Eleven Hollywood businessmen met in early 1924 in an upstairs boardroom at the Hollywood Athletic Club on Sunset Blvd. Thanks to clever negotiating, cash down payments, a host of promises to orchard owners, hard-bargaining lawyers and one failed real estate development owner, the Lakeside Golf Club of Hollywood was officially formed on May 12, 1924. James B. Irsfeld was elected the Club’s first President.
When it was time to select a course designer, the name of Scotsman Max Behr topped the members’ list. Behr, all agreed, had done a splendid job working with Norman Macbeth at Wilshire Country Club. The Club hired Behr to work his magic on the Lakeside property, agreeing to pay him the handsome sum of $2,500. (See tab for more information on Max Behr)
Lakeside officially opened on November 14, 1925. Some 500 spectators showed up to watch two top amateur, Norman Macbeth of Wilshire Country Club and George Von Elm of Rancho Park Golf Course, both ranked among the world’s best, play against professionals “Wee” Willy Hunter of Brentwood and Jack “Texas Wildcat” Tennant of El Caballero. The amateurs went two up after nine holes but ultimately fell to the pros one down on the final hole.
In his book, “The Spirit of St Andrews,” famed golf architect, Dr. Alister MacKenzie wrote: “In Southern California there are many good golf courses. By far, the best of these is Max Behr’s course at Lakeside. Lakeside had none of the natural advantages of the Monterey course, the Olympic at San Francisco or even many of the other courses in Los Angeles district, but it has been so admirably designed and constructed that it compares favorably with any inland course. In a word, Lakeside is one of the world’s greatest golf courses.”
Initially the course played across the river but the great flood of 1938 the 6th green, the 4th green and 13th and 5th tee box as well as the 2nd green and surrounding area. The damage was never restored because the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to rebuild the L. A. River using the concrete wash design.
There have been many subtle changes over the years. The sand dunes and fruit trees are gone, replaced by various other types of trees. The greens today are small and well bunkered. Lakeside continues to be a well respected test of golf.
Lakeside Golf Club of Hollywood over the years is well known for its celebrities. Crooner Bing Crosby (Club Champion five times between 1936 and 1943), funny man Bob Hope, W. C. Fields, Oliver “Babe” Hardy, Don Ameche, Olympic Gold Medal winner Johnny Weissmuller, cowboy Gene Autry, former President Ronald Reagan, hustler John “Mysterious” Montague, Howard Hughes, Dick Whittinghill, former honorary Mayor of Hollywood Johnny Grant, Woody Woodpecker creator Walter Lantz, and many many more. Even today, Lakeside has more than its share of celebrities who come to relax and enjoy the golf and camaraderie. Gene Autry was quoted as saying, “We’re all the same here, no matter what happens outside the gate.”
Lakeside has had many great tournaments including in recent years the Trans-Mississippi Mid-Amateur (1991), the SCGA Championship (1997) and the California State Amateur (2008). It was the first time that the California State Amateur was played in Southern California.
Max Behr’s contributions to the game of golf in the United States are well know to golf scholars and can be attested to by those who have played on Behr-designed courses throughout California.
Behr, perhaps not so well-known as some of golf’s bigger names of the time like Alister MacKenzie or George “The Captain” Thomas Jr., is today recognized as one of golf’s true geniuses. His particular gems are the courses he built in California between 1922 and 1927, of which Lakeside stands as his crown jewel.
New York born, but raised in the rich golf areas of Northern New Jersey, Max Behr inherited his love of the game of golf from his father and grandfather, who were founding members of the first golf club in America, historic St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York. It was while playing on Yale’s golf team that Behr learned the finer points of golf and golf courses from his coach, Robert Pryde.
Pryde was a golf course designer in his own right, and under his tutelage Behr began to see what make one course better than another. Pryde pointed out the subtle interplays of design and nature, and what worked and what did not when it came to course design and construction.
