Twenty years ago, David Price and some friends designed and built a golf course in Westchester, next to Los Angeles International Airport, using a small parcel of land leased from the Department of Airports.
In time, the course, only 4,254 yards long with a par of 63, became one of the busiest 18-hole layouts in the country and more than 146,000 rounds were played on the night-lighted fairways last year.
In time, too, it became the cornerstone of American Golf Corp., a far-flung organization that owns, operates or manages 72 public and 9 private golf courses from California to New York, from its headquarters in Los Angeles. Price, 54, who founded California Golf and Tennis in 1973 before it had a name change to American Golf, remains chairman of the board.
“We built the whole thing at Westchester for $500,000, the course, equipment, the works,” Price said on the anniversary of the course’s opening. “The irrigation system was the biggest expense, $30,000. Today, it would cost $800,000 to do the same irrigation job.
“The first two years at Westchester were a disaster. We couldn’t keep from losing money. It’s hard to look back and realize that was the start of a business that did $100 million in volume last year.”
Price was an attorney for James Drown, a wealthy businessman who owned the Bel-Air Hotel, Don the Beachcomber restaurants and was a partner with Barron Hilton in the San Diego Chargers, when Drown asked him if he wanted to build a course on the Westchester property. A few years later, Price bought the Westchester, El Segundo and Yorba Linda Country Club courses from Drown.
“At first our objective was to manage the three courses and make them profitable,” Price said. “Then, the more we learned about operating a golfing facility, the more we realized that not much was known about it. About 10 years ago, it became apparent to us that we could operate city- or county-owned facilities better than the municipalities could--and still make money for us and the city.”
American Golf now operates seven courses in New York City, as well as municipal programs in Long Beach, Pasadena, Atlanta, Toledo and Miami Beach. It also runs two of the L.A. county courses, Los Verdes and La Mirada.
“The New York courses had deteriorated tremendously,” Price said. “Dyker Beach, in Brooklyn, had fallen off from 80,000 rounds a year to 26,000. The city was losing about $200,000 a course and it was getting worse. Now we’re paying rent to the city, the courses have improved and everyone is happy.”
Closer to home is the acquisition of the two Brookside courses, near the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena. Lynn Shackelford, former UCLA basketball star and sportscaster, was in charge of American Golf’s takeover last Feb. 1.
“The city of Pasadena was losing $400,000 a year trying to run two golf courses with a high overhead and little expertise,” Shackelford said. “Now we’re guaranteeing the city $500,000 a year. That’s a $900,000 turnaround, and the courses are in much better playing condition. You can tell that from the way play has increased.
“There were 160,000 rounds played on the two courses last year. We expect to do 95,000 to 100,000 this year on each course. The one-day record for both courses was 725 players. Last month we averaged 707 a day.”
The first thing American Golf does after taking over a sick course is to spruce it up and make it more attractive. For Brookside, $400,000 was spent on new equipment for mowing and conditioning the fairways, tee boxes and greens, and an additional $40,000 for tee markers, signs, ball washers, 150-yard markers and flags. They also added 125 new carts to an inadequate fleet.
“Billy Bell designed two fine golf courses, but over the years they had lost some of their character,” Shackelford said. “By defining the fairways, trimming around the greens and the bunkers, we tried to get back some of what he had in mind and give the whole place what we call a ‘golf course look.’ ”
The American Golf Club, designed for players who use one or more of the organization’s 80 sites, has 20,000 members who are eligible for approximately 12,000 tournaments held during the year. The club’s fee is $55 a year, which includes free golf at some courses and preferential starting times.
“We wanted to create a club as close to a private club as could be feasible without dues and initiation fees,” Price said. The club plans to host a national junior championship next March at Recreation Park in Long Beach. Members of the PGA’s senior tour will play with the juniors.
“It should be fun,” Price said. “Some of the kids are liable to beat the seniors. Wouldn’t that be something?”
Surprisingly, no Los Angeles city courses are operated by American Golf, but that doesn’t bother Price.
“If they would rather run their courses the old-fashioned way, with their high operating costs, that’s fine. We estimate we could make $2 million more for them than they’re making now without raising the greens fees and the courses would be in better condition, but the city administration doesn’t want a change.
“It’s not our worry. There are 13,000 golf courses in the United States and a lot of them are calling us. We expect to reach 100 courses by the first of the year.”
When Price wants to visit one of his far-flung courses, he heads for the airport and one of his own planes. A former jet fighter pilot, he owns a Cessna 210 and two World War II planes, a P-51 Mustang and a British Spitfire.
