Thursday, November 24, 2011

We Love L.A.! - Los Angeles Country Club

This post continues a series of updated write-ups for courses I have played again, and which specifically, this time I brought my camera. It has been some five years since I played Los Angeles Country Club (#59 in the world). The club is located in the heart of some of the most valuable real estate on the planet. While technically accurate that the course is located in the City of Los Angeles, the city is made up of many neighborhoods. L.A.C.C. is located in the heart of one of the toniest neighborhoods. The course is bounded by Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills, Century City, Brentwood and Westwood.

The distinctive white L.A.C.C. Clubhouse

The southern boundary of the course is Santa Monica Boulevard. Wilshire Blvd. divides the North Course from the South. Sunset Blvd. forms the rough northern boundary of the course. L.A.C.C. is an oasis within one of the largest and most densely populated urban areas in the world. What makes the course even more special is that the members of Los Angeles C.C. guard the privacy jealously, making a visit here feel like a real behind-the-scenes getaway. You approach a guard gate set back off Wilshire and give your name to get into the enclave. While I have been to many courses and had to stop at a guard gate (Sunningdale, Pine Valley, Southern Hills, Riviera, Loch Lomond), at L.A.C.C. it really adds an element of exclusivity that feels appropriate for this part of L.A.

L.A.C.C. is one of only a very few remaining golf courses in the United States where you must wear long pants - there are no shorts allowed. The course does not have a lot of movie star or entertainment industry members, contrary to popular opinion. What it does have is world class golf. It is our understanding that the U.S.G.A. would like to host events at L.A.C.C., but the club has repeatedly declined (they are hosting a Walker Cup in 2017).

The first time I was fortunate enough to play L.A. Country Club was made even more special by the treatment I was given in the locker room. On the day of my summer visit, the locker room attendant let me use Ronald Reagan's locker. Reagan was a one-time member of L.A.C.C. With an American flag atop the locker, it was with real pride that I had the privilege to be able to use the locker of this great American.

L.A.C.C.'s unique custom made tee markers

L.A.C.C. was designed by George Thomas, who also designed nearby Riviera and Bel-Air. Thomas created the present layout in 1927 when he and his sidekick Billy Bell remodeled a course built by British architect Herbert Fowler. One of the first changes evident this time around was that there are now a lot less trees at L.A.C.C. Over 1,000 trees were taken out in a recent renovation done by architect Gil Hanse, and it enhances the property and the course greatly. Specifically, it opens up vistas that were previously closed off and shows the unique nature of the rolling land forms this part of west L.A. is blessed with. The other noticeable change is that many of the tee boxes now are mowed as if they are fairway. They seemlessly blend the tee and fairway, giving an infinite number of places to put tees and opening up some interesting new shots.

There are two courses at L.A.C.C., and the world ranked championship course is the North Course, which plays 7,010 yards from the black tees to a par of 70. As was Thomas's style, he starts off L.A.C.C. with an easy (easy being a relative term if you are jet lagged and amped up on coffee) par five. Your line off the tee is the "B" on the Beverly Hills Hilton sign atop the hotel, visible behind the green, which sits 544 yards from the tee.

Thomas makes up for the easy starting hole by throwing a killer par four at you on the second hole. This beast plays 484 yards from the tips and 428 yards from the white tees. The second hole also opens up a stretch which lasts until the eighth green that is simply breathtaking. It is as good a stretch of holes as you will find on any golf course, over a uniquely hilly terrain. Thomas used the barrancas (Spanish for gully or ditch) and sloping hillsides to route a masterpiece at L.A.C.C.

2 from tee

The tough par four third hole

You have to hit over a sloping hillside. Tee shots hit to the right side of the fairway will slide down the hillside and end up on the left side of the fairway. Your approach shot to the green has to clear a nasty barranca that fronts the elevated green. The other change Hanse made on the course was to restore the natural areas in front of the greens so that a shot that is not well struck will likely be findable now, but with a dodgy lie.


The difficult third green at L.A.C.C.

L.A.C.C. has only three par fives and five par threes, each of the latter, a gem. The first is the 210 yard fourth hole seen below. The hole plays downhill to a difficult to hold green. Note the barranca that runs in front of the green, penalizing short or topped shots.

4th green

The par three 4th hole

Like at Bel-Air and Riviera, all around you there are signs that you are in a very exclusive environment. Behind you, as you walk off the fourth green up on the hill is Lionel Richie's house. Wow.

