RICHMOND, CA — The Richmond Country Club (RCC) isn’t just a Country Club in the Bay Area. The club’s eclectic membership of humble entrepreneurs, educators, contractors, professionals, retirees, young or not – so – young all share a love of golf. Though RCC is called a country club, it is a destination golf club containing one if the finest East Bay Golf courses. The greens are smooth and fast, the fairways are well defined with a well struck ball rolling true and the rough is penalizing, yet fair.
In its early history RCC hosted several PGA and LPGA championships. The goal of the RCC leadership is to return RCC to the golf prominence it once enjoyed, and further solidify their reputation among East Bay country clubs.
History of the land — The area now occupied by Richmond Country Club was once known as Rancho San Pablo and the property of Francisco Maria Castro. Francisco Castro, age 25, came to California from the State of Sinaloa, Mexico shortly before 1800. After his death, and upon the completion of the war between Mexico and the United States in 1848, the ownership of the land was disputed among many heirs. Eventually, the land was assigned to 140 individuals and corporations, including the Nitro Powder Company. The ownership of the land changed hands to the Giant Powder Company, Atlas Powder Company, and then to Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1964. Bethlehem Steel then sold portions of the land to Richmond Golf and Country Club on July 17, 1974.
Early history of the course — On October 15, 1924, a group of prominent Richmond business and professional men founded the Carquinez Golf Club. These founders decided that Richmond needed an eighteen hole golf course and proceeded to start one “under the direction of Joe Novak, just north of Richmond near the Bay, on the road to Giant”. Giant was a village with 20 or 30 homes. The founders had brains, energy, and even some money. They also had plenty of land to work with, since Giant Powder Company was anxious to lease land for the course to establish a green safety belt around their dangerous plants. The only thing lacking was water, so the course became hard as pavement, particularly in the summer months. The greens were made of rolled and oiled cottonseed hulls, which could catch on fire if a cigarette were dropped on them. Still, the club had nearly 300 members by 1927. It was then that the first Carquinez clubhouse was built, with the pro shop and office being less than 10 feet wide and 20 feet long. Among these early members was Tommy Herbert, who joined in 1929. Living in Hayward, Tommy and other members would fly a plane to the course and land on the fairway of hole number 9.
The Thirties — Ed Sawyer was hired as Pro-Manager of the Carquinez Golf Club in 1931. He and member Frank Mero were largely responsible for the construction of the course. When members began asking for a “watered” course, Frank and his brother Chet began searching for water with willow twigs. Chet’s willow twig began twisting and turning at a spot a half mile down Giant Road, and the lot was purchased when water was found. Despite having a reasonable water supply, distribution was difficult with broken pumps,failed lines and heavy summer winds. And soon after work was started, the Depression hit, leaving the club $46,000 in debt. Atlas Powder Company, who purchased the land in 1934, proved helpful in aiding the club through these difficult times. Debt increased, however, and a world war loomed on the horizon, leading to the suicide of the club professional, Ed Sawyer. Other golf clubs in the area began folding with the hard times, but the Carquinez Golf Club hung on. Late in 1938 the club hired Pat Markovich, then the assistant pro at San Francisco Golf Club, as Pro-manager. Pat’s tenure marked a turning point for the club, which grew in stature to one of the best private golf clubs in the area. Pat immediately changed the name to Richmond Golf Club to focus attention on the location. His actions began increasing interest in the Richmond City Tournament, which grew from a first year entry of 38 in 1938 to more than 300 trying to qualify in 1941.
The Forties — Pro-manager Pat Markovich was the driving force behind the club’s huge success for which the members would be forever grateful. He guided the club through clouds of war and bankruptcy, bringing four PGA Opens to Richmond, developing the course and building a new club house. Pat was very successful at improving the course at low cost. For example, in 1940 when the World’s Fair on Treasure Island closed, Pat was able to buy thousands of feet of sod for 10 cents a foot. All of the present tees, and much of the fairways and areas around the greens were once part of Treasure Island. During the war, the locker room was converted into a dormitory for industrial war workers, and an Army camp adjoined the grounds. As the war ended, many changes were made to the course to improve playing conditions.
