From the Golf Journal Archives - The Extraordinary Miss Hollins

Dec 03, 2010

Marion Hollins – millionaire, visionary, and fine player – gave of herself and her talents, creating a golf legacy still felt at Cypress Point and Pasatiempo.

By Betty Hicks

(Note: This article originally appeared in the July 1986 issue of Golf Journal.)


I was the reigning United States Women’s Amateur Champion when a friend arranged for me to play a social round of golf at the old Del Monte course with Marion Hollins. I knew very little about her except that she had been an outstanding player during the 1920s, was a millionaire who had made her money in oil, who had shared her fortune with two friends in an unusual pact, and who had built the Pasatiempo Country Club, in Santa Cruz, Calif., about 30 miles up the coast.

I was 21 and Marion was 49, and since I believed physical deterioration was complete by 40, 1 felt certain I would have no trouble disposing handily of this ebullient mass of cashmere and tweed. She suggested we play bisques, a new type of competition to me.

When she walked onto the first tee I was amazed at the shapeless size of her, and then I was even more astonished when she gathered together that mountain of wool and swept into a potent, rhythmic golf swing. When we reached our drives, the national champion of 1921 had outdriven the national champion of 1941 – no short hitter herself – by 20 yards.

Then, when we came to the 18th tee, Marion, her face split in a wide grin, reminded me that of the five bisques I had given her, she still had two remaining.

EARLY IN 1926, a small knot of California residents stood atop the cliff where Cypress Point’s 16th tee now worries both the wary and the unwary. One of them was Dr. Alister MacKenzie, the beknickered Scottish physician whose sense of terrain had led him to become Britain’s leading camouflage expert in the Boer War and later led him out of medicine and into the art of golf-course design.

Dr. MacKenzie opposed the concept of the hole design proposed by another of the course developers.

“The hole is simply too long across the water,” he insisted. “The green must be brought closer.”

The lone female in the group, an expansive and plain-featured woman whose golf apparel draped over her like a collapsed awning, had arrived at the meeting equipped for argument. She grabbed her driver, teed up a ball, and suddenly she was transformed into a graceful and powerful golfer. The ball soared beyond the cliff, over the surf, and buried itself in the narrow headland over 200 yards distant.

“Gentlemen,” declared Marion Hollins, “The 16th hole will be here.”

SIXTY years later, this talented sportswoman, perhaps the outstanding all-around woman athlete of the 1920s, for whom Cypress Point was only one of many fulfilled visions, will be remembered when the United States Women’s Amateur Championship is played August 11th through the 16th at the Pasatiempo Golf Club, in Santa Cruz, Calif. Not only did Marion Hollins build Cypress Point, she also created Pasatiempo, with Dr. Alister MacKenzie at her side.

Visitors to Pasatiempo today may ask, “Who was Marion Hollins?”

• GOLFER: She won the Women’s Amateur Championship in 1921, defeating Elaine Rosenthal and Alexa Stirling, two of the finest women players of the age, and was chosen captain of the first United States Curtis Cup Team, in 1932. She was also quarterfinalist in the 1920 and 1928 Women’s Amateurs, runner-up in 1913, and medalist, with 82, in 1920.

• HORSEWOMAN: An accomplished rider, she was said to have introduced steeplechasing to northern California, owned a string of racehorses, and was a two-goal polo player.

• INNOVATOR: She created the Women’s National Golf Club, on Long Island, N.Y., which was owned and run by women and was among the first to link golf courses with real estate.

• FINANCIER: She helped to arrange for Eastern investors to back an oil exploration project in the San Joaquin Valley of California that developed into the rich Kettleman Hills oil field, and she was instrumental in financing the Women’s National and Pasatiempo golf projects.

WHILE Marion Hollins spent several years of her life trying to save Pasatiempo, she may also be remembered as a social arbiter who built Pasatiempo into a playground of the west, where the wealthy and celebrated personalities from a variety of backgrounds found a common denominator, removed from the view that sports professionals did not enter clubhouses, and that movie stars were sin-tainted, unfit to associate with the social elite.