Lionel Richie's house above L.A.C.C.

As Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford write in the L.A.C.C. North Course Commemorative Edition, published in 2010: "Every great course in the world features at least one par-4 under 350 yards allowing for multiple playing options. Designed with an eye toward risk and reward, these devilish little two-shotters accomplish one very simple axiom, as so eloquently written by George Thomas in Golf Architecture in America: The strategy of golf is the thing which gives the short accurate player a chance with a longer hitter who cannot control his direction or distance." Riviera's great par four under 350 yards is its tenth. At L.A.C.C. it is the sixth, and it's a doozie.

The hole plays 335 yards from the back tees, and you hit into a narrow valley where the ball will naturally kick right to left. If you are brazen, you can attempt to cut off the corner on the right and incur a big penalty if you miss. The hole doglegs sharply to the right and the approach to the elevated green is made quite tricky because it is such a small target. To me, the hole felt like any number of great risk-reward holes at Merion. It is the type of hole you could play dozens and dozens of times and still find exhilirating and challenging each time.

6th green

The ideal sixth green

The 242 yard (back tees), 219 yard (white tees) par three is the middle of the three par threes on the front that play a whopping 633 total yards! No little pitch shots on the par threes on the front!

7th green

The par three seventh

The seventh is followed by one of the coolest golf holes on the planet. The 537 yard eighth requires you to hit a tee shot through a narrow chute of trees to a fairway that slopes left and right. Your second shot requires you to carry the barranca. That is Century City seen over the tree tops below.

8th par 5

Par five 8th hole, dogleg right, then left over a barranca

The hole doglegs first to the right and then to the left. The second and third shots are both finesse shots where the player is trying to optimize his or her position on the correct side of the fairway or green. It is a true risk-reward, shot making, three-shot hole!

8th green

The par five 8th green

The par three eleventh hole at L.A.C.C. gets photographed a lot because it features Downtown L.A. as its backdrop. The day I took the picture has too much haze to see the skyline, but on a brilliant day it is a great look.

11th from tee

The par three 11th reverse Redan hole

The eleventh is a 249 yard (back tees), 225 yard (white tees) demanding reverse Redan hole. The green slopes back to front. You can get away with a shot hit left because the ball bounces down the natural slope of the terrain onto the green. A ball hit to the right side is in serious trouble and will likely leave you a recovery shot where you won't be able to see the green surface.

11th from side1

The right side of reverse redan 11th hole with its steep dropoff

In what has to be the most exciting non-golf related attraction next to a golf course anywhere in the world, off the thirteenth green of the North Course is the Playboy mansion. It is hemmed in by so many hedge rows it is hard to see anything, although you can normally hear the peacocks crowing.

The Playboy mansion sits behind hedges between 13th green and 14th tee

The entire right side of the fourteenth hole also has a building located off of it that at first appears to be a Ritz Carlton. In fact, it is the home of one of Hollywood's most famous producers, Aaron Spelling. The house has 123 rooms and is 56,000 square feet. Although Spelling is now deceased and the home is owned by someone else, it is an impressive and well maintained sight.

The par three fifteenth hole is one of the few on the course that can qualify as 'easy.' It is 133 yards from the tips, but you have to focus intently off the tee because the green is narrow and oblong to you.

15th green

The par three 15th green

As an Easterner (and poor golfer), the Bermuda grass at L.A.C.C. gave me fits. It is just so tough to hit through consistently, especially on finesse shots around the green where you are trying to hit a specific target.

The par four 455 yard seventeenth is the prettiest hole on the course. You drive from an elevated tee down into the fairway, then to a narrow, well bunkered green.


The 17th green

The little seventeenth hole is pictured below and is an 'extra' hole that was rediscovered during the recent renovations. It was love at first sight with this little beauty and me. It is just a visually stunning little gem. The hole can be used as an extra hole or just to hit into for fun.

little 17-3

Little 17 from the front

little 17
Little 17 as seen from the side

If you play L.A.C.C. bring long pants, leave your cell phone in your car and get ready for a delightful walk with caddies. The overall experience is first class from beginning to end.

