, Belvedere Golf Club officially opened, and Watson, at age 67, was
retained as its first professional. Watson fulfilled dual professional responsibilities at both the Belvedere Golf Club and the Charlevoix Golf Club seasonally from 1927 – 1930. He would arrive in Charlevoix in
late June and leave for California about a week after Labor Day. Watson probably would have continued designing golf links, but the stock market crash of 1929 shut down the creation of new courses.
Watson’s last known design was the El Sobrante Golf Club in San Pablo, CA in 1929, which would have been beautiful, but it was never completed due to the Great Depression. The Oakland papers were
enthusiastic, not knowing of the looming crash:
“Sponsored by a group of prominent Oakland businessmen formed a new golf club for the East- bay was formally announced in March 1929 by John G. Shipp, secretary of the newly-formed organization. The
El Sobrante Golf club, as It will be known, will boast of a complete 18-hole course plotted by William Watson, famous San Francisco and Los Angeles golf architect, situated on 216 acres of ideally adaptable
land in a protected valley just north of the San Pablo Dam highway and within an hour’s drive
from the heart of Oakland. Construction will proceed as rapidly as possible and it is expected that the course will be open for play not later than September 1, 1930.”
He had one last remodel left in him at age 70 as reported in the Morning Call in May 1930:
“New turf greens and fairways are planned at the Santa Barbara Country club as the result of a meeting of the board of directors held yesterday. The financial condition of the club was reported in excellent
shape and information given out that the directors plan a number of noteworthy improvements on the links this summer. A report was read from William Watson, the noted golf architect who is now at
Annandale. wherein details were outlined along broad interesting lines for the new grounds already proposed for the club. Mr. Watson will have charge of the Santa Barbara Country club improvements.
He then designed Charlevoix Golf Club in Michigan. Watson spent his later winters at his West Los Angeles home at 1111 Whitworth Drive, with his wife Ada and summers at Charlevoix. He died at his Los
Angeles home at age 81 on September 2, 1941. He is buried at Pacific Crest Cemetery, Redondo Beach, CA in the Pacific Mausoleum.
About his first name Two sources, one of them the late golf historian Tom MacWood, said that although Watson was sometimes called ‘Willie’, he detested the name because when Watson came to this
country, he was 38, a grown man. Back in those days, according to George Thomas— “calling an educated gentleman older than him, ‘Willie’ would have been viewed as disrespectful.” Furthermore, in all the
many references that I found on Watson, he always was referred to as William. However, use of “Willie” has persisted to this day. Watson’s architectural style The man’s architecture has been described as
classic and strategic in design. He particularly admired for his routing. He excelled at using natural landforms to shape the contours of fairways and roughs, as a way of running the ball off them, away to more
difficult next shots. Alternatively, the golfer could attempt to carry these features, if bold or skilled enough. His reputation was that he created extremely difficult courses that were heavily bunkered but
Architect Todd Eckenrode is a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and his Origins Golf Design team has grown tremendously in Southern and Northern California. Besides other
famous courses such as Brentwood Country Club, Todd has restored six courses where Watson was the original designer, including Virginia Country Club in Long Beach. “His name, his star, is certainly
rising,” he said. “As we all got interested in architecture in the last decade or two, we are finding these gems like Orinda, Diablo, Harding Park and Belvedere.”
Eckenrode named two major features of William’s designs: “Number one, Watson utilized the bold, often severe features of the existing terrain beautifully in his routings,” he said. “He wasn’t afraid to play
along a sweeping hillside or up and over a ridge. He understood how to align a golf hole that would take maximum advantage of the contours and kick-slopes and would reward a
player who could figure that out. He had a wonderful way of using diagonals, of rewarding the player who recognized the proper angle.
“Number two, he never practiced a cookie-cutter approach to design. He was terrific in using the land’s natural features, but he was also skilled at creating features when needed. For example, at Orinda and
Diablo, in Northern California, he brought in the tractors and created wonderfully irregular greenside mounds that tied in superbly to the green contours. Just off the green, between the mounds, he constructed
closely mown swales that pull the ball away from the green. It inevitably led to interesting recovery shots.”