Born into wealth in East Islip, Long Island, N.Y., Marion Hollins was the only daughter of Harry B. Hollins, who at one time was a partner with J. Pierpont Morgan. Together with four brothers, she grew up a tomboy on Meadow Farm, the family’s 600-acre estate, where she had the room to indulge her enthusiasm for sports, which, at that time, centered around riding.

As a teenager, she was guided toward golf by her parents, a pastime they considered more suitable than riding. She developed quickly into an accomplished player at the national level.

She played in the Women’s Amateur for the first time in 1912, when she was 18, losing her second-round match. A year later, at Wilmington, Del., she was runner-up to Gladys Ravenscroft, the great English golfer, losing the final match, 2 up. Eight years later, matured and seasoned by then, Miss Hollins defeated Miss Stirling, 5 and 4, in the final. Miss Stirling had won the three previous Women’s Amateur Championships.

From 1912 through 1940, she played in 14 Women’s Amateurs; in 1932 she was chosen as non-playing captain of the United States Team in the first Curtis Cup, leading her players to a 5½ to 3½ victory over the side from Great Britain and Ireland. Joyce Wethered was the playing captain for the British and Irish.

While playing golf, Miss Hollins cultivated other talents. A devout feminist, she wanted to demonstrate that women had as much potential as men to be successful in business, and she had a compulsion to promote golf.

AS A YOUNG girl, Marion had gone with her father on business trips and had met the financial leaders of the age. When she had the idea for the Women’s National Golf Club, she knew how to go about it. She assembled the financing, recruited the members, and oversaw the course construction on Long Island.

She brought Ernest Jones over from England to become the teaching professional. This was a stroke of great good fortune, for he turned out to be one of the most innovative teachers in golf. In addition to Miss Hollins, his students included Virginia Van Wie, who won the Women’s Amateur three years in a row.

The club survived until World War II, when it combined memberships with The Creek Club, nearby in Locust Valley. Eventually the Women’s National’s course was sold. Today it is the Glen Head Country Club.

Already successful as a golfer and as a promoter, Marion’s career took a new turn while she was on a family vacation in California during the 1920s. The Hollins family dined with Samuel E B. Morse, the visionary squire of the Monterey Peninsula. Recognizing Marion's dynamic potential, Morse hired her as his “athletic director,” a term that translated into organizer of competitions, real-estate sales, and perhaps most important of all, golf-course development.

Morse had already built Pebble Beach Golf Links (designed by Jack Neville with some advice from Douglas Grant, it was completed in 1919), and now he had his eye on a scenic headland called Point Cypress. Since Marion was a national golf champion, he told her to develop a course on that site. She wanted Alister MacKenzie to design the course, and she went to Roger Lapham for help. A former mayor of San Francisco and president of the California Golf Association, Lapham had also been a member of the USGA Executive Committee since 1921.

They persuaded MacKenzie to take the job. It was a wonderful choice; with help from Marion, MacKenzie laid out a superb course that not only offered an unmatched natural setting, but also combined it with a strong strategic concept. As a golf authority would later remark, “If I were condemned to play one golf course for the rest of my life, I would unhesitatingly pick Cypress Point.” A round at Cypress Point is an unforgettable experience.

The work at Cypress Point apparently inspired her to dream her own dreams and plot a golf and real-estate project of her own.

IN 1927, as she rode her bay gelding through the Santa Cruz Mountains, north of the Monterey Peninsula, she wandered along the rolling hills above the canyons to the top of Graham Hill Grade, on the Rancho Carbonero Ridge, overlooking the Pacific. Below her, the sweep of Monterey Bay curved around the town of Santa Cruz, and on either side, the hills were rich with oaks, the canyons carved through great stands of redwoods, and below the ridge to the west, the San Lorenzo river wound through the deepest canyons on its route to the bay.

She sat and thought, “This is the place, the place to build the finest golf course, sports complex, and estates in the world.” The name Pasatiempo came to her; it means “pastime” in Spanish.