Pasadena’s Suzy Baggs, who learned the game at Annandale GC and San Diego State, left last week for Scotland, where she will rejoin the European women’s tour as a playing pro from the new Carmel Mountain Ranch course, north of San Diego. Baggs hopes to hone her game for a shot at the LPGA tour next year. . . . Defending champion Millie Stanley will be seeking her sixth consecutive title when she tees up in the 16th annual L.A. City Senior Women’s championship Sept. 11-12 at Griffith Park. Entries will close Monday. . . . Sectional qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur will be held Sept. 8 at Vista Valley CC. . . . Bruce Appledorn defeated former Walker Cup player Gene Andrews, 4 and 2, for the Penmar GC championship. Sid Greenwood defeated Eddie Kearns, 1 up, in the handicap flight.
Los Angeles attorney Peter Cathcart had a day to remember at the Ojai Valley Inn CC when he made not one but two holes in one during the same round. Cathcart, an 18 handicapper, used a 4-iron to ace the 183-yard No. 2 and then hit a 9-iron shot into the cup on the 151-yard No. 8. He finished with an 84. . . . Jack Kramer’s Los Serranos CC in Chino, which recently underwent a face lifting while a $25-million flood control project was being completed, is back in playing condition--better than ever. Although the south course, annual site of the California State Amateur qualifying, was disrupted, general manager Kevin Sullivan had three new lakes built to add to the aesthetic value as well as to toughen up a course that already was handicapped at 73.3 from the blue tees, which is among the toughest in Southern California . . . Judy Greco of Recreation Park won the Women’s Public Links Golf Association championship tournament at Los Verdes Country Club with a 54-hole score of 228. Second was Peggy Hogan of Santa Barbara at 231. The first flight winners were Pat Benedict, Los Verdes, 260, gross, and Dorothy Brunsell, Olivas Park, 224, net; second flight went to Olive Dysart, Los Verdes, gross, and Jan Dailacis, Mile Square and Ivie Lewis, Eaton, Canyon, 225, net.
The SoCal PGA will hold the West Coast International Merchandise Show Sept. 7-9, at the Long Beach Convention Center. . . . Greg Allen shot 79 at Los Verdes GC in winning the L.A. County Beach Lifeguard Assn. tournament by two shots over Steve Gregg. Allen won by taking only 16 putts in the 18 holes. Mark Kelly was long hitter among the lifeguards with a drive of 295 yards. Jim Lowe, with a 77, won the Recurrent Division. . . . The new clubhouse at Shandin Hills GC in San Bernardino was dedicated Thursday. . . . Long Beach’s annual city stroke play tournament will conclude this weekend with rounds today at El Dorado and Monday at Recreation Park. . . . Owner-builder Dan Murray has sold his Sierra La Verne course to Glenn Chanslor and Curt Richard, who plan to build a 31,000-square-foot clubhouse and convert the facility into a private club. Charter memberships will be offered at $6,000.
Golf Magazine’s selection of the 100 greatest golf holes in America included No. 10, the Bridge Hole, at Bel-Air CC; No. 18 at Riviera CC, No. 4 at Bear Creek GC in Temecula, and No. 9 at PGA West in La Quinta. Named the greatest single hole in the country was Cypress Point’s famed No. 16, the 200-plus yard carry across an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. . . . Playing what is called the “world’s longest golf hole,” a group of two-man teams will thrash their way across 37 miles of desert terrain Thursday along the California-Nevada border. The trek is expected to take three days and approximately 2,000 shots--all for the benefit of the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. Last year a similar event raised $40,000 as Dennis Conrad, an amateur, and Steve Kern, an assistant pro, golfed 26.2 miles in 2 days and 665 strokes. . . . Hollywood Hackers club champion Dan Chambers shot an 80 at Los Verdes and won the Hackers’ most recent outing. The show business group will play Sept. 14 at Sandpiper GC, north of Santa Barbara.
An IROC Camaro was the tee prize for a hole in one when J. C. Higgins aced the 153-yard seventh hole with an 8-iron at Glendora CC during the Glendora Chamber of Commerce tournament last April 21, but he’s still waiting for his car because of a mixup between the chamber, the car agency and the insurance company that wrote the policy for a hole in one. Higgins, who said he paid $60 to enter the annual event, is threatening to sue to get the car. . . . Ken Corday birdied each of Lakeside’s four par-3 holes during a recent round. It is believed to be the first time it has happened in a single round.