Bell Legacy

The William Bell Society is volunteer organization dedicated to promoting and preserving the legacy of William P. Bell Sr. and his son William F. Bell, along with their contributions to golf course architecture.

While literally hundreds of golf course architects have designed or redesigned courses in California, few have had the lasting impact of William P. and William F. Bell.

1926 @ Riviera Country Club from left to right: Bell Sr. George Thomas, Alistair MacKenzie

1926 @ Riviera Country Club from left to right: Bell Sr. George Thomas, Alistair MacKenzie

William Park “Billy” Bell was born in 1886 in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania to Ada and John Bell. The second of four children, Billy moved to California in 1911 and became the caddy master at Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena. In 1914 he became the greens keeper at Pasadena Golf and later worked as a construction foreman for course architect Willie Watson. It was in the latter role that he assisted with the design or renovation of such prominent Southern California courses as Hacienda Golf Club and San Diego Country Club. While working with Watson, Billy oversaw the grading and construction of new bunkers at Annandale in 1919.

Bell ventured out on his own 1920, securing projects such as Woodland Hills Country Club and Long Beach Country Club. But it was at Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton where he would catch the eye of an established architect and future partner, George C. Thomas Jr. Thomas so admired Bell’s work that he asked him to be his construction foreman on upcoming projects at La Cumbre Country Club and Ojai Valley Inn.

Thomas, a founding member of Pine Valley, would partner with Bell to create several of California’s most revered courses including Bel-Air, Los Angeles Country Club and Riviera Country Club. Significant solo Bell designs include Palos Verdes Country Club, Annandale Golf Club, Stanford Golf Course, Balboa Park Golf Club, Randolph Park North, and Tucson Country Club.

Bell employed his trademark lacey-edged bunkers with strategy and temptation in mind. These artistic, three dimensional multi-bayed bunkers were used as fairway cross hazards and naturally flowed away from greens. He favored rolling, undulating green surfaces strategically linked to hole locations and approaches allowing the golfer to work the ball on to the green. Bell was a master at using drainage paths in his design decisions, allowing natural hazards and fairway movement to shine. Trees were used, but sparingly, mostly to accent the aesthetics of the surrounding area.

After solo efforts in the 1930s, Bell partnered with prominent east coast architect A.W. Tillinghast. Together they redesigned the course at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach. Additionally, Bell was partly responsible for the beautiful bunker work at San Francisco Golf Club, considered one of Tillie’s finest designs. During World War II, Bell was a turf consultant to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After the war he became a founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). Bell continued working in the west and Hawaii until he passed away on June 21, 1953.

Recent generations of golfers recognized Billy Bell as a competent, busy golf course architect of his era, which we now know is due to most of his work being compromised over the last 100 years. The historical research required to restore leading Southern California courses like Los Angeles Country Club North and Annandale Golf Club, among others, uncovered his mastery of course construction and agronomy. The wide acclaim of completed Bell course restorations has proven his contributions to the game place him among the elite of golf’s Golden Age of design.

William Francis Bell (Billy Bell, Jr.) graduated from the University of Southern California before joining his father’s design business in the post-war years.  A prolific designer in his own right , William F. created an impressive number of Southern California’s best-known layouts, including the Sandpiper and Industry Hills golf clubs, as well as the Bermuda Dunes Country Club.

The firm of William P. Bell and Son collaborated on a number of well-known courses including the Bakersfield and Newport Beach country clubs.  Billy Bell died in 1953, leaving behind his vision for the design of Torrey Pines. Billy Bell, Jr. went on to make that vision a reality and oversaw the course’s creation in the late 1950′s.

1984 marked Billy Bell, Jr.’s passing, but not before having contributed to the legacy of California’s First Family of Golf Course Design.

Both Bells were inducted into the Southland Golf Hall of Fame in 2008 and to the SCGA Hall of Fame in 2017.


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