Golf Course History
Papago Park Golf Course was developed by the City of Phoenix in the early 1960s to add to its municipal golf course offerings. The land within Papago Park, once a U.S. National Monument, offered excellent terrain for a golf course facility. The City engaged golf course architect William Francis Bell for the job. Bell, the son of the more famous golf architect, William Parc Bell, was operating out of their California office at this time.
“Billy Bell, Jr.”, as he was often called, was enjoying a period of many design assignments. His father had passed away in 1953. Following this time, the junior Bell picked up numerous design contracts throughout the western United States.
Bell, Sr. was born in Pennsylvania, moved to California in 1911 and became caddie at Annandale Golf Club, and later the greenkeeper at Pasadena Golf Club. He worked briefly for golf architect Willie Watson before setting up his own design practice in 1920.
He is probably most famous for his collaboration with George C. Thomas, Jr.in creating land-mark courses such as Los Angeles, Bel-Air and Riviera Country Clubs. Known as “Billy Bell”, his influence led to Thomas’ trademark bunkers. This style was not present in Thomas’ earlier work, prior to his association with Bell, but became part of his, and his son’s, contributions to architecture in the West.
He liked to employ his trademark laced edge bunkers, placing them with strategy and temptation in mind. At times he would leave islands amid his large bunkers. Occasionally he would place hot-dog shaped bunkers as backstops to greens. His large multi-bayed bunkers often flowed away from greens, creating a look as if the entire area had been carved from one landform. He was not afraid to place cross hazards for the tee shot, particularly on par-5s.
Like Thomas, Bell favored rolling and undulated green surfaces that were strategically linked to pin locations on the green. He designed his approaches to enable a golfer to work the ball onto the green. Bell used trees in his designs, but sparingly and more for accenting the aesthetics of the surrounding area. Like many of the classic architects, Bell often used natural drainage paths to drive design decisions at every step. This included hazards and placement, as well as their size, shape and design. All of these aspects of design are prevalent on the Papago Course, as if Bell, Jr. was intent on creating a museum of traditional architecture. This, to Arizona Golf, is one of the critical factors in our interest, preserving these feature enhancements, and avoiding at all costs any effort at “redesign” where the history and tradition might be lost.
In 1961 the City of Phoenix began construction plans for Papago Park Golf Course. Bell added Arthur Jack Snyder, a local golf course architect and agronomist, to his staff for the work. Snyder had recently relocated to Phoenix and had familiarity with the Papago site. The two men agreed that Snyder would provide on-site observation services to carry out Bell’s design work. Snyder’s involvement was primarily to oversee construction. Living only a few miles from Papago Park, Snyder took great pride in visiting the site and meeting with shapers and the contractor serving as Bell’s on-site supervisor. The Snyder work is important to recognize and preserve. Among Jack Snyder’s biggest contributions was his field work on greens at Papago. Snyder had been superintendent at the Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, universally recognized as one of America’s great courses.
Construction was completed in 1963. The Grand Opening was held September 7, 1963 with a ribbon cutting by Mayor Sam Mardian Jr. and Edith West, President of the Parks Board.