Routing, variety and terrain combine to make it a world-class course. Given its geographic location, L.A.C.C. North will inevitably be compared with nearby Riviera. In my view L.A.C.C. is the superior course. Thomas simply had a better piece of land to work with at L.A.C.C. than at Riviera. Riviera is built within a valley and doesn't have the elevation changes or other elements that makes L.A.C.C. so unique. From a club standpoint also, I prefer L.A.C.C. to Riviera. Riviera is a large club with a corporate feel to it. L.A.C.C. is a more intimate, low key club.

In my own world rankings I would personally reverse the order of these two courses and rank Riviera #59 and Los Angeles #36. Both are world-class, however, as is nearby Bel-Air.

Our lunch of braised beef short ribs and the little cheesy bread sticks were memorable. The only issue I encountered at L.A.C.C. is that it is impossible to buy something from the pro shop, because it only sells to members.

My two visits to L.A.C.C. have been among my most memorable and truly enjoyable in all my travels. To paraphrase Cecil Rhodes's comment about the English, "To be a member of L.A.C.C. is to win first prize in the lottery of life." Lucky bastards.


MacBoube said...

Mr. Top 100 - I will refrain from analyzing and commenting on my two "hometown" courses I dearly love, unless you prompt me to. I could go on for hours about each. I would like to advise you and your readers about one thing unique to Mr. Top and 100 and Riviera.........The short list of players that you posted who have played all courses on the Top 100 list, three of them are Riviera members.

wtaylor said...

Growing up in Pasadena, it was a real treat to play LA North. This is clearly California's best track south of Monterey. Actors need not seek out membership as they are "persona non grada" on these fairways.

GOsocaLF said...

Just thought I'd post some LACC tidbits some of you may find interesting...

North Course is closing for one year as of Spring 09' for significant layout changes, including the par five second hole (dogleg right, up the hill) being converted to a long straight away par 4 with a second shot requiring a carry over a dangerous barranca. Gill Hans is the architect overseeing the changes. Blueprints for both courses are interesting. I wish the membership would permit the USGA to hold a U.S. Open in the next 10-15 years....
A former %#@@*$ at the club, I played 40 or 50 times over the last two years, whenever possible, and never broke 80 (shot 80 twice). The hardest course in LA, Riv can not be compared w/ it and clearly shouldn't be placed before LACC on any list, period.
That big house next to fourth hole is special, but it is nothing compared to the Spelling compound.(down to the right of 14th fairway)$160 million estimated market value....2 years ago
Best hole: par 3 11th. The green is the most confusing of all.
Freddy Couples is the only "celebrity" member...OK there aren't any, two asian, two african american, couple jews....old money, strictly business, very interesting people....on land more valuable than central park.
Only negative: the starter is inept, caddies don't speak english (but do know the greens).


Anonymous said...

thank god, you think riviera is not up to par with LACC. The north is a great test of golf. First time i played the north i fired a 79 from the tips, one of greatest golfing accomplishments ive ever had, and had to birdie 18 to do it. driver 5 iron 1 putt. my favorite hole on the course would have to be 14 or 16. Just great holes, brilliantly routed along the terrain. i cant wait to play this course again.

Anonymous said...

b. LACC land is not exactly more valuable than central park. Land in that area of LA/Bev Hills goes for about $10M per acre. That values LACC at about $5.5B in land. Land around central park (if you could even find any) goes for nearly $100M an acre. That would put cenral parks value north of $80B in land.

LACC is still a great course.

Anonymous said...

I played LACC while working as an employee there before heading off to law school from 2002-2004. Was playing to a 1 handicap or so then, now have reverted to a 4 or a 5. Best two years of my life. They let us out on Mondays and Thursday (off the course by noon but you could come back on an play again after 3:30 or so). Used to sometimes get in 72 holes a week or more in the summer months). Truly a gem and someday I hope to play it again now that it has been renovated. Hardest holes when I used to play it were 13 and 5 (take your pick), and then 7, 17, and 18. 8 and 14 as par fives are no bargains either. 5 was (and I'm sure still is) a very good score on those two holes. 11 is the best hole and is tricky as well, but I used to play it well be just smashing a 3 iron. With the elevation change and usually helping wind it is a about 205 to carry the front right bunker and 215 to carry it to the middle, but you can use the slope short and left to run it in left to right in which case you don't need to carry it that far. 11 might be one of the best long par 3's (along with 4 at Riviera) in the world.

Anonymous said...

Having played the north course 6 times over the last 8 years I have see the change in the club. First off the club is about G O L F!

