Editor’s note: This is the twelfth part of a series related to the history of the “four corners” of Watt and El Camino avenues.
As this 12-part series comes to a close, it is quite fitting to include a brief history of the very place that the locally renowned shopping centers and several businesses of the four corners of Watt and El Camino avenues were named after – Del Paso Country Club.
This well-known private country club, which was established in 1916, is located at 3333 Marconi Ave., just east of Town and Country Village.
When the club was founded, the north area was many years away from becoming a developed area, thus the club was constructed in a very rural location.
In selecting the name of the club, the club’s founders honored the history of the property, which had been part of the old Rancho Del Paso Mexican land grant.
The rancho was most renowned as the one-time site of the breeding and training ground of thoroughbred racehorses, the most famous of which was Ben Ali, who won the 1886 Kentucky Derby.
The idea to create a country club in the north area was that of members of the Sacramento Country Club, which was located off J Street, near Tullar Avenue (today’s 48th Street).
Members of this East Sacramento country club, which featured a nine-hole golf course on rented land, saw that the area was changing.
These changes included developers Wright and Kimbrough’s development of the nearby Tract 24.
In 1915, while standing with a group of people near the present day grounds of Del Paso Country Club, land developer Orlando A. Robertson, in referring to the site, declared, “This is it.”
The group included Harry S. Wanzer, Fred Peck, Lauren Stuart “Stu” Upson and Steve Day.
Unfortunately for the group, a crop of grain made it difficult to see the boundaries of the property, so the group reconvened to observe the land a month later, after the crop was removed.
With the 148.3-acre site meeting the approval of the group, the property was purchased for $22,253.80. The club increased its size with its $20,000 purchase of a 1.4-acre addition 31 years later.
With arrangements made to develop the property, a Bay Area man named John Black was called to the site due to his expertise in laying out golf courses.
The nine men behind the founding of Del Paso Country Club were Wanzer, Peck, Day, Upson, Clinton Harber, James C. Carly, Harold J. Furley, William Murcell and Rudolph A. Herold.
Upson served as the club’s first president, Carly as vice president and Peck as secretary and treasurer.
Additionally, Edward Olden and his wife were the club’s first managers.
On Feb. 5, 1916, The Sacramento Bee ran an article with the headline, “Club to have fine new home.”
The article noted that the construction of the club, which would include an 18-hole golf course, a clubhouse and bowling, tennis and swimming facilities, would begin at the end of the winter weather.
The Bee also reported that these amenities, as well as landscaping and roads, would be completed at a cost of about $75,000.
Articles of incorporation for the country club were signed in January 1916.
To assist in the club’s membership campaign, which was launched on Feb. 7, 1916, a dance and dinner was held at Hotel Sacramento at 10th and K streets just eight days after the campaign began.
After much hard work and deliberation, the club was finally prepared for its Sept. 2, 1916 opening.
The Sacramento Union reported on this grand afternoon and evening gathering, which included an orchestra performance and dancing on the tennis courts.
Although the club’s grounds had not been completed in their entirety, The Union noted that Sacramento could nonetheless boast a country club that could “hold its own for situation and accommodation with any (country club) in cities of similar sizes.”
The club’s living room was described by The Union as having colorful Oriental rugs, massive oak tables and luxurious couches and chairs.
Also located at the club were a kitchen, a dining room, a billiards room, a men’s lounging room and a ladies’ card room.
The club, which also included a skeet shooting range during its earlier years, hired its first golf professional, Scotland native Jim Smith, in 1916.
Three years later, Bill Selkirk was hired to replace Smith. And Selkirk continued in that role until 1924, when the club hired another golf professional, Bob Clark.
During Selkirk’s time at the club, grass was planted on the fairways and greens.
The club acquired one of its most notable golf professionals, Frank Minch, Sr., in 1925. He remained with the club for the following 40 years, during which time he became one of the state’s leading golf professionals.
Another early highlight of the club was its first golf tournament, which was held on Sept. 17, 1916.
A decade later, Joe Turnesa won the first Sacramento Open Championship, which was held at Del Paso Country Club.
Many local and national championship tournaments have been played at the club throughout its history.
To date, the club has hosted four U.S. Golf Association tournaments – the 1957 and 1976 U.S. Women’s Amateur Golf Championships, the 1960 U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur Championship and the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
And with about a $10 million redesign and renovation of its world-renowned golf course in 2005 and 2006, the club earned the privilege of hosting the U.S. Senior Open from June 22-28, 2015.
The club also hosted the “Swing at Cancer” Celebrity Pro-Am, a one-day tournament that was founded by Bob Hurst and held from 1972 to 1997.
The tournament, which raised funds for the American Cancer Society and local cancer projects, featured such renowned participants as Bob Hope, Glen Campbell, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Sam Snead, Hale Irwin and Billy Casper.
Bob Kunz, the club’s general manager/chief operating officer, described “Swing at Cancer” as “certainly the biggest golf charity in Sacramento history and maybe one of the biggest charities in Sacramento history.”
Although those associated with Del Paso Country Club take pride in the various prestigious events that have been held at the club, as well as Del Paso’s position of hosting the 2015 U.S. Senior Open, Kunz emphasized that first and foremost, the club is a social place.
“What (the club) boils down to on a grassroots level is community,” Kunz said. “It’s a reason to get together with your friends. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all around an excuse, if you will, to get together. A club environment; you take the physical plant, a golf course is a golf course. Whether you’re here or at Ancil Hoffman (Golf Course), it’s a golf course. Yeah, it’s a difficult golf course, but it’s a golf course. The restaurant is a restaurant. The difference is the social interaction.”