By MARTY JAMES
SACRAMENTO – The William Land Park area that includes William Land Golf Course of Sacramento is home for Bill Cody. It’s where he grew up, spending a lot of his time outdoors in such a beautiful setting. It’s where he learned about sports, in particular golf, from his grandfather, Walter Nelson. It’s where he learned about the importance of staying on top of his classes from his grandmother, Virginia Nelson.
It’s where he played golf for the first time, joining his grandfather for a round at William Land Golf Course, a very popular and scenic nine-hole course, designed by William Locke and Sam Whiting, that opened in 1924. It’s located in William Land Park.
“We grew up in Land Park. We were just lucky little kids, my sister (Barbara Ward) and I,” Cody said recently at Vic’s Ice Cream, a restaurant, that is a short distance from William Land Golf Course. “We rode our bikes everywhere. We would ride to my cousin (Mark Chrisler’s) house down the street here, just a couple of blocks down. This whole area, everybody got outside around here. If it was baseball season, we’d play baseball. If it was football, football. Basketball, whatever season. It was just a great place to grow up. It was so safe.”
Cody has lived and worked in different areas of the country, including Florida, Arizona and the Bay Area. But now that he is back in Land Park, working part-time at William Land Golf Course and re-connecting with those he has known for years and years, Cody must feel like his life has come full circle.
“I’m so happy when, after all these years now, I’m back at Land Park. It’s just kind of a little bit of you can come home kind of stuff,” he said.
He started with Morton Golf in January and works 16 hours a week, with shifts on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. He works in the cart area and also gets out to the course, repairing ball marks on the green and filling in divots on the tee boxes with a mixture of sand and seed. “It’s really fun. It’s my dream job,” he said. “I finally found it after 70 years. I found my job.” It’s home, indeed, for Cody, who grew up on Castro Way.
William Land Golf Course is where his grandfather played golf – Monday through Friday – for 30 years. Walter Nelson played into his late 80s.
This is where Bill Cody took up the game, at the age of 10 in 1963, and where he has played so many rounds over the years.
This is now where Cody works, in the outside services area, also helping out as a course marshal, welcoming golfers and assisting them, three days a week.
It’s not far from where Edmonds Field used to be, at the corner of Broadway and Riverside Boulevard. The Sacramento Solons, a former Pacific Coast League team, played at Edmonds Field. Cody saw the last game ever played there, an exhibition game in 1964 between the San Francisco Giants and Cleveland Indians.
“It’s a little bit of heaven,” he said of Land Park. “I think I’ve come all the way back to where I grew up. I couldn’t be at a more perfect setting. Who doesn’t like to be outside, at a golf course? It’s gorgeous. I feel blessed. I count my blessings every day.
“When I retired, I wasn’t as busy as I thought I was going to be. I was a little bored. I love to read. I love to walk. I love to play tennis. I like to golf. But it still wasn’t quite enough. There is still a void there. And Land Park fills a void. It keeps me busy, keeps me happy.” Cody makes his home now at Solons Alley in Sacramento.
Oldest public golf course in Sacramento
Morton Golf Management oversees William Land Golf Course, the oldest public golf course in Sacramento, and “truly the gem of downtown,” according to www.mortongolfmanagement.com. The facility and course are the home of First Tee – Greater Sacramento. William Land Golf Course, located at 1701 Sutterville Road in Sacramento, features three par-3s, five par-4s, and one par-5. There are five sets of tees, with the overall course length varying from 1,090 yards, from the yellow tees, to 3,015 yards, from the black tees. It plays as a par-34 for nine holes. William Land Golf Course also features an Academy Hole Practice Facility, as announced by www.hagginoaks.com on March 17.
“This driving range is located near the course, which is known for its scenic park-like setting, with mature trees lining the fairways,” it was reported by www.hagginoaks.com.
“At William Land Golf Course, they have created the perfect environment to practice your short game at the Academy Hole Practice Facility. The four-hole Academy is designed to provide true playing conditions with every type of shot that you could encounter on the course. Each hole is maintained every day and offers the opportunity to practice shots from 91 yards and in. Practice the many different shots the academy has to offer from 91 yards and in.”
Welcoming, assisting golfers at William Land Golf Course
Cody gets out and welcomes golfers as they arrive at the course, which features historic, majestic trees.
“I’m really happy to have this job,” he said. “It’s just one of those jobs where it’s fun. I like it and it’s outdoors and I get to greet people. I’m always happy to see people.
