Clubhouse Virginia - 1920
Virginia Country Club | Long Beach, California | est. 1909

Plans for a country club in Long Beach were first formulated in 1905, but several events interfered with those plans and the idea was tabled.  If it wasn’t for those initial challenges, Virginia Country Club as we know it could very well have carried on a different name.  To attract tourism to the high-end hotels in the beautiful oceanfront beulevards of Long Beach, the idea of a classy country club as a quality amenity for hotel guests became more and more an enticing reality.  Thus became the original raison d'etre of Virginia Country Club.    

On March 26, 1907, the Daily Telegram announced that the Hotel Bixby located near the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Ocean Boulevard—and sister hotel to Hotel Maryland in Pasadena—would change its name to the Hotel Virginia upon reopening.  The hotel's name was changed for various reasons, but historical documents show that after a fire caused considerable damage to the Bixby Hotel, extensive renovation efforts afterwards included a serious construction accident that killed several workers and injuring many more.  To avoid the stigma and bad press, they decided to change its name.  Hotel Manager D.M. Linnard noted simply that “Maryland and Virginia sounded well together” and was named so as a fitting complement to her sister hotel in Pasadena.    

The opening of Virginia Hotel was considered a spectacular study in Roaring Twenties opulence, from it's lavishly furnished grand salon and masterpiece paintings to its curved marble staircase and massive pillars.  The Virginia Hotel became known as one of the "five great hotels of the West" in company with The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.  It was stated that a single night's stay could wipe out a working man's bank account.  But for the owners, the Virginia Hotel was not enough.  They desired to up the ante by adding a country club to its long list of classy amenities.         

Plans for a country club for the guests of the popular Virginia Hotel were resumed as the appointed committee continued its search for a suitable place. 
Although there were initial talks of using the Old Adobe house at the Rancho Los Cerritos as the clubhouse for The Virginia Country Club, complications with that arrangement caused the search committee to look at two other sites of interest.  "The Los Alamitos" site, he center of a sheep-grazing pasture on top of Reservoir Hill, was chosen as its first location with the signing of a ten year lease.  

In November 1909, plans for the new country club were completed, enabling the official seal to be formally stamped on the certificate of incorporation of “The Virginia Country Club.”


Clubhouse Aerial - VirginiaCCAerial Virginia CC
Early Clubhouse - Virginia CC
 
 
The charter members were a group of prominent Long Beach citizens organized with the notion of making “The Virginia Country Club” a first class amenity for guests of the Virginia Hotel. Serving on the first Board of Directors was C. J. Curtis (President), Fred H. Bixby (Vice-President), Llewellyn Bixby (Secretary-Treasurer), and Col. Charles R. Drake, Jean G. Drake, Dr. A. B. Austin, Dr. Harriman Jones, A. M. Goodhue, and George C. Flint. The list of charter members reads like a leading roster of pioneer Long Beach citizens, including Charles "C.J." Walker, Jotham Bixby, J. F. Craig, J. J. Moftell, A. L. Parmley, Charles L. Heartwell, John C. Munholland, Ralph H. Clock, and Walter Desmond. The bylaws of the Los Angeles Country Club were adopted for the Virginia Country Club. The initiation fee was set at $25.00, and the dues were to be $2.50 per month.


Of the 119 charter membership issued with the Club's formation, Colonel Charles R. Drake, principal partner and owner of the land upon which the Virginia Hotel was built (pictured to the right), kept 15 for use by the Virginia Hotel guests.  In return for the 15 memberships, the hotel provided $5,000 annually to the Club, a revenue stream that proved critical to its early growth.  Interestingly enough, Drake didn't play golf, but he acted as a "godfather" of sorts by serving on the board of directors for the Club's first 19 years and chipping in his own money on several occasions when operating deficits threatened to close the Club.  Virginia Country Club's odd-numbered cap of 415 members recognizes Drake's devoted efforts.

In January 1920, after the ten-year lease with The Alamitos Land Company was to expire, the Club moved seven miles north to its current location--the site our founding members actually favored from the beginning, but could not secure it at that time.  A 135-acre tract of land was leased, under a lease-purchase option, from Flint, Bixby & Company, the owners of the Rancho Los Cerritos lands adjacent to the Old Adobe. Under this agreement, the Rancho Los Cerritos was to remain intact and the The Virginia Country Club would be built around its property lines.  A golf course was laid out, and a clubhouse constructed and formally dedicated on August 31, 1921. Except for some rerouting in the early days when flood control and other surrounding development dictated many of the golf course’s features, Virginia Country Club looks much like it did then. 

The Rancho Los Cerritos musuem and the Old Adobe house exist today as a national landmark and a popular historical attraction.  The Los Cerritos museum, albeit on a small parcel of city property, sits at the heart of Virginia Country Club lands and represents a fitting symbol of our roots.  Virginia County Club's original golf course that was vacated at the Los Alamitos site was later taken over by t
he city of Long Beach and is now known as Recreation Park Golf Course.