No celebrities are allowed or accepted as members. The newest change happened two years ago and after a renovation that included the 2 nd hole to go straight instead of a dog leg right I found the biggest change is NO CART rule.

My member friend has premission of use a cart due to health issues but I had to walk along his side.

Still worth the effort as I know look at gold courses diffrently and my favorite course in the Country is Bethpage Black!

LACC is alot like that pure golf!

Connor said...

I just wanted to ask what your reaction was to the jump in the rankings by LA Country Club this year....Obviously you felt it should be around where it is now, but did you think it deserved to be better? Worse?

Top 100 Golfer said...

Good question, I have seen the detailed pictures from the club's website and it looks like it is better. It's on my (not so) short list of courses to play again in the short term and the re-do has given me impetus. I'll reserve judgement until I play it, but it probably deserved to go up in the rankings.

GChest86 said...

I tell you what I can't wait to play LACC. I look forward to playing Bel-Air and Riviera as well and from the way everyone's talking about it, I should play LA last in that group. What do you think about Bel Air?

Are you venturing up to the SF Bay Area at any time in 2012? I'll be wondering around courses trying to get to my top 100 in america, maybe we'll meet up for 18.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the Riviera vs. LACC comparison, it's like comparing Harvard vs. Yale. As a frequent player of both, there is little debate that both are extraordinary (and exclusive): the nuances of each will appeal to different golfers and individuals. The changes made to LACC, particularly the 2d hole, have gone a long way in elevating LACC's already well-deserved characterization as one of the best courses in America. It also is more of a "club" (albeit one with an average age that feels like 75) than Riviera which is not a members-equity club. The moment you walk into the locker room, you know you are in a very special place. And the way the tee boxes now blend so seamlessly into the landscape gives you the feel you are playing Shinnecock or the National. On the other hand, Riviera really has no, in my opinion, weak holes. Even the 8th somewhat gimmicky split fairway has begun to grow on me. Few courses can boast of so many truly memorable holes (1, 4, 6, 10, 18). I think it is this fact alone that results in Riv being fairly consistently ranked ahead of LACC in most course rankings. And there are very, very few courses in the world that open and close with holes that remain in your memory for years to come. LACC also has some extremely memorable holes (10 is one of the best par 3s in golf) but does have a few weaker holes imo as I am not a fan of holes that don't adequately reward very good shots; the 3rd hole's inability to hold a very good drive to a flat lay is an example (I know, I know, many will disagree). By the way, some of the comments about Riv being too big are a bit dated. I believe they are now down to 300 members and the ever increasing cost will drive that number down lower. And the new practice facility is a unreal--clearly build to please the PGA tour, its resources and size blow away anything in Southern California. Bottomline, if you have the chance to play either, do it!!! If the question is only about golf and you have only 1 course you can play, I would agonize a bit but would personally choose Riviera. If you are fortunate enough to get an invite, take it as I think as time goes on, that will become harder and harder due to the effort to build a more exclusive membership. But both will remain on your shortlist to play again no matter your preference!

Anonymous said...

As an experienced LA caddy, 9 years@Riviera (1stPlace 1995 PGA
CelebPro/Am),5 years @Bel-Air CC (Round of 32 2004 USGA Senior Amateur),
and 1+ year at LACC, I can say that Riviera is clearly the greater course. And I say this despite deep knowledge of truly (imho)weak Rivi management. And I don't say this because of any bias I may have from achieving a Hole-in-one on Rivi #4, and a 2 on Rivi #10 (SandWedge on-the-fly!) LACC (the course) is great, but brutal to walk, and the ridiculous caddy rating system is gameable, unfair and shameful (imho).

GChest86 said...

I find it odd to hear that LACC is a brutal walk as I played it last September and carried my own bag and it was a fairly nice walk, not as easy as a links course would be I imagine but not a "brutal" or difficult walk in my personal opinion. I'm not comparing it to Riviera as I have yet to play it yet, I have no comments on caddies as I didn't take one, I only have the courses I've walked to compare the walk to. I also don't know the course before the redesign, but the rustic feel and the natural feel of the course is an awful good design feature. Almost reminds me of an inland Cypress a tiny bit the way that Hanse uses the natural look of Los Angeles before it was a city.

Pretty excited to play Riviera I must say, but from the looks of it they are apples and oranges.