“I’m happy to be back in my hometown, at Land Park. I’ll see somebody I know every day I work. I remember names and faces. I’m really good at that. I saw one of my oldest friends from kindergarten the first day I was here. He came in and I knew him right away.” Between him and his grandfather, Cody and his family have been playing golf at William Land Golf Course for over 60 years.
Cody, who turns 70 in August, calls the course a jewel. “It has some really tough holes,” he said. “I’ve played golf here my whole life. But my grandfather, he was the golfer. He played Land Park religiously with his buddies and that’s what they did. They played golf. He had a good life.”
Cody isn’t sure how is grandfather became interested in the game or who helped him in the game and with his swing. He is so thankful and appreciative of the time his grandfather took to introduce him and help him with golf. “He started fairly late in his life. Somehow, he got some golf clubs and started to play and he really liked it. Really liked it. Literally, Monday through Friday, rain or shine, he’s playing,” said Cody. “They would have to tell him, ‘Walter, nobody’s going out today.’ ‘But what do you mean? I’ve got my clubs.’ ‘No, no, it’s too wet.’ ‘What do you mean it’s too wet?’ ‘We have got to protect the course.’
“He was the golfer of the family. He was playing for a long time. He just loved it. He hit it down the middle, not very far, but always in the middle. And he could chip really good. I could hit it farther, but I couldn’t outscore him. We’d always have fun.
“I was really more of a tennis player than a golfer. But I always loved golf. It was something that was very social with me. I was passionate about tennis and I was actually pretty good at that.” Cody went out with his grandfather for his very first round of golf. He said it was a wonderful experience. “I was a baseball player. And he goes, ‘Well, it’s going to be a different swing, Bill,’ ” he recalled. “And, of course, I didn’t swing it. It was very different and it didn’t work out that good. But I got it. I ended up making a golf swing. Not a baseball swing. He was happy to see me golfing.”
It was Walter Nelson who passed on his love of golf to Cody and playing at William Land Golf Course.
“Absolutely. One of my friends said, ‘Bill, you’re working here. Your grandpa would be so happy,’ ” said Cody. Nelson started playing golf in the 1960s. He never took a cart. He always walked and used a pull cart and played very early in the morning. Nelson passed away on April 22, 1990.“I don’t know what got him to take it up. But once he got it, the bug bit, and he was hooked,” said Cody, a former resident of Roseville. “He loved it.” His grandfather was known as the “mayor of Riverside Boulevard,” said Cody, adding that Walter Nelson walked around the area after his golfing round, stopping in to say hello at different businesses along the way.
Cody also spent time playing golf at William Land Golf Course with his cousin, Mark Chrisler, who grew up on Swanston Drive, close to Land Park. “We were best friends. Everything he did, I had to do. He said, ‘Bill, I’m going to go golf today. I want to learn to play golf.’ And so we played a lot of rounds together here,” said Cody.
Raised by their grandparents
Cody and his sister, Barbara Ward, were raised by their grandparents, after their mom, Lois Cody, passed away due to a brain tumor. Bill was 2 and Barbara was 1 at the time, in 1956. “My grandparents took us in. We were the luckiest kids on Earth, growing up in Land Park with our grandparents. People thought, ‘Oh, what a trauma.’ People felt sorry for us, but I said, please don’t. My sister and I were so lucky. We were so happy.”
Cody had a connection to his grandfather through sports – listening to the radio in the backyard to Giants and San Francisco 49ers games. Walter Nelson was also Cody’s manager in Little League Baseball.
“He was my biggest supporter of athletics. He was a big sports guy. He was my sports guy. He was my coach. He loved sports. And grandma was supportive of all of us,” said Cody. “Grandma made sure we hit the books and had to pay attention in school. “Grandma and grandpa, they kept us in sports and having fun and disciplined.”
Background in sports
Cody has played a lot of tennis, at a very high level, during his life. Golf, he said, is the hardest game he has ever played. “I was a good athlete and I could play anything. Golf stumped me,” said Cody. “Golf was the one game that kept me coming back. I don’t play that well. But I respect it and love it and I keep playing. “I’ve played a lot of golf at Land Park. Golf to me was more social.” Cody played tennis at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento. The 1971 graduate played in tournaments and was ranked in Northern California. He received a scholarship to play at University of Nevada, Reno. He returned home, transferring to Sacramento City College, where he was the team’s most valuable player.
Cody went on to graduate from Sacramento State.
He continued in tennis, playing and working as an instructor in Florida and Arizona.
He worked as a tennis professional at Sutter Lawn Tennis Club in Sacramento. He still plays tennis, as he is a member at Sutter Lawn Tennis Club.
- Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.