Country Club magazine wrote in 1925, “(Watson) holds the belief that a course is more interesting if every green has a character all its own, giving the player something besides the flag to rest his eye on in
approaching the hole.” When William spoke to the press while building San Diego Country Club in 1920, he said, “I design by the situation and natural features of the land. I also want each hole of a course to
be unique and with different feature when completed. Also, my ambition is to site the courses of California to vie with the links of Florida and the south as attractions for American golf enthusiasts.” He added:
“My Annandale course reconstruction was my first attempt to bring a real course to Los Angeles and it was so appreciated that I have done reconstruction work at Virginia Club in Long Beach, Flint Ridge, San
Gabriel and the California Golf Club. With San Diego Country Club where the site offers great contours much to my liking, I will build my first entirely grassed course in the region.
“Remember, that Watson spanned two generations of architecture,” Todd said. “He was prolific pre-1920 and post-1920.”
David Mackesey of Diablo Country Club added: “In those early years, he didn’t have motorized vehicles to take care of the course. Pre-World War I, you didn’t use severe elevations because it was too hard to
After 1920, he began utilizing bolder parts of a property, with elevated tees, elevated greens and the occasional blind shot.” Said, Mackesey.
So why isn’t Watson better known? Eckenrode theorizes that much of Watson’s outstanding work was eclipsed by other designers. “A lot of Watson’s best work was done before the mid-1920s” Eckenrode
said. “There were a lot of great architects who followed in the mid- and late 1920s. He fell victim to clubs wanting to enhance or change what they had, so much of his really good work went away.”
“Much of what he did was changed or replaced,” agreed Mackesey. “He hasn’t had a widely recognized signature course available for the golf world to study. That has all changed now that Diablo Country
Club has restored and honored Watson’s impressive work on our links.”
In addition, nearly all the important tournaments from 1900-1928, as well as the publications of the day, revolved around the East Coast, and to a lesser extent, the Midwest. The U. S. Amateur and the PGA
Championship did not venture west until 1929, and the U.S. Open until 1948.
Watson’s Minikahda played host to the 1916 U.S. Open and to the 1927 U.S. Amateur, won by Bobby Jones, but architects generally didn’t enjoy the celebrity they do today. Olympia Fields number 3, a 1920
William Watson design, hosted the 2013 U.S. Open, but the club reports that none of his original layout remains today.
Watson embraced a minimalist design philosophy, where golf holes were found and not built. He disliked artificiality. Every bunker and mound he constructed had a purpose. Some shapes were simple,
others more complex, but always he insisted on naturalness.
William Watson was a significant pioneer in bringing the game to enthusiastic American golfers. It is time for more of today’s golfers to recognize him for his accomplishments.
San Diego Country Club’s grassed course in 1925
In his 30 years of golf course design he worked in 15 states with this breakdown: CA 68, IL 12, MN 8, NY 4, AZ 3, CO 3, MI 3, WI 2. Additionally, one course each in OR, UT, MO, ND, WA, VA, NM and Baja
Thanks to a great deal of research by Dennis “Marty” Joy II, the Head Professional at Belvedere, below is his chronological list of William Watson designs and renovations (with corrections made during my
research): Hexham Golf Club – Hexham, Northumberland, England 1892
• The Minikahda Club – Minneapolis, MN 1898 (w/Foulis)
• Hollywood Country Club – Hollywood, CA 1898
• Casa Loma – Redlands, CA 1899
• Ferndale Course – Ferndale, MN 1899 (6-hole course)
• Hotel Green – Pasadena, CA 1899 (r)
• Bryn Mawr Golf Club – Minneapolis, MN 1899 (r) (Lasted ten years as members joined Minikahda and Interlachen.)
• Hotel Raymond – Pasadena, CA 1900 & 1901 (r)
• Pasadena Golf Club – Pasadena, CA 1900 (r) & 1920 (r) and since 1946 is the Altadena Town and CC)
• Garvanza Links – Pasadena, CA 1901, (The 9-hole course was the first public course in the west).
• Seattle Golf Club – Laurelhurst, WA 1901, (9-holes, moved eight years later and the new course was designed by the head professional Bob Johnstone.)
• Menlo Golf Club – Redwood City, CA 1901
• L.A. Golf Links – Pasadena, CA 1902
• Alexandria Golf Club – Alexandria, VA 1903 (r)
• Hotel Frontenac Golf Club – Round Island, NY 1904 (r ex)
• Presidio – San Francisco, CA, (9-holes built by military around 1896, then by Bob Johnstone in 1901. Rebuilt by Watson in 1905. Expanded to 18 holes by Johnstone in 1910).
