Although it likely wasn’t planned as such, Arizona’s oldest and arguably most historic golf site provides the perfect welcome to downtown Chandler. The course, San Marcos, boasts a long list of notable names to have played its grassy fairways, including gangster Al Capone.
Legend has it that the mid-19th Century estate located behind a thin line of palm trees behind the 13th green and along the 14th fairway once housed the notorious mobster. Two mounds that sit at the dogleg right of the 14th fairway are, allegedly, the burial sites of two bodies of those who betrayed him, and stories prevail that any balls that land on either mound go left despite the hole being located to the right, according to Golf Event Coordinator Nick Lacy.
There is even speculation that there are tunnels under the course leading from the house in case Capone needed to escape. Leta Fumuso, San Marcos’s executive assistant and course historian said that the alleged home of Capone was built by John Dobson in 1919 as his family house around his agricultural ranch before swapping land with Dr. Alexander Chandler. Back then it was “an alfalfa or cotton farm,” and the natural slope of the land became a prime spot for a golf course, said Fusumo.
While the home was used to accommodate hotel and resort staff and host events, Fusumo is not sure exactly where or when the Capone legend materialized. During our research for this story and as a group of golfers prepared to tee off, they overheard the name Al Capone and turned with faces lit up. Questions surrounding his history at the course began to swirl and the consensus was the aforementioned manor across the pond once belonged to him. Despite Chandler Museum having no specific evidence that Capone actually lived at the residence, the mystery surrounding the history of the home and rumors of Capone playing the course remain a seemingly unending topic of conversation.
San Marcos Golf Resort was originally situated on the east side of Arizona Avenue, near the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Delaware Street, and was paired with the San Marcos Hotel as a “package deal,” said Fusumo. The compact 100-acre nine-hole course was first designed by Harry Collis and Robinson before later being expanded to a full 18 holes in 1915. That didn’t happen until 1926 when Chandler became the first city to adopt a zoning ordinance. However, due to a conflict involving business and residential living, Chandler and Dobson swapped plots. The hotel that was once paired with the golf resort is no longer related, although it has remained in its original location.
San Marcos was originally played on compacted oil and dirt before it claimed its name as the first grass course in the state. In 1928, it was moved, redesigned and integrated with the first sprinkler system. Later, in 1964, it was redesigned by a golf architect and has remained since.
More recently, in 2014, Touchstone, the golf management company that owns San Marcos, renovated and remodeled the resort’s facilities. The renovation included moving the clubhouse and pro-shop and state-of-the-art irrigation for year-round play. The course has been growing in popularity since, despite the encroachment of development in surrounding areas. “A lot of people have been here and said ‘we never knew there was a golf course down here,’” said Fusumo. “Before they put up those apartments or condos along Chandler Boulevard, you could see the golf course; now you definitely can’t.”
The rise of Chandler’s development put a cloak on the course, but Fusumo says she has seen attendance rising every season with snowbirds. Due to the limited space San Marcos has, its driving range is unique. In fact, it’s technically not even a driving range since drivers aren’t allowed. The range uses cayman style golf balls, which only travel a third or half the distance than a traditional ball. Irons and wedges are allowed on the range only to ensure balls stay on the course property, but this isn’t a crutch. It’s just one more unique aspect that, paired with the legend of Al Capone and the history surrounding San Marcos, makes this course one of a kind.