The San Bernardino, Calif. course once drew Hollywood stars like Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin to golf, but the members who have owned it since 1944 have voted to entertain offers. The property is deeded to prohibit development of any sort, so it must remain as a golf course, park or other recreational facility.
Arrowhead Country Club, which drew stars in Hollywood’s Golden Age to golf and still stands as a symbol of luxury in a city fighting a different reputation, is looking for its first new buyer since World War II, the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sun reported.
By a 73 percent vote, the equity members who have owned the club since 1944 through the Arrowhead Corporation have taken a step to entertain a buyer, the Sun reported. But that move shouldn’t be read as anything other than a way to improve a course and club that are doing fine but could use improvement, General Manager Wayne Austin said.
“We’re holding our own,” Austin told the Sun on March 3, a day before an annual membership meeting where he expected more to be decided. “But there’s always room for improvement, further investment, enhancement—maybe a hybrid bermuda [grass] as opposed to the common bermuda on the fairway. A new pizza oven would [also] be nice.”
Multiple potential buyers have expressed interest, Austin told the Sun, although he wouldn’t say who or how many. And all of the potential suitors, plus any new ones that may emerge, would have to keep the property as open grass, he added.
“The property cannot be subject to development under any circumstance,” he said. “It’s deeded as such. It must be used as park, recreation [or a] golf course.”
The club holds $553,000 in debt, Austin acknowledged, but that reflects a level that’s been on the books for years, he added.
“It goes back 10, 20 years,” he said. “It’s the same debt. We retire debt, then we incur more—the landscaping equipment is very expensive.”
And this tax year showed a loss for tax reasons, because of depreciation, but excluding depreciation the year ended in the black, Austin noted.
Membership, meanwhile, is at 300 paying members, down “about 35” from last year, the Sun reported. But Austin expects a new introductory program implemented last year, through which new members can get 12 months of access for $275 a month, plus a $250 down payment, to continue to attract new members.
“We have 34, 35 members in that program right now, and we hope to reach 50 by the end of May,” Austin told the Sun. “We just voted in the mayor [San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis] as a full-fledged member [last week].”
But some homeowners whose properties overlook the course, conscious of the advancing age of the average golfer and other demographic trends that don’t seem to spell success for the sport, are skeptical, the Sun reported.
“I don’t know what the solution is—all I know is it’s in terrible shape,” said Daniel S. Malmuth, who lives beside the course and is also the historical commissioner for the 7th Ward, where the course is located.
“Some of the most illustrious stars from the old days of Hollywood played there,” Malmuth told the Sun. “It was designed by Clark Glasson and Robert Muir Greaves, who were famous golf course architects. It’s a highly designed course.”
The course was originally built to accompany the Arrowhead Springs Hotel, and luminaries including Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and William Randolph Hearst golfed there, according to Malmuth.
Arrowhead is now one of three golf clubs in San Bernardino, and has good relations with Shandin Hills Golf Club and San Bernardino Golf Club, Austin said.
It was primarily used as an adjunct of the resort until private investment took over, and it changed hands several times between 1927 and 1944, when the Arrowhead Corporation LLP was formed, Austin said.
Those equity members have continued to own it until now, when a mail-in vote of the club’s members determined it was time for a sale, the Sun reported. Several of those members said any questions about the reason for the decision should be directed to the President of the club’s Board, Roger Work; the Sun reported that its efforts to reach Work for comment were unsuccessful.
The club remains a major drawing point for that area of the city, said Councilman Jim Mulvihill, who represents the district.
“The property is centrally located and located in a very nice neighborhood,” said Mulvihill, who had heard rumors the club might be sold to a developer, and said he opposed any such move. “Even if you’re not a member, you’re in ‘the country club area.’ That’s a huge part of the land value in that area.”