After graduating from Yale in 1905, Behr concentrated on playing the game seriously. He became an accomplished golfer around New York and New Jersey, and ultimately made a national name for himself among golf’s elite. He was club champion at Morristown Country Club and Somerset Hills Country Club, but lost three heartbreaking championships (the 1907 and 1908 New Jersey Amateur; 1908 U. S. Amateur) to Jerome Travers. Behr eventually won the New Jersey State Amateur title in 1909, and in the following year successfully defended it by beating the formidable Travers.
After taking the New Jersey Amateur title, Behr put competitive golf behind him and immersed himself in chronicling the sort he loved. He launched what would turnout to be a life-long career in golf writing in 1914, as the first editor for the New York based Golf Illustrated magazine.
Behr remained at Golf Illustrated until 1918, when the untimely death of his young wife prompted a change in his life. At the age of 34, Behr moved to California.
He continued to write about golf, focusing primarily on course design and construction. During the early 1920’s, the numerous Max Behr authored articles that appeared on course architecture and design made Behr one of the foremost authorities on the subject.
With the golf boom hitting Southern California with a vengeance and with few experts around to build courses, Behr soon found himself called upon to remodel and design golf courses in his own right. Norman Macbeth called to see if he would assist with his new course, Wilshire Country Club in Hancock Park, where many of Lakeside’s founding members often played.
In short order, Behr made a name for himself in golf course design circles. He remodeled Pasadena Golf Club in 1920, and designed Hacienda Country Club, Montebello Golf Club, Montecito Country Club and Rancho Park Golf Course in 1922.
By the time he was contacted by James Irsfeld about building Lakeside, Behr was a famous figure in golf. He went out to the site and immediately saw the potential for a links style layout similar to those in Great Britain. The property had a rich variety of natural features – rolling sand dunes, mature walnut and peach trees, dried streambeds and the moribund Los Angeles River itself that could be traversed to make for interesting play.
In September 1924, Behr received $400, the first installment on his $2,500 fee, and began design work on Lakeside. The Scotsman fell in love with the land as worked on it. The rough, loamy terrain proved ideal for the links style layout he envisioned. He incorporated a number of short, reachable par fours into his design, using the walnut and peach trees to shape narrow discrete fairways. He built greens that were subtly contoured and intimidating. The original backside had a distinctive “seaside” feel to it with dunes and rolling links style holes. Instead of bunkers, Behr used numerous undulations to make the approaches to Lakeside greens challenging. In a design philosophy that also excluded the use of rough. Behr would protect the green from every possible angle and approach shot with natural terrain. He felt that the sole reason for the existence of bunkers should be to “excite interest due to their proximity to the most desirable positions to play.”
At Lakeside, Behr said “There will be no bunkers skulking in positions a player would not choose to play to in the first place. Bunkers to catch mere wayward shots are always a cause of irritation. The object of bunkers is to assist nature by rendering in greater contrast the interest which she in the first place affords. It is nature a golfer should be made to feel he is contesting against, not the designs of man.”
After Lakeside, Behr remodeled and expanded Brentwood Country Club and the Olympic Club’s Lake Course. In 1927, he designed the famed Rancho Santa Fe Country Club (home to the first Crosby Clambake in 1938) in San Diego County. Behr was paid the then huge sum of $9,000 for his design work at Rancho Santa Fe. A phenomenal fee, considering that Dr. Alister McKenzie received $8,000 for designing Cypress Point in Monterey. Ironically, it was to be Behr’s last original golf course design project.
The Great Depression and the outbreak of World War II put an end to Behr’s design business. Money was tight even for posh country clubs. Behr continued to write on the subject, however, publishing many articles on design methods and operations and on the rules of golf. He was quite the critic. He even criticized Roger Kelly’s game saying “he hits too far,” and that “he should play floaters,” referring to the then popular light ball that did not go as far and floated when struck into water hazards. After World War II, Behr lost interest in golf course design and became outspoken in the political arena. Late in his life, Behr, always a man looking for greater insights to life, started a religion based on numbers. In 1955, at age of 89, he died, leaving behind a legacy of great golf courses in California and elsewhere. Many consider Lakeside his crowning achievement.
Roger Kelly’s idiosyncrasy was that he seldom left the state of California for a golf tournament and thus became known as one of the finest “weekend golfers” of his era.
