Although Southern California has birthed and nourished dozens of industries in its two centuries of existence, nothing quite symbolizes the area as does the entertainment industry.
As the motion picture industry was born and flourished during the early part of the 20th century, thousands -- indeed, millions -- of people were drawn to Southern California to work as actors, technicians, executives, directors and producers in first movies, then radio and finally television. And many of those people played golf.
Many aspects of the game appealed to Hollywood celebrities, including the athleticism and outdoor elements of the sport. Equally important were the "party" aspects of the game, including the socializing and gambling that went on at every club.
While most of the downtown Los Angeles clubs had motion picture celebrities on their club rosters, beginning with Wilshire CC and later including Hillcrest and Brentwood CCs (and, indeed, many celebrities belonged to many of these clubs), three clubs were extremely popular with the Hollywood set: Lakeside Golf Club, Bel-Air CC and Riviera CC.
Considering its location adjacent to Warner Brothers and Universal studios (and a drive and three-iron from Disney), it's no surprise that Lakeside has been a "movie star club" from its inception in 1924. Its roster has been a who's who of Hollywood: Mack Sennett (of "Keystone Kops" fame), Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, to name just a handful of the early stars who were members.
Richard Arlen and his wife, actress Jobyana Ralston, built the first house in the Toluca Lake area where the club was located. Others followed, including Mary Astor, W.C. Fields and a fellow named Hope (who still lives in the home he built adjacent to the club). Bobby Jones filmed many of his great instructional tapes at Lakeside and the club appeared in many movies, including "The Big Broadcast of 1938," starring Fields and (in his first movie) Hope.
Howard Hughes was a member at Lakeside... but then Hughes was a member everywhere. He was an excellent golfer who played on the Lakeside team that competed in SCGA Team Play (a group that also included, among others, George Von Elm, Johnny Dawson and Bruce McCormick). Charlie Seaver (a member at The Los Angeles CC) recalls that he and Hughes would play Nassaus for $5 -- "the most I ever gambled on a game," Seaver would later recount.
In contrast to Lakeside, which was in the heart of Hollywood, Bel-Air and Riviera offered respites from the busy motion picture business. And the stars flocked to both clubs in droves.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, two of Hollywood's biggest stars and its most glamorous couple, were instrumental in the founding and early growth of Riviera, which also had a polo club that attracted such Hollywood celebrities as Walt Disney.
Bel-Air's celebrity roster included actress Katharine Hepburn, actors Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart, along with people such as Clark Gable, Crosby and Hughes who enjoyed playing the course which, like Riviera, was designed by George Thomas, Jr.
More than anyone else, two men came to symbolize Hollywood's love affair with golf: Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Crosby was a fine golfer, winning the Lakeside club championship four times. His handicap wavered between 2 and 4 and, as Hope recalls, he really worked at his game. "'Misery Hill,' the practice range at Lakeside, never had a more diligent customer," wrote Hope in his book, Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker.
Hope was never quite as good as Crosby but both were golf "junkies." More importantly, from the global perspective of golf, both were instrumental in advancing the concept of "pro-am" golf tournaments. Hollywood has always used its golf connections to raise money for charities and war bonds, but Crosby and Hope carried it to a new level.
Crosby began his "Clambake" in 1937 at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club and after World War II moved it to the Monterey Peninsula where it today is the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Hope added his name and patronage to the Palm Springs Golf Classic, which was renamed the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1965 (it's now called the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic).
Each tournament has raised many millions of dollars for its charities and both paved the way for the many charity tournaments around the world. That may be the most enduring legacy of the Hollywood's golf story.