Anyone who lived in Fresno County at the turn of the 19th century and hankered to play a round of golf learned to plan ahead. The closest golf courses were more than 150 miles away on the other side of a mountain range. To the south in Los Angeles, Riverside and Pasadena, there were 13 courses on record. And north of Fresno, in the Monterey and San Francisco areas, there were five courses, most of which had only nine holes. One course offered only six.
If they could return for a day, one can only imagine what Sunnyside founding fathers George C. Roeding, C. C. Teague, Frank M. Romain, Harvey Swift and A.W. Goodfellow would think of their golf course over 100 years after ground was broken.
In 1911, they built nine holes on rough turf with sand and oil greens. It is estimated that the length of the first nine holes was no greater than 2,500 yards. The course’s design was primitive compared to generally accepted golf course standards. Each hole’s “flag” was a metal crossbar with a piece of carpet attached to it for smoothing footprints and snake tracks on the greens before putting.
William Park “Billy” Bell was a fledging architect working for the established golf course architect George Thomas at the Annadale Country Club in Pasadena when he was hired to design the second nine holes and plant all 18 greens with bentgrass. On October 3, 1925, the expansion was completed and officially opened. Billy Bell would later design, among others, Bel-Air Country Club, Riviera Country Club, La Jolla Country Club and Del Rio in Modesto.
Bell returned in the 1940s to retool his design and enlisted the help of Bob Baldock, who stayed on after Bell left to serve as superintendent until the mid-1950s.
As with any enduring historic institution, Sunnyside Country Club evolved with the times. After a fire destroyed the original clubhouse in 1941, a new one was constructed in its place. The golf course has undergone several major changes in the last 100 years. The 18th left green was constructed in the 1950’s. In the 1970’s, new tees were added on holes 11, 16, and 17 and the green on hole 16 was reconstructed. In the 1980’s, cart paths were built. In the 1990’s, the cart paths were extended and many bunkers were redone.
In 1998, the Sunnyside membership voted to redo all nineteen greens on the course and the two practice greens to bring them up to USGA specifications. Keeping Billy Bell’s original design in mind, the several of the greens were reshaped to allow more hole locations. The changes in configuration of the third and fourth holes allowed for expansion of the driving range. The third hole is now one of the longest par-4 holes in the Valley at 466 yards from the back of the championship tee.
In 2005, the grounds crew installed new championship tees on holes seven, 11 and 18. This extra length brought the course total to nearly 7,000 yards. From the championship tees, Sunnyside is a true test of one's golfing skill.
It is impossible to describe the evolution if the golf course without mentioning the men who have led the club since its inception. Former Head Professionals include Eliot Callender, California Open champion Olin Dutra, Grant Halstead, Dave Martin, Derek Hardy, and Gary Loustalot. Each of these men contributed to the history and development of Sunnyside in his own way. It is the man who followed Loustalot who has arguably made the biggest impact on the club as it is today.
Sunnyside Country Club is extremely honored to have had Steve Menchinella as head golf professional for 41 years, and general manager for 13. He is currently the Director of Golf Emeritus. Steve is known by his peers as a pro’s pro. He knows how to run a first-class operation and does whatever it takes to get the job done. These traits garnered Steve the affectionate moniker “the godfather of Northern California golf.”
In 2004, the Northern California Golf Writers honored Steve with the Golden State Award. This award is given annually to a person who has made substantial and lasting contributions to the game of golf. In 2008, the NCPGA created an annual award to recognize an individual for lifetime contributions to the PGA, and another award honoring a person who has brought credit to the professional tour. The 2008 awards went to Jim Langley, Cypress Point head professional, and Arnold Palmer. The 2009 recipients were Ken Venturi and our own Steve Menchinella.
Sunnyside was the setting for the 1981 United States Junior Amateur Championship. The U.S. Junior Amateur is the national championship for male golfers under the age of 18. Over the years, the Junior Amateur has served as one of the game’s proving grounds, providing glimpses of future greatness in many of its champions, among whom are Mason Rudolph, Gay Brewer, Johnny Miller, Gary Koch, Jack Renner, David Duval, Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan. President Bill Irwin led a large group of volunteers to assist Steve Menchinella and his staff in staging this outstanding tournament for the finest junior golfers in America. Johnny Miller was the guest speaker at the tournament won by Scott Erickson.
Sunnyside hosted the California State Open for the first time in 1940. The tournament was won by the former Sunnyside head professional and 1934 U.S. Open winner Olin Dutra. The tournament was such a great success that the State Open was also played at Sunnyside in 1941 and 1942.
Sunnyside hosted the Fresno Women’s Open Golf Tournament in the early 1950s and attracted some of the best women professionals of that era, including Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs and Betsy Rawls. It was a 54-hole stroke play event featuring both professionals and amateurs. The event was a part of the California Women’s Golf Circuit tour.
In addition to prestigious professional and amateur events, Sunnyside also hosted the Fresno City Amateur as well as an annual pro-scratch event that drew local club pros and touring pros from throughout the country. The club continues to host several USGA qualifiers each year.
Sunnyside has been the home of several notable golfers and athletes including U.S. Amateur and Walker Cup participant Charles Seaver, LPGA Tour player and Curtis Cup participant Shelley Hamlin, local legends Jim and Kevin Sweeney, MLB Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and PGA Tour winner Nick Watney.
The camaraderie, the friendships, the enjoyment and the pleasures derived from Sunnyside Country Club have only just begun. The foundation is in place for the next 100 years to be even more grand.
Our Members are that foundation. Our Members create the camaraderie, the friendships, the enjoyment and the pleasures. Our Members make the golf games, enjoy the special events, shake the dice and, in so doing, create the culture and atmosphere that make the fabric of a country club, we call it the Sunnyside way.