She rode back in a thoughtful mood. A year later, elegant plans for Pasatiempo Country Club and Estates were launched with the purchase of 570 acres of the 1830 Mexican land grant known as Rancho Carbonero. She envisioned more than what she hoped would be the finest golf course in the world; she saw fine houses, a swimming pool, tennis courts, bridle paths, a polo field, steeplechase course, park areas, and a clubhouse.

Once again, she turned to MacKenzie. In laying out Pasatiempo, he exploited the Pacific slope, the forest-filled barrancas that scored the property, and held to his philosophy to preserve “all natural beauty and introduce a minimum of artificiality.”

Pasatiempo opened on September 8, 1929, with an exhibition match featuring Bob Jones, Glenna Collett Vare, Cyril Tolley, the great British amateur, and Marion Hollins. A month later the stock market collapsed, but that didn’t stop Marion, for by then she had become a wealthy woman.

MARION built her home at 33 Hollins Drive, in 1930, across the street from what is now the fifth tee. It was destined to become the hub of Pasatiempo’s social life.

The growth of Pasatiempo coincided with The Pact, the most spectacular item in the Hollins legend.

In the course of her business activities on the Monterey Peninsula, she had developed a friendship with Colonel Franklyn P. Kenney, the president of the Marland Oil Company, a California oil-exploration group. The Colonel had a hunch about a forlorn sweep of low hills in the San Joaquin Valley, 70 miles southeast of Pebble Beach, the Kettleman Hills. He had made geological studies, and he was convinced that oil lay beneath that barren landscape. He was frustrated over his failure to interest investors in drilling, and he was about to give up his government permits on the property.

Marion, however, agreed to use her friendship with eastern financiers. She persuaded Payne Whitney and Walter Chrysler to invest, and they formed the Kettleman Oil Company, which launched its gamble with capital of $100,000.

The first well struck, and Kettleman turned out to be one of the world’s richest oil fields. On May 8, 1930, the Santa Cruz Sentinel ran a story announcing the sale of Kettleman to the Honolulu Consolidated Oil Company and the Standard Oil Company of California for $10 million. Marion Hollins’s share: $2.5 million.

She first set up a trust fund for her parents, then fulfilled the conditions of The Pact. On a New Year’s Eve in the mid-1920s, at one of her many parties, she and two friends had thrust their glasses upward to toast. The Pact. One was Louise Dudley, a California sportswoman and entrepreneur who owned a refuse-hauling business in Santa Monica. The other was Eric Pedley, a polo star in San Gabriel, Calif.

The Pact: “The first of us to make one million dollars will give each of the others $25,000.”

A raucous group of celebrants gathered for dinner on May 16, 1930, eight days after announcement of the oil-field sale, in the century-old adobe house of Rancho Carbonero, part of the Pasatiempo Country Club and Estates. The table was decorated with a miniature oil derrick, miniature horses at each place setting, and a trash-filled miniature truck labeled “Dudley Carewe Garbage Co.” The derrick represented Marion, of course, while the horses symbolized Pedley, and the trash truck Louise Dudley.

As dessert was served, Vincent Butler, a San Francisco attorney for Standard Oil of California and a member at Pasatiempo, proclaimed: “Tonight I am privileged to make an unusual and important announcement. Today Marion Hollins has placed in trust, in the names of Louise Dudley and Eric Pedley, $25,000 each.” He grinned: “The trust shall end on this day, May 16, 1930, at midnight.”

The Pact was fulfilled.

THE BONANZA enabled Marion to realize her plans for Pasatiempo Country Club and Estates. The need for outside financing ended; the Kettleman cornucopia poured into Pasatiempo, unrestrained by business judgments. While setting up the trust for her parents (Harry Hollins lost his fortune trying to establish his own brokerage firm), she spent virtually nothing for her care and appearance.

