For its 60th birthday, we go back to 1959, the first year of the Costa Mesa institution.
The Mesa Verde Country Club held its three-day opening on the weekend of January 16-18, 1959. The 150-acre, par 71 course was designed by William P. Bell, Jr., an award-winning, nationally known golf course architect. The course, known for its variety, “lying in a scenic valley pointing toward the ocean and abounding with water holes and rolling hills,” was designed to appeal to beginners and pros alike.
Facilities were a bit spartan at first. It would take a year for the clubhouse to be built. Winter rains highlighted drainage problems. The grass died four times. And one article suggests the road in wasn’t paved until September!
But excitement still ran high. The course, originally meant to be public, was forced to go private since membership demand was so great.
Opening month festivities focused on members and their guests, servicing 150 linksmen the opening weekend. Membership fees were $90 year, while member green fees cost $1.50 on weekdays and $3 on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays. Guests paid $2 and $4, respectively.
The first hole-in-one was recorded in late February by CM Lucas. The second came in May, when Mrs. Fred Schamer sunk a 171-yard shot on the 16th hole.
The course hadn’t been open for a month before reigning state golf champions, Orange Coast College, adopted Mesa Verde as its new home. Santa Ana College and Newport Harbor High School soon followed suit. For the first time, TheSailors could earn a letter for golf.
The first school match took place Friday, February 27, when OCC lost to Pasadena City College due to a technicality. The Pirates fought on, however, trouncing Santa Ana 28-2 at Mesa Verde in a pivotal match, paving the way for the Eastern Conference title. OCC went on to win the Eastern Conference Tournament. Along the way, OCC swingers set several scoring records, including Wes Smith’s 69 at Mesa Verde and a state scoring record for five men (73.8).
A mixed blessing came in the beginning of February, when the course was annexed to the city of Costa Mesa. One downside: it seems Costa Mesa had its own ideas about code enforcement, which delayed completion of the clubhouse.
You can’t talk about the first year at Mesa Verde Country Club without talking about John Plumbley. Plumbley had previously been associated with Rice Institute, as well as the Laguna Beach, Willowick, and Irvine Country clubs. A key figure during the development phase, and later club professional, Plumbley tirelessly championed the course and its tournaments, often using his platform as golf columnist for the Globe-Herald (later Daily Pilot) to promote the club.
The club was built in tandem with the new Mesa Verde housing development and shared equal billing. Mesa Verde was touted as “an exciting new country club community.” “Leave home at 8:00,” says one ad. “Tee off at 8:05.”
Throughout the first year the club hosted regular competitions, from the Mesa Verde Country Club Inaugural Match-Medal Tournament to the Costa Mesa Junior Chamber of Commerce tournament. But the biggest event of the year was the first Orange County Open.
The Orange County Open Invitational Golf Tournament, which ran from October 15-18, 1959, was called the first sporting event of national interest to occur in Orange County. The PGA event was spearheaded by the Newport Harbor Exchange Club, and sponsored by the PGA. Profits went to needy children in Orange County.
The tournament made a big splash on the community. Press banquets were held (Vin Scully was there), television crews were summoned, and the course and neighborhood were featured in Golf Life magazine. Locals linked with pros in Pro-Am matches. And 500 spectators filled the galleries.
The competition did not disappoint. The Open saw two holes in one (by Jerry Barber and Davis Love — both on that 16th hole) and even a “hat-in-one,” where a golf ball landed in a woman’s hat. The competition ended as a nail-biter. Jack Fleck could have tied the match on the last hole, but he missed the last uphill putt by four feet. Jay Herbert ended up taking the prize. Afterwards, Herbert offered deep praise for the course. “These greens were excellent,” he said. “And all of the galleries were magnificent.”
The first jam-packed year ended with rumors for the future. Could the course, some wondered, expand to 36 holes?