• Shawnee Country Club – Lima, OH 1905 (r)
• Annandale Golf Club – Pasadena, CA 1906: 1919 (r) Greens re-done by Jock Croke and tees sodded by Billy Bell in 1922
• Denver Country Club – Denver, CO 1907 (r)
• La Cumbre Golf Club – Santa Barbara, CA 1908
• Interlachen Country Club – Edina, MN 1909
• Toledo Country Club – Toledo, OH 1909 (r & ex)
• Virginia Country Club first site, now Recreation Park GC – Long Beach, CA 1909
• Homewood Country Club – Homewood, IL 1910 (r) (now Flossmoor)
• Brentwood Country Club – Brentwood, CA 1910
• Westmoreland Country Club – Wilmette, IL 1911
• The La Crosse Club – La Crosse, WI 1912
• The Albuquerque Commercial Club Golf Links – Albuquerque, NM 1912
• Altadena Country Club –Altadena, CA 1912 (later Pasadena Golf Club and in 1946 changed to Altadena Town and CC)
• Ravisloe Country Club (Public) – Homewood, IL 1912 (r) Remodeled later by Donald Ross
• Thousand Islands Country Club – Alexandria Bay, NY 1913 (r)
• Midwick Golf Club – Los Angeles, CA 1913
• Moorland Golf & Country Club – Homewood, IL 1913 (w/Bendelow)
• The Golf Links – Wellesley Island, NY 1913
• San Marcos Hotel Golf Course – Chandler, AZ 1913 (w/Harry Collis)
• The Huntington – Pasadena, CA 1914 (9-holes for guests of the finest winter resort for the wealthy. Listed as the club professional in the 1916 American Annual Golf Guide. 2,600 yards with sand greens for
• Lincoln Park – San Francisco, CA 1914 & 1922 (r)
• Evanston Golf Club – Evanston, IL 1914 (r & ex)
• Fargo Country Club – Fargo, ND 1914
• Tucson Golf and Country Club – Tucson AZ 1914
• Onwentsia Club – Lake Forest, IL 1914 (r)
• Kalamazoo Country Club – Kalamazoo, MI 1915 (r & ex)
• White Bear Yacht Club – White Bear Lake, MN 1915 (w/Ross)
• Olympia Fields Country Club #1 – Olympia Fields, IL 1916 (r & ex w/Bendelow, but their work no longer exists.)
• Minneapolis Golf Club – Golden Valley, MN – 1916 – 1920 (r & ex w/Bendelow – today Golden Valley Golf & Country Club)
• Winona Country Club – Winona, MN 1917
• Culver City Country Club – Culver City, CA 1917 (changed to The California Country Club) 1920 (r)
• Olympia Fields Country Club #2 – Olympia Fields, IL 1918 (work no longer exists)
• Inglewood Country Club – Inglewood, CA 1919
• Wanakah Country Club – Hamburg, NY (r) 1919
• Ingleside Club – Phoenix, AZ 1919
• San Diego Country Club – Chula Vista, CA 1920, opened 1921
• Olympia Fields Country Club #3 – Olympia Fields, IL 1920 (w/ Bendelow) (work no longer exists)
• Flintridge Country Club – San Gabriel, CA 1920
• Claremont Country Club – Claremont, CA 1920 (r & ex)
• Berkeley Country Club – Berkeley, CA 1920 (w/ R. Hunter) – Became Mira Vista CC in 1934 and today is Berkeley Country Club)
• San Gabriel Country Club – San Gabriel, CA 1920 (r)
• The Country Club – Salt Lake City, UT 1920
• Hacienda Golf Club – La Habra Heights, CA 1920 (w/ Charles Mayo)
• Hillcrest Country Club – Los Angeles, CA 1920
• Griffith Park #1 – Los Angeles, CA – 1921 (r)
• Colorado Springs Golf Club – Denver, CO 1921 (remodeled 1927)
• Ridgeview Country Club – Duluth, MN 1921
• Oakland Links at Lake Chabot – Oakland, CA 1921(Actually designed by Willie Locke, but Watson visited it and consulted on routing the same year)
• Beverly Terrace Golf Club – Oakland, CA 1921 (a municipal nine holes 20 minutes from the city did not last past the Depression)
• California Country Club—Los Angeles, CA 1921 (total remodel)
• Virginia Country Club current site, Long Beach, CA 1921
• Roaring River Golf Club – Roaring River, MO 1921 * Have found no references
• Rio Rosarito Golf and Field club, 1921, Rosarito, Baja Mexico (Now Real Del Mar)
• Sunset Canyon Country Club – Burbank, CA 1922
• Burlingame Country Club- Burlingame, CA 1922 (r & ex)
• Encinal Golf & Country Club – Alameda, CA 1922 (San Francisco Call, 12 May 1922 describes in depth that Watson, not Lock designed the course with Jack McLoud as his construction superintendent).