Main Lobby Virginia CC


 
Jim Craig - BBQ - Virginia CC

From the blue tees, it's 6,655 yards with a rating of 72.5/130. "The first three holes here," says the late longtime member and former Virginia CC and SCGA president Julie Bescos, "might be as tough as at any club in Southern California."  Distinctive features abound.  At No. 14, there are two greens. The one to the right of the tee is tucked into a small clearing and is no more than 25 feet in diameter. ("Smallest green in Southern California, I bet," says Bescos).  "Lee Trevino", he adds, "says that if they ever eliminated that green, they'd ruin the hole." 

At No. 7, on the other hand, there are several tees, 40 yards apart.  "Strangely enough," a long-time member (LP) has said, "the left tee (which is all water carry at the par-three hole) gives the low handicappers less trouble than the other one, which requires precise club selection because of the shape of the green and the flag placement possibilities." No. 10 is also a par-three, within full view just outside the Spanish ranchero style dining room.  At No. 5, they've planted the "Goydos Tree," so-called because its placement was designed to prevent a scratch player from cutting the dogleg from the elevated tee by hitting into the adjacent fairway, which is something popular PGA Tour player Paul Goydos would do with regularity while playing his hometown course.

The finishing hole features a green atop a mesa which itself is located at the bottom of a swale. "During one club championship," Bescos recalled, "the leader skulled his approach shot and it actually hit the pro shop wall on the fly. It ricocheted off the wall, however, and rolled back onto the green, allowing him to make the putt and keep the championship." 

In a 1928 history of the club, printed in memory of Col. Drake's death that year, a photo of No. 18 was included, complete with a "terrace" halfway up the hill that descends from the clubhouse to the green. "Balls used to come to rest up on the ledge," Bescos recalled, "it was a very difficult shot to keep it on the green from there." Other photos in that book, by the way, showed the clubhouse facilities appearing in many ways similar to today.

Certificate of Golf Prowess - Virginia CC
Reservior Hill - Virginia CC
Dining History Virginia CC



 
18 Green Virginia CCAerial Overview Virginia CC

The architect for the original clubhouse was the eminent Los Angeles firm of Hunt and Burns. Their work included institutional buildings, which today are considered historic landmarks, most notably the Southwest Museum in Highland Park (1910-14). Other work included the Froebel Institute (Casa de Rosas), 950 W. Adams Boulevard (1894); the Doheny Mansion on Chester Place (1898-1900), the Ebell Club in Highland Park (1912), the Ebell Club on Wilshire Boulevard (1924), and the Automobile Club of Southern California (1921) at Figueroa and Adams.


Both the clubhouse and the golf course have been modified many times. After the discovery of oil in the neighboring city of Signal Hill, Shell Oil Company proposed to drill for oil on the Club's property.  In exchange for the opportunity to prospect for oil, Shell Oil compensated Virginia Country Club a hefty sum.  Although oil was never found, Shell Oil made good on the dealand the revenues from that agreement allowed Virginia Country Club to buy-out the land lease and to eventually purchase the land outright.  Enlargements of the clubhouse and extensive modifications to the golf course were undertaken a few years later.

The names of several prominent Long Beach architects are mentioned in connection with the renovation of the clubhouse: Harvey H. Lochridge was preparing plans for enlargement in August 1924, consisting of foundations, fireplace, dining room, dance floor, basement lockers, and dressing rooms (by Southwest Builders and Contractors). Another source states that C. T. McGrew was engaged in 1926 to design and build and enlarged and improved clubhouse, a "Spanish Hacienda, "which was formally opened on September 10, 1927 (Main Library files, 1978). Part of the 1927 renovation was the conversion of the former north terrace to an enclosed dining room, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Tenth Tee, the addition of arches to the north wing, the redesign of the roof to a pitched gable Mission tile roof, and the construction of the golf pro shop.

Emerging from The Virginia Country Club’s roster of members over the years were many active supporters who helped shape the game of golf in Southern California.  They included Southern California Golf Association (SCGA) presidents: Julie Bescos (1962), Jack Gates (1971), and Dr. Bob Thompson (1985).  Former member John Clock not only served as president of the SCGA in 1946.  He also served as president of the California Golf Association (1947) and the United States Golf Association (1960-61), an accomplishment shared by only four other Californians in the USGA’s 120+ year history. 

Dining at VirginiaCC
Old Aerial of VCC Clubhouse No 3 Green

Today, as always, the standards at Virginia Country Club – owned by its 415 limited membership—are second to none for both social entertainment and athletic purposes. Like other clubs over 100 years old, she has many stories to tell.  The decisions our founding members had to make in order to establish a long-term home for Virginia Country Club and survive the many socioeconomic challenges throughout the decades is fascinating not only for the Club itself, but for its connections to Long Beach’s history as well.