Thunderbird Ranch

In 1946, Raymond Cree, Palm Springs School Superintendent and local realtor, agreed to sell his 663-acre section to Frank Bogert and his backers for $34,000 after a water survey confirmed enough underground water to supply a town of 8,000 people. Bogert, Bill Gilmore, Bill and Katheryn Jason, Joe Edy, Paul and Aloha Brown bought the land for Thunderbird Ranch. Architect Gordon Kaufmann designed and built the ranch buildings in a distinctly western style. Kaufmann’s Thunderbird Ranch buildings were grouped around a low-slung western style clubhouse comprising a lobby, informal lounge, a huge stone fireplace, a dining room and a kitchen. One story connected cabins fanned out from the main building, containing 22 bedrooms with baths accommodating up to 44 people.The building surrounded a large swimming pool and provided guests with a stable with 40 horse stalls near the spot of the current No. 4 fairway.

On December 15, 1946, Thunderbird Ranch officially opened. "Katheryn Jason was president of the Thunderbird Corporation and was responsible for the selection of all the furniture and décor for the rooms. She stayed at the ranch, and worked her tail off," Bogert reported.The ranch immediately attracted the Hollywood crowd and offered all the expected dude ranch activities such as horseback riding, shooting and chuck wagon meals. The Warner Brothers movie Two Guys From Texas was filmed at Thunderbird Ranch in 1947, so authentic was the western layout and décor. Frank Bogert had a role in the picture.

Bogert ran his dude ranch, from December 1946 to December 1950 producing an attractive tax loss to any future buyer of the property. "We closed up in the summers –and I would go all over the United States trying to promote my dude ranch, Bogert remembered. "It wasn’t easy, and every place I’d go, people would say to me, we love the Palm Springs area, but you only have one nine-hole golf course."

Enter Johnny Dawson, a top amateur golfer for three decades, who was in 1949 looking for land on which to build the first eighteen-hole golf course in Palm Springs. With the help of a Palm Springs Realtor, Barney Hinkle approached Frank Bogert about buying his dude ranch. After much work and a close miss on purchasing a different tract of land with friend Ben Hogan, Bogert agreed to sell. Hinkle and Dawson put up $15,000 to hold the 683-acre property in escrow. Johnny’s old friend Ben Hogan took one look at the chosen desert property, and told Dawson he was crazy to build a golf course there.

When D.B McDaniel, a Texas oilman, put up $100,000 to complete the Thunderbird deal, celebrities and corporate moguls suddenly became very interested. The First investors included Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Randolph Scott, Leonard Firestone, Ralph Kiner, Desi and Luci Arnaz, Phil Harris, Alice Faye and a handful other corporate leaders. A period of golf course construction followed. On January 9, 1951 Lawrence Hughes, golf course architect, and Johnny Dawson, Club President, hit the first ceremonial golf balls officially opening Thunderbird Ranch and Country Club; the first of over 120 golf courses which exist today and recognized as The Home of Golf in the Coachella Valley.

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