Although the Depression had crippled the nation, Marion Hollins, undaunted, plunged ahead with her Pasatiempo master plan. In May of 1930, she bought 128 acres of Rancho Augustine, east of Pasatiempo, where she could maintain her string of racehorses. Tennis courts, surfaced with clay imported from England and France, opened in November, 1930. Less than three weeks later, Marion announced her purchase of eight acres of Santa Cruz beachfront, where she built a $200,000 clubhouse for bathers. A few months later, the first steeplechase was run on Pasatiempo’s new course, and a guest house for overnight visitors opened in August of 1931. Two years later, a polo field and racetrack were dedicated, and about the same lime, Pasatiempo’s clubhouse was completed.

“She got absolutely the best of everything for her Pasatiempo,” Lucy Butler, a close friend, remembered, “but she wouldn’t do anything for herself. She was always in her golf clothes. I think she wore them to the country-club balls.”

Marion’s scrapbook was crammed with the memorabilia of the club’s social maelstrom. Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers are photo-to-photo and autograph-to-autograph with the Vanderbilts and Crockers. Photographs and signatures crowd the pages: Will Rogers, Irvin S. Cobb, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Brian Aherne, Joyce Wethered, Joan Fontaine, Jean Harlow, Alice Marble, Jack Dempsey, the Rothschilds, the Zellerbachs, and Claudette Colbert. Pasatiempo was a plush, giant magnet, and Marion Hollins was its omnipresent monarch, a dervish spinning from polo field to fairway to homesites to clubhouse to tennis courts.

She involved herself in the work. To challenge a polo-field groundskeeper to greater productivity, she timed herself to demonstrate how many weeds could be pulled in 60 seconds.

A PRANKSTER, Marion Hollins would tap on the bedroom windows of guests to summon them to champagne brunches, and on one summer’s evening, climbed through the kitchen window at one Pasatiempo home to astonish her involuntary hosts.

Phyllis Theurioux, Miss Hollins’s grandniece, recalls that Marion seemed to lead a life alternating between lunching with Mary Pickford and driving her Franklin around the golf course, exhorting players to put their shirts on.

Meanwhile, Pasatiempo’s financial stance was crumbling; even Marion Hollins couldn’t party unto infinity. The country was locked in depression, and financial despair deepened. Real-estate sales slumped, droughts created a crisis at Pasatiempo, and water costs forced the club deeper into its fiscal morass.

Marion Hollins was running out of money. Her passions for golf and horses became her undoing; beginning with the $25,000 checks to Louise Dudley and Eric Pedley, she spent her $2.5 million in lavish haste. “Money?” she shrugged. “I can live with it and I can live without it.”

On December 2, 1937, one day before her 44th birthday, the situation worsened tragically when a drunken driver smashed into her convertible. She was bedridden for six months with severe head injuries. She recovered adequately to play 5-handicap golf, but she failed to rebound as the visionary of Pasatiempo, and it was a time when the club needed her.

Without her guidance, the club foundered, and on December 31, 1938, it was sold to Bill Howard and Duncan Davis, San Francisco realtors. Their attempts to perpetuate the Hollins style led to their financial ruin as well.

FINALLY, on November 4, 1940, Philip Lansdale, a Palo Alto real-estate tycoon, bought the club for 10 cents on the dollar and promptly dismissed all of Marion Hollins’s trusted executives.

Marion was heartbroken. She abandoned her beloved 33 Hollins Drive house and retreated to the Monterey Peninsula, where Sam Morse placed her on the payroll of Del Monte Properties.

Marion Hollins died in a Monterey Peninsula nursing home on August 27, 1944, at the age of 51. The official cause of her death was cancer.

To those who knew her, however, the malignancy that finally conquered this strong and stalwart woman was the loss of Pasatiempo, her love.

A golfer of international reputation, Miss Hollins played in Britain several times before she led the first American Curtis Cup Team to victory in 1932. (USGA Museum)

A powerful player, Miss Hollins not only won the 1921 Women’s Amateur, she also served as captain of the first Curtis Cup Team, in 1932. (USGA Museum)

Houses cling to the hills that border the Pasatiempo Golf Course. These are situated behind the green of the 11th hole, a strong dogleg par 4 of 406 yards. (USGA Museum)