Friday, January 13, 2023

The Fairway Country Club, Villa Park

Fairway Country Club clubhouse, 1926 (Santa Ana Register photo)

Among the many Orange County endeavors lost to time was The Fairway Country Club. It was located on Lot 36 of Cerro Villa Heights -- a tract laid out in the foothills by the Jotham Bixby Co. in 1920 and now a part of Villa Park. In modern terms, the Club grounds were roughly bounded by Mesa Drive on the north, Cannon Street on the east, and the line of Sycamore Street (if it continued northward) on the west. I extended to the south about as far as the current site of 9852 Leatrice Dr.

Ads for afternoon golf lessons on the Club's property began to appear in the local newspapers in the Summer of 1923. In October, the C. B. Berger Co. -- sales agent for the Bixby holdings in the Cerro Villa area -- also began running ads touting the Club as one of the advantages of buying land nearby. 

However, the Club’s nine-hole golf course didn’t actually open until Feb. 22, 1924. A grand opening tournament was held that day for the William A. Dolan Cup (named for the Club's president). The other highlight of the day was a match game between Anaheim Mayor William Stark and Orange Mayor Gunther. 

The course was designed by Anaheim golf pro Joe Szarfinski who soon after was hired as the golf pro for the Orange County Country Club. He had also designed the municipal golf course in San Diego's Balboa Park. 

The Fairway Country Club's clubhouse wasn't built yet when the course opened, and early Club events like board meetings and dances were usually held at the Elks' Lodge in Anaheim.

By May 1925 the former home of George B. Bixby had been converted into a clubhouse and the Club began to have events with entertainment there. Jack Armstrong served as the resident “golf pro.”

(Map courtesy Lisa Baldwin)

The Fairway Land Co. was the holding company for the Club and its board was largely composed of community and business leaders from nearby cities. 

On Feb. 1, 1927, Club president S. J. Flour announced plans for major improvements, including extending the course by 3,000 yards, increasing the par for the course to 35, installation of a sprinkler system (accomplished a few months later), and added capacity to accommodate more players.

By early March 1927, there was talk that a big financial firm from Los Angeles was angling to buy the Club. The unidentified firm supposedly wanted to add swimming pools, lawn tennis, polo fields, a riding academy, a new clubhouse, and an expansion of the golf course to a full eighteen holes. 

Indeed, in July 1927, the Fairway Country Club was sold for $95,000 to a syndicate of Los Angeles men, headed by T. C. Brady and F. G. Hoffine. Their initial goals were to build a lavish new clubhouse and to expand the course to eighteen holes under the guidance of golfer and course expert Norman McBeth and golf course architects William Bell and Max Baer.

The new owners renamed the place the Valencia Vista Country Club. The board of the Valencia Vista Co. – the new holding company for the Club -- was again a "who's who" of central Orange County, including Willard Smith, Osmun & M.C. Pixley, Nels Edwards, Keller Watson, W. O. Hart, J. S. Flour, etc. 

But for some reason the Club soon faded away – even before the 1929 stock market crash and economic depression that likely would have scuttled it anyway. 

(Thanks to Lisa Ackerman Baldwin for asking about this place, so I had an excuse to find at least a partial answer. Thanks also to Roger Fitschen for continuing to dig for more on this subject. I look forward to seeing what else he turns up.)