A Homebase for Generations: A Century of Character (and Characters!) at Meadowlark GC
If only turf could talk.
Celebrating 100 years of swings and stories, Meadowlark GC in Huntington Beach remains the muni where everybody knows your name. Founded as the Long Beach CC in 1922, the grounds were adjacent to the former Meadowlark Airport, which closed in 1989.
Ground was broken for the historic course, which was designed by SCGA Hall of Famer William P. (“Billy”) Bell, when the city’s population was less than 2,000. While not as highly regarded as Bell’s work (with George C. Thomas) on regional classics like Bel-Air CC, Riviera CC and the Ojai Valley Inn, Meadowlark’s narrative has been prosperous from the outset.
“One of the reasons they picked the site was because it was incredibly lush, incredibly good farmland and soil; the land was also very cheap and had three artesian wells on it,” says Katie Schey, city archivist for Huntington Beach. “The founders started with around 300 members, each of whom contributed $350 as seed money.”
Said seeds blossomed quickly, although the course moniker required some tinkering.
“By 1933, everybody realized that calling it the Long Beach CC was a big mistake, so on April the 5th of that year, they had a big shindig and renamed it ‘Meadow Lark Public Golf Links,’” Schey says. “They put out an ad in the Long Beach Sun advertising ‘Free Golf and Dancing in the Evening.’”
As greater L.A. and Huntington Beach (now with a population of well over 200,000) have grown up around the grounds, Meadowlark has stood sentry as a homebase for generations.
“In the mid-’30s, there were further ads in the newspaper about the homes being built across the street from the course; the idea was that the homes’ proximity to the course would make those properties more valuable,” Schey says. “And clearly, all these years later, Meadowlark has continued to be an attraction and an asset to the city, whereas other things, like the airport, have come and gone.”
A century after opening, Meadowlark’s social and celebratory milieu hasn’t changed much. The “Free Golf” offer may have expired, but the party plays on.
Owned by the city since 1975, Meadowlark’s unique tee sheet of old guys, women’s groups, high school kids and surfers pairs with the halcyon history of Tiger; this is where Eldrick took lessons across parts of seven years from the late, great John Anselmo, who was Woods’ second coach (preceding Butch Harmon).
“It’s awesome to have a place that attracts such a diverse range of guests,” says Derek Uyesaka, former GM of Meadowlark, now at fellow Arcis Golf-operated properties Valencia CC and The Oaks Club at Valencia. “We’ve got a great, classic course, but Meadowlark is really about the people who work here and the guests who come here; it’s just a whole cast of characters.”
Pre-play, post-round, knocking off after work or sans any notion of teeing up, a sitcom-worthy peanut gallery convenes early and often for neighborhood revelry and the company of barmen “Pineapple” (real name Larry) and 82-year-old Ruben, both of whom started working “the best dive bar with a golf course” back in 1995. The clubhouse opens to imbibers at 7 a.m., a roster of locals packs the place come late afternoon and a full weekend crowd comes for Ruben’s signature Bloody Mary.
“Our bar is the Huntington Beach version of Cheers,” smiles Uyesaka. “People have their routines here; I can look at the bar and tell you what time the guest got here and what the drink order is for most people.”
The colorful cast is wide-ranging, from guest to staff. Complemented by a stately clubhouse and the lively Lark Ness Café, the Meadowlark off-course scene is an experience unto itself.
“It’s a very fun place to be and a very fun place to work, and the people who come here to golf or socialize are very loyal to this place,” Uyesaka continues. “The golfers are our main clientele, but far from our lone clientele. I mean, people drive in from 45 minutes away just to have Ruben’s Bloody Mary on a Saturday morning.”
100 YEARS OF COMMUNITY
Meadowlark’s golf grounds are short on distance but long on strategy. Sporting a full complement of Bell’s “Golden Age” architectural signatures — narrow corridors, pronounced approach demands, crowned, postage-stamp greens and easy green-to-tee segues — the mere 5,568-yard par-70 card doesn’t tell the whole scoring story.
“Back in the day, it was maybe even considered long. But it’s still a good test, still not an easy track for a lot of people, whether you’re a really strong player or a mid-handicapper,” Uyesaka says. “And the par 3s are muscular, to say the least. They may not be all that long, but the greens and hazards make the par 3s the toughest part of the course.”
Following the quirk of a tree-fronted green on the par-4 opener, a testy run from Nos. 7-9 can make the scorecard a Meadowlark murk. No. 7 is a long, downhill, bunker-laden par-3 over water; No. 8 is a diminutive, 252-yard par-4 begging for a layup; and No. 9, a 382-yard par-4 with a sizeable, uphill dogleg back to the clubhouse, rounds out the tough triangle.
Throughout, Meadowlark’s defenses run through mature trees toward an ongoing host of flatstick fun.
“There are over 700 trees on the course and the greens complexes are small and pretty challenging, the very classic elements of course design,” adds Uyesaka. “And with all the history here, all the rounds played over time, Meadowlark has just got its own character, its own atmosphere.”
For the centennial, Meadowlark has celebrated in style, with a host of summer and autumn events, including a charity tournament (which sold out in just over a day), the “100 Beers of Orange County Beerfest” and a Roaring ’20s party timed with Halloween.
Whether with elixir or Srixon in-hand, Meadowlark’s popularity remains omnipresent. In concert with the game’s pandemic-era increase in rounds, the course averages over 300 rounds a day, which puts Meadowlark in the rare air of six-figure annual rounds.
“A lot of it is generational at Meadowlark,” concludes Uyesaka. “I hear, ‘My dad and I used to play here,’ or, ‘My grandfather introduced me to the game on your driving range.’ all the time. It’s really cool to see that, especially with the centennial in ‘22. It speaks to how important Meadowlark has been to a lot of people for all these years.”