Enough with the rain already. Let's play golf! Hopefully this tenth edition of Fellow Book Benders will lift some of the gray from your day. This is a free monthly online newsletter about the ridiculous truth and historical tidbits of San Francisco, the Russian River and beyond. Can you spy a glimmer of your yesteryear from these tales? Hold on tight for a slippery ride down memory lane.
NORTHWOOD GOLF CLUB:
Northwood Golf Course features the magic of architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie. Other northern California courses of his include Meadow Club (Fairfax), Claremont Country Club (Oakland), Sharps Park (Pacifica), and Green Hills (Millbrae). According to the Forestville Historical Society, he also created the Russian River Golf Club, which at one time was near the old Skippy's restaurant and the Hacienda Bridge. But he is best known for Augusta National (Augusta, GA), Cypress Point (Monterey, CA), and Pasatiempo (Santa Cruz, CA) where he lived for a short time and was buried.
MacKenzie was a friend of Bohemian Jack Neville who was a five-time California state amateur champion. Neville persuaded the Scot to build a nine-hole course on the seventy wooded acres across the Russian River from the Bohemian Grove. Following construction of Northwood Golf Course in 1928, there was a succession of owners including the Korbel family. A pedestrian bridge connected the Grove to the Korbel vacation home (on Redwood Drive today) where Bohemians would play cards, hold socials and taste local delicacies. Across the street and close to the hundred-yard marker on the ninth fairway was another gathering spot (private residence now). Its charcoal stove, cleat-marked floors and snooker table remind us of another era. From there, they would walk behind the ninth green and up the hill to the old proshop.
In 1960 the Northwood Development Corporation began selling lots. Roads were asphalted and homes were built, removing some 300 yards from the course. Evidently, the tee box for No. 1 was seventy yards further back (no restaurant at the time) while No. 2 was originally built as a daunting 440-yard par four. No. 4 was some fifty yards longer as well, all lined by columns of redwoods. Former Bohemian Bob Hope once quipped, "The fairways at Northwood are so narrow you have to walk down them single file."
The original family owners have restored the course to its initial magnificence, prompting Golf Magazine to rank Northwood as the third best nine-hole course (public or private) in the nation.
True Stories(or so I've been told):
During the " good old days", judgement flowed off the backs of country folk. We often looked the other way when it came to the customs of our guests from across the River. Bohemians came to Northwood Golf Course to play and frolic. It was not uncommon to see a line forming at the hooker trailer, which for many summer sessions was parked in the lot behind the restaurant. Rumor has it that several restaurant patrons (including local politicians) kept the painted ladies well stocked with Bloody Mary's.
Northwood Restaurant was also known to have hosted the annual Banana Slug Festival from time to time. In 1989 prizes were awarded for heaviest, tastiest and fastest. Slug-handlers prepared a painted track of diminishing concentric circles before stationing the slimy critters in the center. Whichever one crossed the outer perimeter first was declared the winner. One has to wonder if some of these races didn't leak into the midnight hour.
The cook-off highlighted banana slug splits, pancakes, yogurts, milkshakes, and soups to name but a few. In the latter category, there was the "witches brew", which featured chicken blood, rooster eye, and slug. Yummy!
Robbin Bruce Hackett (aka Popeye), our good friend and beloved Northwood Golf Course assistant, has passed away at age 63. I can see him now sitting on a dark cloud above, sipping a rum and tonic between drags on an unfiltered Camel. He is probably passing the time (which can be eternal) by berating that "worthless puke" MacKenzie for not cutting down more redwoods. Boneheads of the other-world unite! Too many stories fill this born-again curmudgeon to relate here, so I will confine my raka-raka to the "Killer Toilet Seat" tale.
Once upon an infamous time, there lived a greens keeper who resided across the road from his place of employment. This radish-nosed person rented out his cinder-block studio below his living quarters to an obese fellow who went four hundred and some hefty change. Late one stormy night, the renter made his way to the bathroom to commune with mother nature (it should be noted that the floor was bordered by a concrete slab to corral any runaway urine or shower water). He lifted the lid and proceeded to plop himself down when the unhinged seat catapulted him headfirst into the abutment. Steve Baxman, Monte Rio's fire chief, arrived and pronounced the tenant dead. But wait, this is not the end of our story.
