Friday, January 3, 2020

Stations: Golf Links

Fred Wilder Swanton was a man with a vision when he decided to add a resort hotel to his Casino and Natatorium at the Santa Cruz Main Beach. The Casa del Rey Hotel opened to great fanfare on May 1, 1911, but no resort is complete without some extra amenities to entice travelers. The hotel included a Spanish garden, lounges, an overbridge to the Casino's grand ballroom, and several other special touches, but Swanton's biggest venture related to the resort was the opening of a golf course two miles away atop a hill on the northern border of Santa Cruz known as Pogonip.

Players teeing off at Hole 7 toward the lower portion of the Casa del Rey Golf & Country Club grounds, 1917. Photograph by Howard Clinton Tibbitts. [Worthpoint]
The Casa del Rey Golf & Country Club was the first golf course built in Santa Cruz County and the last major project overseen by Swanton as president of the Santa Cruz Beach Company. His overspending and poor money management led to the company going bankrupt in 1914 and reincorporating as the Santa Cruz Seaside Company the following December.

Golfers playing a game on the Casa del Rey Golf & Country club course, 1910s.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History]
The golf course was built on 145 acres of Henry Cowell's private ranch, which was leased to Swanton for the purposes of the course. The hill, Pogonip, was named after a Shoshone Native American word that roughly means "icy fog," an appropriate description of the type of weather that often permeates the hill in cold autumn mornings.

The Casa del Rey Golf & Country Club clubhouse beside the artificial lake built in the middle of the Hole 10 fairway, c. 1920s. [Deep Blue Moon]
The location was convenient because it sat immediately beside the Southern Pacific Railroad's branch line between Santa Cruz and San José, so vacationers could be easily shuttled to or from the course by simply taking the train between the Casino and the new Golf Links station built on the west side of the tracks. The station opened to traffic in May 1914 and was located slightly south of the Powder Works spur, which had gone out of use the previous year after the facility shut down. Nothing is known with certainty regarding the arrangement of station, but it was likely a simple structure with an overhead awning and bench seats for waiting passengers. Behind the station, a long flight of stairs ascended to the golf course above. The station was a flag-stop, so passengers had to flag down passing trains.

Players teeing off at Hole 1 outside the Casa del Rey clubhouse, 1917.
Photograph by Howard Clinton Tibbitts. [Worthpoint]
The new golf course opened to the public on February 12, 1912 with a tournament to celebrate George Washington's birthday. The centerpiece of the course was the two-story clubhouse designed by L. D. Esty and erected beside the first tee and the eighteenth hole. This log cabin-style structure, a part of the Craftsman Bungalow style, was unlike anything seen in the city at the time, and harkened back to an earlier, more rustic period, which was appropriate for a golf course that sat on the fringe of the redwood forest.

Panoramic photograph of the clubhouse, 1920s. [Deep Blue Moon]
After the Santa Cruz Beach Company went bankrupt, the golf course was purchased by a new company which operated as the Santa Cruz Golf & Country Club. Without its connection to the Casa del Rey, however, the course struggled to find golfers. The course had been designed as a mid-income experience, but middle class people were not especially interested in golfing at the time. And with the opening of the more upscale Pasatiempo in 1929 and Rio del Mar in 1930, and the advent of the Great Depression the golf course on Pogonip Hill simply could not compete and was forced to shut down in 1934.

A woman riding a horse over a table outside the clubhouse, late 1930s. [Deep Blue Moon]
In 1936, after two years of neglect, the property was taken over by Dorothy and Deming Wheeler, who saw the potential in the location as a polo field and, therefore, opened the Pogonip Social & Polo Club. In addition to running riding classes, polo games, and other horse-related activities on the property, the Wheelers installed a swimming pool and tennis courts beside the refurbished club house. The Golf Links flag-stop, rarely if ever used since the 1910s, was formally abandoned on August 28, 1939.

People playing bike polo outside the clubhouse, 1948. [Deep Blue Moon]
The polo club at Pogonip was relatively short-lived, but significantly better photographed than the earlier golf course. It was somewhat revolutionary in its acceptance of both men and women at the same time, and many photographs attest to this. During World War II, injured servicemen used the location for rehabilitation. The polo club did not reopen after the war but the clubhouse continued to operate as a general-purpose social club and hireable venue for events, operating under the name The Pogonip Club.

The Pogonip Club clubhouse after nearly two decades of abandonment, July 2007.
Photograph by mBeth. [Flickr]
In October 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake damaged the clubhouse to a substantial enough degree that it was forced to shut down pending repairs. But those repairs never came. The land and facilities, along with around 500 acres of legacy Cowell land, were donated to the City of Santa Cruz shortly after the earthquake to create Pogonip Open Space. The city promptly filled in the pool and abandoned the tennis courts. The clubhouse is still standing, but the structure is fenced off and access to the public is prohibited even by park staff. Plans to refurbish and reopen the structure have failed repeatedly over the past thirty years, despite consistent pleas from the public to do so.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9962N, 122.0377W

The site of Golf Links station is along the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railroad line about 0.2 miles north of where the tracks enter the redwoods near Golf Course Drive. Legally, this stretch of track is the private property of Roaring Camp Railroads and it is also not an entirely safe stretch of track due to the presence of multiple homeless camps in the area. There are several trails that provide access to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and the University of California, Santa Cruz campus, and the main entrance to Pogonip is via Golf Course Drive off State Route 9.

Citations & Credits:


  1. Re: players teeing off on the first hole. Man standing on left looks like Fred Swanton. The course was built in about four months using money from John Martin, railroad money.


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