If you’re going to play public golf in the greater Los Angeles area, plan your driving time to the courses as carefully as you would your drives off the tees. Seriously. The legendary freeways are as crowded ever, as are some of the more popular public tracks in the area.
Fortunately, the supply of courses has grown significantly within the past five years, and the mix of newer, older and renovated layouts are worth checking out in and around the City of Angels.
First up is Lost Canyons, located in Simi Valley, just outside of Los Angeles in Ventura County. This spectacular setting is home to two Pete Dye courses (PGA.Tour Pro Fred Couples served as course consultant).
“This is the most majestic piece of property I’ve ever had to work with, nothing comes close,” Dye said.
One look at either course and you’ll quickly agree. The Sky debuted first, in 2000, and is ranked 65th on GOLF Magazine’s 2002 “Top 100 You Can Play.”
You’ll get some geometry lessons on the contoured greens here, but the views seem to go on forever, especially from the eighth green and the tee at the par-three 17th on the Sky Course.
The Shadow, which appeared just last year, is no slouch either when it comes to views — in fact, seven films have already shot scenes there (as did some classic television shows, including M*A*S*H and Bonanza, which used the site decades before the courses appeared).
Low handicap players may groan about how tough it is to score from the back tees here, especially when the winds kick up, but the average player should get a kick out of the elevated tees and shots against the mountain backdrops. On both The Sky and The Shadow, good approach shots and nerveless putting will assure your round of a happy ending on either of these fun courses.
Rustic Canyon, which only opened for play this past April, is currently the best bargain in the greater Los Angeles area, if not the country. Although less flashy than Lost Canyons, Rustic Canyon is much more playable for the average golfer.
Built on a former sheep ranch, just a 10-minute drive west of Lost Canyons in Moorpark, this Gil Hanse design debuted this past April and costs just $30 to walk. Large greens and hairy bunkers reflect the Scottish style that Hanse employed in Scotland itself — the 39-year old, Philadelphia-based designer was just the third American to build a layout in Scotland (the Craighead Links in Crail, just south of St. Andrews).
Here Hanse made great use of the natural terrain, leaving plenty of opportunities to bump and run shots and placing a premium on chipping and putting. Take advantage of this bargain — it’s a relatively easy walk — as soon as possible.
Over in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, the golden brown mountains surrounding Robinson Ranch may attract your attention, but it’s the greens (both the putting surfaces and live oaks throughout the property) that you’ll remember most.
This Ted Robinson (both Senior and Junior) design has the best and toughest greens in the area for a public course on its two 18-hole layouts. The Mountain Course is the tighter of the two, where you are better off leaving the driver in the bag off most tees.
The Valley Course is more open and forgiving, with great views from elevated tee boxes at the ninth and 18th. Take note of the stone branded “Death Row” en route to the 13th tee — it’s appropriate for the challenges you’ll face on the final six holes.
In Pasadena, the pair of 18-hole layouts at Brookside Golf Course sit in the shadow of the Rose Bowl. Both are William Bell designs, but the No. 1 Course is the longer and more challenging of the two, with tree-lined fairways and gradual breaks on the greens.
Call ahead here, especially during college football season. UCLA plays its home games at the Rose Bowl (the Bruins square off against crosstown rival USC on November 23), and the courses are closed and reserved for spectator parking.
Industry Hills Golf Club in the city of Industry opened in 1979 high atop a former landfill site. Part of the Pacific Palms Resort, the two courses and the overall facility have undergone a multi-million-dollar renovation recently. The 292-room hotel has been updated with a thoroughly modern look, and a new $1.6 million driving range has replaced an older version.
The Eisenhower Course, legendary in the past for its brutal layout, has been relaxed a bit thanks to wider fairways, the removal of some trees and lower rough.
The Zaharias Course is a bit shorter but offers plenty of challenge. And both share something you don’t see on a golf course too often: a funicular that takes you and your golf cart up a steep incline toward the clubhouse.