A second person (a lightweight at 350 pounds) soon occupied the studio. To everyone's disbelief, this gentleman took the same trip off the killer toilet seat as the previous renter. He, however, survived, breaking his collarbone, able only to roll over into a litter box. Our hero found the victim three days later with a smug cat sitting atop his head, taking a whiz.
I tell this tale with the deepest of affection for a man who was larger than the golf course he called home. Rest In Peace, my friend.
P.S. We will always have his signature postmark: mole claws framing the first tee sign.
Benny Barth, musician and local treasure, passed away recently. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1929, becoming a song-and-dance man by the age of four. He took up the trumpet but soon left it behind when he noticed that the girls liked him better as a drummer. Benny received a music scholarship to Butler University where he played the best black jazz clubs in the city. To this day, he is the only white member of the Bebop Society of Indianapolis. When the group met at Benny’s house, they would gather in a circle with their arms around each other, scatting two choruses of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Hooly Koo”. In this segregated city, neighbors would prance by, shielding their children from the sinful noise.
He became part of the Mastersounds that was signed by World Pacific Records in the late fifties. They were hot, contracting gigs at the Blue Note in Chicago as well as the original Birdland in New York. The Mastersounds also played at the first Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958 (and later at its 50th anniversary) and at the Newport Jazz Festival. If you ask Benny for his favorite recording, he might just say “Stranger in Paradise”. After the band broke up, Benny was a regular at the hip after-hour joints in San Francisco when it was known as Harlem of the West. He played at The Tropics, Basin Street West, Jazz Cellar, The Coffee Gallery, and Jimbo's Bop City. Many music enthusiasts remember Benny as the house drummer at the Hungry i where he backed up Mel Torme, Barbra Streisand, John Hendricks and others. Benny also shared the stage with Duke Ellington, Dizzie Gillespie, Vince Guaraldi, and Peggy Lee to name just a few. In addition, Benny worked with Wes Montgomery, the greatest jazz guitarist who ever lived.
Benny made his initial trip to the redwoods in 1977 when he strutted his skills at the first Russian River Jazz Festival. In 1987 he formed the Grand Masters, keeping alive the North Bay jazz scene, as well as becoming the musical director of the Cotati Jazz Festival. A few years later he met Diane Cosgrove. They soon married in a swinging ceremony at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve regaled by the Rudy Salvini Big Band (over two hundred musicians stepped in for a song or two). Later, the Benny Barth Trio entertained us at Main Street Station in Guerneville while living near the fourth fairway at Northwood Golf Course. Thank you, Benny, for sharing your talent with us. The beat goes on. Rest In Peace.
Lewis Don Bale, DDS, passed away last month. Don spent his early years in Pocatello, Idaho, before graduating from the University of Missouri School of Dentistry. He later served in the Navy during WWII after which he eventually became an orthodontist in the California city of Richmond. Don and his wife May built a summer home next to the Northwood Golf Club in 1961. In 1970 he got together with a group and bought the course. His son, Ed, is presently the greens superintendent.
Don was always a very giving person but on one occasion he went beyond the call. During the 1960's, the Northwood Golf Club was a one-man show. A gentleman by the name of Homer Williams ran the proshop as well as maintained the course. At times he would put out a tin cup for fees and go mow the greens or other such work. It is told that Homer was a character who would quaff down an alcoholic beverage or three. While entertaining his favorite pastime, he evidently lost his dentures while at the Pink Elephant saloon in Monte Rio. Don Bale came to the rescue. On his kitchen table, the young orthodontist made some new hardware for Homer at no charge.
Rest In Peace, Don.
Perhaps you have a story of your own you would like to share with Fellow Book Benders. Go to www.johnmccarty.org and click on "Contact" and tell all. The taller the tale, the more majestic.
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In March, we will visit Monte Rio during the sixties. Stay tuned. For more information on my novels as well as Don't Stop the Music (to be released in May, 2017), you can go to http://www.johnmccarty.org.