• Stoughton Country Club – Stoughton, WI 1922
• Coronado Golf Club – Coronado, CA 1922 (Re-grassed the course by the end of 1920).
• La Jolla Country Club – La Jolla, CA 1922 (Listed for decades as Billy Bell who later re-modeled the course. It was recently renovated by Todd Eckenrode.)
• Rocky Mountain Country Club, Denver, CO – 1922
• Lincoln Park – San Francisco, CA 1922 (r)
• Las Turas Golf & Lake Club – Oxnard, CA 1923
• Mt. Diablo Country Club – Contra Costa County, CA 1925 (r & ex) Now Diablo CC
• Griffith Park #2 – Los Angeles, CA 1923 (Watson consulted, but designed and built by Billy Bell and George Thomas
• Lake Arrowhead Country Club – Lake Arrowhead, CA – 1923
• East Bay Country Club – Castro Valley, CA 1923
• Clover Field Golf Course – Santa Monica, CA 1923 (First laid out by Watson, fully opened in 1928 and George Merritt then was credited).
• Fort Washington Golf & Country Club – Fresno, CA 1923
• Orange County Country Club – Santa Ana, CA 1919 and remodeled 1923 (now Santa Ana Country Club, Watson first worked on the course in 1919)
• Olympic Club (Lake Course) – San Francisco, CA 1924
• Southern California Athletic and Country Club – Lake Elsinore, CA 1924 (Credited to John Dunn, but routed by Watson)
• Olympic Club (Ocean Course) – San Francisco, CA 1924 (w/ Whiting) (Washed away and rebuilt by Whiting)
• Clear Lake Highlands – Clear Lake, CA 1924
• Encino Country Club – Encino, CA 1924
• Orinda Country Club – Orinda, CA 1924
• Turlock Country Club, Turlock, CA 1924
• Westward Ho Golf Club – Sawtelle, CA 1924 (nine-hole private course on 25 acres in West L.A. became public when purchased by developer George Cordnely, Sr and bulldozed by his building crews in
1951 to build more apartments/condos.)
• San Jose Country Club total remodel- San Jose, CA 1924-1925
• Los Angeles Athletic Club (Became Riviera CC) – Santa Monica, CA 1925 (Watson was the early years consultant, B. Bell & G. Thomas completed the design and construction)
• Belvedere Golf Club – Charlevoix, MI 1925
• Minne Monesse Golf Club – Momence, IL 1925 (Still operating as a public course)
• Multnomah Golf Club – Portland, OR 1925 (Routing by Watson, Credited to Willie Locke)
• Foothill Blvd Club – Oakland, CA 1925 (Designed by never built)
• Harding Park – San Francisco, CA 1925 (Site of 2020 PGA Championship)
• Belmont Country Club – Los Angeles, CA 1926
• San Gorgonio Country Club – Beaumont, CA 1926 (9-hole)
• South Shore Golf Club – Momence, IL 1927
• Women’s Golf & Country Club – Van Nuys, CA 1927
• Hotel Del Mar Golf Club – Del Mar, CA 1927
• Momence Links – Momence, IL 1928
• Oak Knoll Golf Links – Oakland, CA 1928 (r) (Watson consulted to design the routing, but Willie Locke designed the course.)
• Sonoma Golf Club – Sonoma, CA 1928 (w/ Whiting)
• El Sobrante Golf Club – San Pablo, CA 1929
• Santa Barbara Country Club—Santa Barbara, CA 1930 ®
• Charlevoix Golf Club – Charlevoix, MI 1930 – 1931 (r)
Other Clubs: Unknown dates but all prior to 1920:
• Paso Robles Country Club – Paso Robles, CA (Still operating as a public course)
• Long Beach Club – Long Beach, CA (r)
Other Clubs: Unknown dates but all prior to 1924:
• Clearlake Golf Club – North San Francisco, CA
• Pleasanton Country Club – San Jose, CA
ex = expansion r = remodel
Thanks, and appreciation to the many people who also have tirelessly researched Mr. William Watson over the years that I was pleased to continue the search for details: Dennis ‘Marty’ Joy II, Joe Passov,
David Mackesey from Diablo Country Club, Todd Eckenrode of Origins Golf, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the late Tom MacWood, Sean Tully, David Normoyle formerly from the USGA
Museum and the Librarian at LA84.