(Pictured: A gallery of over 5,000 people gather around the 9th green to watch Ben Hogan & Sam Snead during the 1947 Richmond Open. Local Bay Area Pro, George Schoux was the 1947 winner.)
In 1945 Pat Markovich succeeded in bringing the PGA Open to Richmond Golf Club by guaranteeing $6750 from thirty sponsors. This important event brought permanent recognition to Richmond Golf Club. All of the top notch pros of the time played Richmond, including Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Ed Dudley, Byron Nelson, Harold McSpaden, Jim Ferrier,Toney Penna, and Craig Wood. Sam Snead proved to be a very popular winner in 1945 with a score of 283. The second event drew a field so large that a prequalifying round was necessary. Toney
Penna won that exciting event with a score or 280. The third Richmond PGA Open in 1947 offered $10,000 in prize money. This was the only Open in the bay area, because other clubs were losing money. Richmond managed to earn a $5,000 profit through successful promotion. The winner in 1947 was George Schoux with a score of 268. The fourth Open was the largest, setting all records for attendance in Northern California. E.J. Harrison was the winner with a score of 273.
(Pictured: Pat Markovich presents Sam Snead with a check for $800 for his first place finish in the 1945 Richmond PGA Open.)
The Fifties and Sixties — The fifties brought about the fulfillment of Pat Markovich’s dream. Development and improvements had been continuous since he took over the nearly bankrupt club. With a beautiful golf course, expanded clubhouse and pro shop, swimming pool, extensive landscaping, full membership and financial stability, Richmond Golf Club stood as a monument to his achievements. Early in the decade, Richmond hosted the Women’s Professional Open. The field included the best women pros of the era, including ‘Babe’ Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg, Louise Suggs, Marlene and Alice Bauer, Peggy Kirk, Betsy Rawls, Marilyn Smith, and Betty Jamison. The first Richmond Ladies’ Open was won by Babe Zaharias with a score of 224 for three rounds. In the second Women’s Open in 1952, a world record score was set by Patty Berg. She shot an 8 under par score of 64 from the men’s tees, and won the tournament with a score of 210. A third Ladies PGA Open was played in 1955, with Betty Jamison winning with a score of 220. Also during this time, numerous exhibition matches were played at Richmond, including such names as Sam Snead, E.J. Harrison, Byron Nelson, Patty Berg, and Betsy Rawls.
The Seventies and Beyond — In the early seventies, improvements continued to be made at the club. The property was enclosed with a fence, the swimming pool was replaced, and a driving range was established. Then, in 1973, a bombshell was dropped on Richmond Golf Club. Bethlehem Steel Corporation announced that they were selling the course to a group of Japanese investors. At an emergency meeting of the members a proposal was outlined for the purchase of the property by the membership. The plan included the individual investment by each for a proprietary membership in the amount of $3,000. 320 members responded by purchasing memberships. Then came some unexpected assistance from Richmond’s sister city, Shimada, Japan. Masaya Mori, the mayor of Shimada and an avid golfer, convinced 60 members of Shizuoka Country Club to purchase Associate Equity memberships. After many months of negotiation, the purchase was consummated on July 17, 1974. Since the purchase of the property by the members, Hilltop Shopping Center has been built, improving the value of properties in the area. Residential complexes are being developed around the course, further raising property values. The recent completion of the Richmond Parkway has improved access to the club. The future of the Richmond Country Club looks very bright indeed. It is shared by active members who enjoy the game of golf, their club, and their friends.
Today at Richmond Country Club – The practice areas are perfect for all players. The full grass driving range allows a player to hit all clubs from a firm, level teeing area. The Short Game Practice Area is newly renovated to offer a great place to practice the critical short game. New bunkers at the 19th Hole allow members to practice greenside bunker shots from a shallow, medium or deep bunker; additionally, one can change direction and practice mid-fairway bunker shots to the SGPA green. The Richmond Country Club is one of the finest Country Club’s in the Bay Area. (For more information, please visit www.myrichmondcc.org)