I don’t think that anyone would argue that Los Angeles is one of the more progressive cities in America. On the cutting edge of entertainment, fashion and general social trends L.A. can typically be summed up as a forward moving and edgy city. Los Angeles is also home to what may be the single most flashy and flagrant displays of wealth anywhere in the United States as evidenced by looking at just about any pop culture media outlet. Amongst all the glitz and glam, right smack in the middle of L.A. is a tiny little oasis of modesty, class and elegance, the Los Angeles Country Club . . . truly a throwback to another time.
LACC was founded in 1897 and has had several faces since that time. Between 1897 and 1911 the club moved around to a couple of Los Angeles locations in order to accommodate its rapidly expanding membership. In 1911 the club settled into its current site which featured a golf course laid out by some of club founders and members. In 1921 W. Herbert Fowler was brought in to redesign the original course and then in 1927 George C. Thomas, Jr., one of dominant forces in southern California golf course architecture at the time, completed a superb renovation. This Thomas renovation is the bone structure of the course that stands today.
Speaking of LACC today, its worth noting that the club has had a great deal of development and change around it since the site was originally chosen in 1911. Located in what is now the heart of Beverly Hills on Wilshire Boulevard between Comstock Avenue and Whittier Drive, this location may make the 36 golf holes at LACC the most desirable and expensive land that any golf course in America sits upon. Al Czervick from Caddyshack who quipped “country clubs and cemeteries are the biggest wasters of prime real estate” would surely not be pleased at all!
In 2010 the North Course at LACC underwent a large scale restoration at the hands of Hanse Golf Design which is a firm headed up by Gil Hanse and his business partner Jim Wagner. Golf writer/blogger/historian Geoff Shackleford was used as a consultant on the project to help the architectural team get as many of the historic details correct as possible. Shackleford authored the definitive book on George C. Thomas, Jr., The Captain, and has done extensive research on Thomas’ style of golf course architecture. His perspective certainly was of great value to the project.
Why the restoration?? Well, as many classic courses have, the North Course’s characters and features had evolved and changed over the years dramatically. Eventually the the course had strayed far enough from Thomas’ original intent that something needed to be done. Because the goal was a restoration and not a renovation, Hanse and his crew used as much historic information and as many historic photos as they could find to bring the course back to the original glory of Thomas’ design. Because of the scale of the restoration, it was necessary for the course to be closed for an extended period of time which required a great deal of patience and support from the club’s membership. Now that the project is complete and the course has reopened the results have been widely reported as extremely positive and I suspect the membership is very pleased with the end result.
During the last couple of years of my Top 100 quest LACC was one of the places that would come up in discussions and I would hear little bits of info about the club. Some of the things I had been able to glean were that the club was extremely private and absolutely required a member host to play. The club is also decidedly un-L.A. In a town that was built on and continues to thrive upon the entertainment industry, LACC is simply not interested. The word on the street is that celebrities, entertainers etc. are personas non grata at LACC and the membership roster does not include any names associated with the front lines of the entertainment industry. The club prefers to keep a much lower profile and have opted to not become involved with the high profile world most commonly associated with Los Angeles.
Back in February of 2010 I had a business trip to Los Angeles and thought I might try to play some golf on the trip. Through some friends in New York I was introduced to a native Los Angeleno named Kent and we played a game together at his club, Wilshire Country Club. When we finished playing Kent said if I would let me know next time I was going to be in town that he would arrange for us to play together at LACC. Those type of offers are always nice to hear, so of course I made note of it.
At the beginning of 2011 I touched base with Kent who at that time was recovering from a knee injury and unable to golf. He said to target for something in late April, so as that time drew near we reconnected and got the ball rolling again. Kent arranged for his friend and business associate, Chuck, to host the two of us as well as Jay, my friend from New York who has been with me on quite a few of these Top 100 adventures. Jay and I were told to meet Kent and Chuck at the club at 7AM on April 28th and we would play first thing in the morning. The member/guest tournament was the next day and Chuck wanted to make sure that we got out before all the tournament participants went out for their practice rounds. Kent also made sure we knew to wear long pants. LACC is one of the few clubs left that does not allow men to wear short pants which is a nice tradition and one that I hope they always keep.
On April 28th Jay and I arrived right on time and pulled through the gate. When we announced ourselves to the guard he made sure we were on the list and gave us directions on where to drop our clubs and park. He also gave us a nifty little piece of paper that had all the rules for guests on it. The card listed all the usual cell phone, hat, etc. rules, so there was not anything surprising or unexpected. I had not seen the use of a a rules card like this before and thought it was a nice detail to help guests know the local rules so they can be more comfortable and feel at home.
Once we drove through the gate we self parked in the lot, put our clubs on the rack at the bag drop and made our way into the locker room. Looking like we didn’t know where to go the locker room attendant was quick to greet us and point us to Chuck’s locker so that we could change shoes and get ready. A few minutes later we met up with Chuck and hopped in some carts to go to the range where we hit a few warm up balls.
Sufficiently warmed up we drove back over to the clubhouse, dropped off the carts and found Kent hanging around on the putting green. The caddies saddled up with our bags and we were ready to hit the first tee.
On the first tee we decided to play from the white tees which are 6,466 yards and play to a par of 70. The rating on the course is 72.4 so don’t be fooled by the yardage or par on this course . . . its a worthy test with a rating indicating that a scratch player would expect to score 2.4 strokes over par.