If the golf isn’t enough, there’s plenty of other activities to keep you busy: the 680-acre property is also home to an equestrian center, an aquatics center and a tennis facility. It may be out of the way for downtown visitors, but it’s a great spot if you are flying into or out of Ontario Airport, just 30 minutes east.
Just over the Orange County border in Yorba Linda (best known as the birthplace of Richard Nixon, not to mention the site of his Library) is the Black Gold Golf Club.
This GOLF Magazine “Top 10 You Can Play” course debuted just last year. Built on former Shell Oil land (you can still see derricks pumping away in a working oil field next store), the course is owned by the city.
Bordered on one side by Chino Hills State Park, this Arthur Hills design features plenty of elevation changes, including some high points from which on a clear day you will be able to see the coastline about 30 miles away. Come with your best short game since plenty of shaved collection areas surround most of the greens.
Vegetation and cactus plants are still growing in, and this already fun track is certain to get better with age.
Ocean Trails has a premier site right on the coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Palos Verde. Unfortunately this Pete Dye design still only has 15 holes — the ninth, 12th and 18th were lost a few years ago after a landslide.
Those three are scheduled to reopen next June (the ninth tee box and 12th green are still visible), but now you can complete 18 by replaying the first three holes.
It’s far from the best deal in town, especially at green fees ranging from $99 to $140, but the setting is unlike any other public track in the area. Pete Dye has included all of the challenging greens, gnarly rough and the extensive bunkering one would expect.
Set on plateaus overlooking the Pacific Ocean, you’ll pay the price if you miss any fairway — so bring plenty of balls. If the price is a bit steep, you can still enjoy the views, plus a great meal, by dining at two great restaurants on site: CafE Pacific or the Peninsula Grill.
The City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation & Parks owns and operates the largest municipal golf system in the United States, consisting of a total of 13 courses.
Two of the more classic municipal courses at the system are also two of the most played in the country.
Rancho Park is located on West Pico Boulevard in the heart of West Los Angeles. Because of its popularity — rounds often take more than five hours — the memory of its glory years (the PGA, LPGA and Senior PGA have all played events here) has faded to a large degree.
It’s a heartbreaking situation to most golf purists, because you can still see the layout’s strong points amidst the crowds of golfers. It may not quite be the “poor man’s Riviera,” but it’s also not far off from being the Bethpage Black of the West Coast.
The tree-lined fairways usually see some 400 golfers a day, most falling well short of the course record of 61 shared by former PGA.Tour Pro George Archer and Bobby Howe.
Don’t be surprised to see famous and not-so-famous actors on the circular putting green in front of the clubhouse, since Fox Studios is right down the street. And be sure to check out the plaque on the tee box at the par-five 18th.
It’s devoted to Arnold Palmer, albeit for the 12 he carded during the Los Angeles Open one year. He hit a good drive, but then pushed two shots into the driving range adjacent to the hole, two more to the left onto Patricia Avenue, and, well, he finished with an infamous score that earned him what must be one of his least favorite tributes.
If you can’t get on the 18-hole course, try the stellar greens on Rancho’s par-three layout just behind the first green.
The other heavily-played city course is in Griffith Park north of downtown. The Park itself, which draws 10 million visitors annually, is the largest municipal park and urban wilderness area in the country.
It’s 4,107 acres include the Los Angeles Zoo, the Greek Theater, the Griffith Observatory (currently being renovated), and two 18-hole public golf courses, plus a pair of executive-style nine-hole layouts. Griffith Park has hosted numerous Los Angeles City Championships (as has Rancho Park), including this year’s Senior Men’s event in early October.
The Wilson Course is the longer and more difficult track, with large greens and tall trees lining the fairways. The Harding Course is shorter but tighter.
And, appropriately enough, the courses are bordered on one side by Interstate 5. If your birdie count exceeds the number of freeways you take to get to any of these courses, consider your trip to the greater Los Angeles area a success.