During the 1930’s, Kelly essentially owned amateur golf in Southern California. His first victory in the State Amateur Championship in 1937 remains the golf achievement he was most proud of. Add to that another State Amateur Championship, two victories at the Crosby Clambake Pro-Am and in times a Club Champion at Lakeside and a picture of Roger Kelly begins to emerge.
The affable Irishman attended Loyola Law School, and when in 1939 he passed the bar exam, the joke began that it was the last bar he passed for many years. And while he has followed a clean living regimen for decades, he was a favorite at the Men’s Bar during his heyday. His amateur golf achievements earned him an honorary Lakeside membership that same year and he became a regular member in 1959.
In 1947, the first year the Crosby Pro-Am moved to the Monterey Peninsula, Kelly was paired with Sam Snead. Roger had tied on pretty well the night before and stumbled up to the first tee, barefoot, trying to put his socks and shoes on. When Snead saw this, he requested that the Tournament Chairman Maurie Luxford, assign him another partner. Luxford told Snead that it was not to be and they must tee off. Snead was not amused.
“Just get up and hit the ball,” Roger told Snead.
Slammin’ Sammy stroked it 260 yards down the center of the fairway. Kelly stumbled up and after a few attempts, managed to tee up his ball. He then stroked a monstrous drive 270 yards dead center, looked at Snead and said: “You’re away.”
After a few holes, the color finally returned to Snead’s face.
Later in the round, Kelly hit a drive that looked to be out of bounds. He decided to hit a provisional and, not having a ball, asked Snead if he could borrow one. Snead gave him a ball and Kelly drove it in the fairway. Finding his first ball in play, Kelly picked up the provisional, on loan from Snead, and returned it to him. Snead, legendary for his frugality, tossed it back, saying, “I gave you a new ball, this one’s been hit.”
After a rocky start, both Kelly and Snead played great golf and went on to win the tournament. The following year, Snead approached Luxford and asked to be paired again with “that wild Irishman.”
Upon hearing Snead’s request, Kelly told Luxford, “Screw him.” Kelly won the Crosby again, in 1958 with pro Jay Herbert. In the 1972 Crosby tournament, Kelly shot a 69.
In 1968, Kelly was elected President of Lakeside. He also served on the Tournament Committee and was the Green Committee Chairman. His best round at Lakeside was a 65, where he went out with a scorching 31 and came in with a 34.
During a round in the 1960’s, longtime caddy Bob Mack was looping for Kelly. On the eighteenth (number nine back then) hole, Kelly’s second shot was long and to the left. After replacing Kelly’s divot, Mack was approached by new Head Pro, John Hayes. Hayes asked Mack if Kelly was as good as everyone said he was. Mack said, “Yes, sir.” Hayes went further and asked if Kelly could hole the chip. Mack replied, “Yes sir.” Kelly holed his chip and Mack gave Hayes a nod and a wink. After finishing the nine, Kelly asked Mack what he shot; Mack added it up and said 33. Kelly smirked and said “Well, we’ll have to change that, I need to adjust my handicap so I can make some money.” On the next two holes Kelly mysteriously shanked his drives. Bob Mack said that in all his years at the Club, Roger Kelly was the only golfer he knew who could shank a shot at will.
In 1984, Lakeside named a tournament in Kelly’s honor, “The Kelly Cup.” This annual medal play event has become one of the finest amateur tournaments in Southern California, and is open to members and select invited non members. The tournament concept, two days of individual stroke play, was “borrowed” from “The Pinky”, held each year at Glen Oak Country Club, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
Not only does the Kelly Cup feature great golf, but a fun atmosphere that over the years has kept many participants returning for the festivities both on and of the course. A highlight of the tournament is a lavish banquet with well-known figures from the sports and entertainment world.
Roger Kelly was, at one time, a notorious club breaker. However, he was also a good sport about it. When the statue of Kelly was first displayed in what today is known as the Kelly Garden, Jim Irsfled said to Kelly: “Hey Roger, shouldn’t that statue have you breaking your club over your knee?” Kelly laughed, agreeing wholeheartedly.