Below are photos of some of the noteworthy holes.
The 3rd hole is a par 4 that we played from 375 yards. The photo below taken from the tee box shows the type of terrain that is found on the North Course at LACC . . . a lot of elevation change.
Below is the 3rd green. The approach shot is uphill and requires a little extra club and a little extra thought from the player as this shot is most assuredly not from a flat lie.
Below is a photo of the 4th hole which is a 199 yard par 3 from the white tees that plays significantly downhill. A little less club that the yardage here is the smart play.
Players going long will find fairly natural area behind the green, as shown in the photo below, that can make for a tough up and down.
I loved the 6th hole as it is a short par 4 which is my favorite type of hole. This one plays 320 yards from the white tees and is drivable for the longer hitters. The photo below was taken from the tee box. If attempting to drive the green the line is right over the small grove of trees sitting out there by themselves and if laying up the best line is to the left of the tree cluster and in the middle of the fairway.
Below is a little closer look at the aiming line for driving the green which is located 60 yards or so behind the trees.
The 6th green, pictured below, is relatively flat which gives a good chance of making the eagle putt for those who find the putting surface with their drive. Chuck managed to hold the green (the caddie below is lining up his eagle putt) and I was just short where the golf bag is standing in the rough off the green. I thought this was a great hole and very exciting to play.
The 7th hole is a serious par 3 that plays 219 yards from the white tees and includes a bit of an uphill elevation that requires a little extra club to get it all the way up there. The flag was at the back today which really made the hole play at its longest. The below photo was taken from the tee box.
The first nine holes play to a par of 35 and contains three par 3 holes. The 9th hole, pictured below, is the last par 3 and plays 165 from the white tees. There are plenty of bunkers to catch errant shots as there are around most of the greens at LACC’s North Course. The bunkering was a big part of the restoration project. The building in the background was only put up a few years ago and its a shame considering that it soils what was a great view of the clubhouse. If you look closely you can see that the building is vacant which is a pretty interesting sign of the times here in 2011.
Below is a photo of the 11th hole which is another long par 3 with this one playing 225 yards from the white tees. The downhill shortens it a little bit, but it still requires a solid golf shot to reach the green.
The 12th hole is a blind tee shot and one that kind of worried me. I typically hit a very low tee ball and I was a little concerned about getting my tee shot high enough to carry the hill!! The hole is a par 4 that plays 362 yards. I thought about hitting a 3 wood to be safe, but ended up hitting driver and carried the hill just fine. In the photo below note the aiming stone in the middle of the hill to help players line up their drives.
Below is the approach shot to the 12th green which is protected by an array of bunkers.
I just had to make mention of the 13th hole. This is a long par 4 at 431 yards from the white tees. After a drive from an elevated tee box the approach into the green in pictured below. If you look behind the green you can see a roof back there just off the LACC property. The land behind the hedges belongs to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion and the roof that is visible belongs to a tent that was set up on the property for an event. As we got closer to the green we could hear the calls of the exotic birds that Hef keeps at the Mansion, but unfortunately couldn’t get much of a view of the house itself. Always fun to have a brush with a cultural icon like the Playboy Mansion though.
The 14th hole is a 532 yard par 5 from the white tees. The green is not visible from the tee box, but 2 good shots from a long hitter can provide an opportunity to get a stroke or maybe even two back from the course. If you click the photo of the green below and look closely you can see the iconic LACC flag. It may look like a rectangular white and red flag but in actuality there are two flags on the flagstick. There is a triangular shaped white flag on top with a triangular red flag below it. This may be done elsewhere in the country, but this was the first time I had seen it.
The 15th hole is a short par 3 that plays 122 yards from the white tee. The photo below was taken from the tee box. It’s a short little shot, but the green can be tricky and getting the tee shot on the putting surface is no guarantee of making par here.
The 17th hole is a healthy par 4 that plays 412 yards from the white tees. The photo below was taken from the tee box. The ideal drive here is right up the middle or even a little cut off the left side of the fairway.
Below is a photo of the approach shot into the 17th green. It’s best to put the approach shot on the putting surface because there aren’t many misses that will not end up in one of the many bunkers protecting this green.
One of the really cool things that was done during the 2010 restoration is that the old 17th green was recovered from the original 1921 Fowler designed layout. The 17th hole used to be a 105 yard par 3 that played to a very, very small green. The green sits just to the right of the current 17th hole is used now just for fun or as a 19th bet settling hole. The photo below was taken as I crossed the bridge from the 17th green to the 18th tee.
As I expected, I absolutely loved the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club. The hilly terrain is exactly what any golf course designer would want for creating a compelling and distinctive parkland style course. George Thomas masterfully routed the course in such a way that he was able to create a collection of really great and memorable holes that flow together seamlessly. Because I had not played the course prior to its restoration I cannot speak specifically to the changes, but the golf course that I saw post-restoration is incredible and fantastic. If you are interested in specific details about the 2010 restoration the club has made a wonderful chronicle of the project available on their website. You can download the document at the bottom of their home page by clicking here. It’s definitely worth a read if you are a fan of golf course architecture.
In closing I have to say that I am of the belief that everyone involved with the restoration of the North Course at LACC, from the architects to the members, are terribly pleased with the results. It is a fantastic gem of a course in a great setting and well deserving of the praise it has received. In my opinion, it is without question a special spot for golf.