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Golf Angeles, Part One (LACC North)

2/04/2011



My buddy Jim Tang's GolfPicoftheWeek has been on hiatus due to more pressing issues, so I offer this post as a consolation to his five loyal blog readers. Here are some pictures from a brief trip I took out to Los Angeles in January. With two days to golf in L.A., you can't beat a line-up of Los Angeles Country Club (North) and Riviera Country Club, two of the best and most storied clubs in the country.

Golf Architecture in America: Its Strategy and ConstructionDay One was spent at the newly renovated LA North. Some are calling Gil Hanse's work there the greatest golf-course renovation of all time. This PDF document on the club's website details the work and shows a number of remarkable before and after pictures (I borrowed some of the before pics below). Hanse cleared a bunch of trees (work which is still ongoing) and redid bunkers and greens, with the overarching objective to bring the course back to George Thomas's original look and vision (if you don't have Thomas's seminal book "Golf Architecture in America", you need to order it now). All in all, it's a fantastic transformation -- one that will likely send the already highly-ranked course (it's 52nd in Golf Magazine's Top 100 courses in the world) even higher into the stratosphere.

Since this was my first trip to Los Angeles, I fully expected to bump into a bevy of Hollywood A-Listers at every turn. The biggest "celebrity" I saw (if you're not counting my Blake Griffin experience, described here) was the guy who played Michael's boss David Wallace on The Office, if you can really call him that. Actually, I think in the past week he may have been surpassed by a guy in our group. Take a closer look at the guy in the middle in the picture below. If you happened to watch the PGA tournament at Torrey Pines over the weekend, you might recognize him as the guy in the gallery who got drilled by Phil Mickelson's errant drive. He's got the signed glove and hexagonal Calloway dimple marks to prove it. And all along, I'm sure he thought I'd be the first lefty to plunk him. (Actually, he played in the group behind us that day and they hit into us at least three times. Serves him right!)



The approach shot at the new 3rd hole at LA North is particularly daunting, especially for an unsuspecting newbie who's too stubborn to listen to his caddie. From the fairway to this pin position, it looks like you need to be ultra precise with your approach shot. I clubbed down and went with a hard sand wedge from here, only to wind up in the deep left bunker.



Then you feel like a huge idiot when you get up to the green and realize there's a ton of room long.



Here's the picture of the green before the renovation. You can see how reverting from its disc-shape back to its original form reintroduced a number of interesting pin placements.



Here is a picture of the old 4th hole, a long downhill par 3.



And here's the after. You can see the character they brought back to the bunkers and especially the wash, giving it a more rugged look while still leaving the chance to manufacturer a shot if you find the hazard. Miss way right and you might hit Lionel Richie's house (who by the looks of it, sold an awful lot of copies of "Say You, Say Me".)




The new 6th is a great risk-reward par 4. The PDF article has an interesting story about how they unearthed the original 6th green, so the renovation brings back Thomas's original strategic intent. From the tee, you can opt to hit it over the hill on the left side of the picture - a drive of about 300 yards will make it to the green. Drill one into the hill or miss wide right and you're in big trouble. The other option is to lay-up safe to the left, but you can tell how that can leave an awkward angle to a narrow green depending on how far you carry it. Actually, drives that flirt with the very end of the left fairway actually open up the green again. Very cool detail.



The look of the 7th was altered, making it a very attractive long par 3 from this tee box. Hanse also added a way-back tee box that the members can play the hole as a short par 4. When the top amateurs come to LA North to compete in the 2017 Walker Cup, they'll use that tee box and play it as a 295-yard par 3. Yikes!



The famous 11th hole at LA North was my favorite hole on the course and easily one of the best par 3's I've ever played. After hit my tee shot on this Reverse Redan, I was ready to crown it the Greatest Par 3 Ever, only to be reigned in by my playing partner Matt. "That's only because you can actually play it," he said. As a lefty who draws (i.e., hooks) the ball, I've never been able to figure out a way to conquer a normal right-to-left sloping Redan, which just happens to be the most pilfered template hole of all time. Finally, a Festivus for the Left of Us.



Comparing the renovated 11th to this picture from 1929, you can see how Hanse stayed true to the original.



This isn't exactly the greatest picture, as all it's showing is Matt chipping from left of the 13th green. Beyond that black-tarped fence, however, is a world of hedonistic pleasure that most men could only dream of experiencing once in their lifetime (or a slow day in the life of Charlie Sheen). That's the Playboy mansion, folks. And that's as close as I ever got to hangin' out in the Grotto. Our caddie offered to take us around a path to check out the exotic spider monkeys. We declined. Not exactly what we had in mind, hombre.



Below is the renovated 17th green in the foreground and what they call "17B" in the background. This devilish little par 3 used to be the 17th hole in the club's earliest days, before Thomas renovated the course in 1927. The bones of the green remained, but had been grown over until Hanse brought it back. Now it's simply used a bonus hole or shot, a way to settle a bet or play closest to the pin. We hit tee shots into the green after playing the real 17th, then headed over to the 18th tee.



During our time at LA North, it was readily apparent that the club members were thrilled with the work that Hanse and his team did. It must've taken some guts to take a knife to what was already one of the most highly-esteemed courses in the country. But Hanse delivered. After I got back to Chicago, I had to e-mail Hanse (who I met last year) just to tell him how much fun I had. He shot back the following: "It was a fun project, and it was great to learn more about George Thomas, that guy was a genius." With Hanse's work, I think that genius shines through.

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5 comments:

  1. David Mihm said...:

    Jim,

    Great write-up on one of my alltime favorites. Sadly the last time I played there was in 2005. It was great even then but I'm currently wiping the slobber off the keys of my keyboard.

  1. Matt said...:

    A golf post! Wicked!

    Really nice review and some great photos of the recent work done at LACC. I just checked out your updated course rankings and now I can't wait to read your recap of Hogan's Alley. Ahead of SH! What I really want to hear is whether you think the 7th at BN is a better short four than the 10th at the Riv. ;)

  1. Anonymous said...:

    Used to work at this course from 2002-2004 and played it hundreds of times. Best rounds were a couple one-unders and some even pars and in those days I was playing to about a 1 or a 2 handicap. But the first 10 times I played I don't think I broke 77 because there is so much to learn. You are right about the caddies not speaking much english but knowing the greens cold. I played many a round with those guys, who like to gamble, on Monday and Thursday mornings. I haven't played it since so it is really neat to see some of these photos of the redesigned 3rd, 6th and 17B. My favorite holes when I played were 3, 6 (I would hit a big power fade into the green (or low greenside bunker) every time), 8, 11, 13 and 17.

  1. Anonymous said...:

    Everyone who has played this course should read the pdf article linked above. It is fascinating. A few things that come to mind (and I am the anonymous poster from above) are how different 2 will play now, how narrow that greenside entrance approach is between the bunkers on 12, and the restored bump on 15. Two questions: One, does 8 still play as a double dogleg, where after hitting a fade off the tee you need to hit a draw with a fairway wood if you are going for it in two, or is it more straight away now? Two, is six basically the same shot assuming you are taking a power fade driver over the trees and toward the green, even though the green is restored to a slightly different location. If I play again, I don't think I will be playing down the fairway--you have to go for that if you can hit your driver 280+ as it is the only reachable par 4 on the course? Thanks.

  1. Anonymous said...:

    And one more comment...at this point, with these awesome restorations, and I attend at least 2 or 3 rounds of the Nissan Open at Riviera every year, LACC has to be considered a better course than the Riv, right? :)

 
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