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How Billy Bell Left His Mark

Who is Billy Bell?

Billy Bell (William P. Bell, Sr.) is one of the most notable West Coast golf course architects of the last 100 years. Active from the 1920s through the 50s, his work generated some of the best California golf courses today. His impact stretches beyond the courses he designed, and created a path forward for all types of golf course improvements.

Courses Designed

Billy Bell began as a standard golf course worker and superintendent before making his way into architecture. It was through the mentorship and collaboration with others that he came into his own. These weren’t local guys, but legends in the field such as Willie Watson, A.W. Tillinghast, and George Thomas, Jr.


The courses Bell and Thomas collaborated on were special. From municipal courses to world renowned tracks, these two built courses across all of California. Among the most notable are Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club.

Solo Projects

On his own, Bell Sr. continued adding to his resume completing with various solo projects. He designed public and private courses in several states including California, Arizona, Nevada, and even Mexico.

For a time, it was easy to identify a Bell course due to intricate bunker designs in terms of shape and depth. Due to his education in agriculture, he also created advanced draining features and holes playing into natural undulations to increase difficulty. As the years wore on, his designs became less cutting edge. But during his time, his architecture style more sophisticated than his peers.

A Family Affair

By the time Billy’s son, William Jr., joined the family business, Bell was renowned with decades of experience under his belt. Even so, their joint careers took off due to the projects they completed—and almost completed together.

Courses like the ones as Alisal Guest Ranch and Torrey Pines were designed by the two and constructed after Bell Sr.’s death.  These courses launched the career of Bell Jr., who would go on to design hundreds of courses on his own. They also cemented his father’s legacy as a premier architect.

His Courses Today

William Bell designed plenty of courses any golfer could walk onto today for a causal 18, but this isn’t the extent of his work. Riviera and Torrey Pines host NCAA and PGA play. Santa Barbara at Alisal Guest Ranch houses the California golf school. Los Angeles Country Club has hosted just about every national-level amateur tournament and is due to host a US Open. This might be a sampling, but showcases the impact of his work on a national level.

Bell didn’t only design golf courses, he designed some of the best there is.

Bell’s Mark on Architects

Beyond courses themselves, Billy Bell helped create a group legitimizing golf course designers. A founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, he also served as President for a time.

The organization admits architects with a minimum of five major projects under their belt, among other criteria, and provides educational resources for other people in the field. Their publishing’s include studies analyzing the effects of golf course design and the best practices for maintenance. In doing so, they act as a shrine of the right way to do things in a complicated field. Though he wasn’t the only founder, it’s no surprise an architect with the pedigree of Bell was at the front of this initiative.

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