About Billy Bell, a Master of Western Golf Design
In the pantheon of golf architects, there is well-deserved reverence for the great masters of course design. Individuals such as Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, Alister MacKenzie, and Stanley Thompson stand as titans of the game. Less well-known to modern players, though held in equally high esteem by his contemporaries, was William P. "Billy" Bell, the creator of the golf course at Mesa Country Club.
Born in 1886, Bell’s career spanned the Golden Age of golf course architecture. He began working in California’s golf industry in 1911 as a caddiemaster at the revered Annandale Golf Club and the greenskeeper at Pasadena Golf Club. Later, Bell served as the construction superintendent for Willie Watson and George Thomas, Jr. before eventually becoming a golf course architect in his own right. Bell found critical acclaim early in this architecture career, collaborating with his mentor Thomas on such celebrated designs as Bel-Air, Riviera and Los Angeles country clubs in the 1920s.
From the 1930s forward, Bell (pictured at right among family and friends) was one of the West's most prolific golf course architects. Among his most significant designs were the La Jolla Country Club, Newport Beach Country Club, San Diego Country Club, and Tucson Country Club.
In 1947, Bell was commissioned by the founders of Mesa Country Club to design the golf course for their new venture. Bell provided routing plans for both a 9- and an 18-hole golf course. The founders were so impressed with the strategy and skill expressed in the 18-hole routing that they elected to have Bell finalize this design even though it required the club to purchase an additional 13 acres of land from the neighboring McLellan family. The resulting golf course has stood the test of time, delighting (and at times confounding) generations of Mesa Country Club members.
Billy Bell died in 1953, leaving behind his vision for the design of Torrey Pines. His son, William F. Bell, went on to make that vision a reality and oversaw the course's creation in the late 1950's. Many contemporary golf course designers, such as Tom Weiskopf and the late John Harbottle, find inspiration in Bell’s courses. To these modern masters, his knack for creating great strategy, deception and variety within simple, playable designs is the pinnacle of golf course architecture.