Rustic Canyon Golf Course
California, United States of America
Green Keeper: Jeff Hicks
As highlighted in the United Kingdom by The Old Course at St. Andrews and later in America by C.B. Macdonald’s National Golf Links of America, golf is a game that is meant to be fun. The highest form of golf course design encourages the golfer to play bold, positive golf and to invent shots. The end result on such a course? The golfer is energized after a round, not exhausted. Macdonald believed that several tenets be observed for the course to be considered ‘ideal’. Namely, the course should be treeless so as not to provide aid with depth perception nor block the wind; the course needs width so that the golfer can select different routes based on certain hole locations; the soil must be sand based so as to provide for firm conditions to encourage the ground game; and also, the holes should be of such design as to encourage the golfer to improve. Gil Hanse’s Rustic Canyon Golf Course, a public course in Ventura County north of Los Angeles, possesses these crucial attributes.
Set within a 350 acre tract of land on the floor of a broad canyon with a wash through its middle, the course enjoys a sense of solitude and expansiveness. Not only does the finished product qualify by Macdonald’s standards as ‘ideal’, the actual building of the course was ideal as well as it occurred in a timely and cost effective manner. As the permitting was taking place, Geoff Shackelford spent several hundred hours roaming the property, trying to visualize the routing that would yield the most interesting holes. Obvious features (e.g. the alley for the 16th fairway) and not so obvious features (e.g. the swale in front of the 6th green or the 9th green contours) were noted and all made their way into the final routing.
With the permitting process completed, construction commenced on May 16th, 2001 and was completed in November of the same year. A scant 17,000 cubic yards of earth was moved during the construction process because the property was that good and because of the design team’s firm belief that nature provides the most interesting dilemmas. One result of this approach is that the ‘pars’ fall where they may and in this case, the front nine is comprised of three one shotters, three two shotters, and three three shotters.
From the owner’s point of view, the benefits of a minimalistic approach are that the project came in on time and under budget. In addition, the nature of the sandy soil is such that the course will drain well and remain open for play year around. Unlike so many modern courses, the owners are left with a very attractive cost structure and the revenue that this course generates for the county will be plowed back into worthy recreational park projects. From the golfer’s perspective, the course is a strategic and aesthic delight. Jim Wagner deserves a ton of credit for how well integrated the course is with its natural surrounds. The course features are low profile as they hug the ground and Wagner’s tie-in between his bunkering and the native plant life allows the holes to meld seamlessly into their surrounds. Strategically, with fifty to seventy yard wide fairways as commonplace, the golfer is given numerous alternate routes to consider on many of the holes.
Integral to the alternate routes is how the course is maintained and presented. Its sandy soil provides Green Keeper Jeff Hicks with the ideal base from which to work. Importantly, the area right before many of these greens was covered in the same bent mix as the greens. These areas extend twenty to thirty yards out from the greens and great thought was given to how the golfer could use them to his advantage. Thus, when the winds come whistling out of the southwest and blow up the canyon, the better golfer will delight in the fact that this design allows him to play his entire repertoire of shots, from a low running hooded five iron from 140 yards away to a putter from 30 yards shy of the green. Also, hopefully, even the less skilled golfer will start to experiment with such shots, and if he sticks with it, over time there is no doubt that he will develop a better feel for the game, thus becoming a better player.
Holes to Note
First hole, 540 yards; The fairway is 70 (!) yards wide and the man who misses it should be shot. The challenge for the better player occurs closer to the green where a fault line diagonally fronts the green. Should the golfer lay up shy and to the right of it and wedge on? Should the golfer carry it so that he can bump and run his third shot in from the left? Or should he take dead aim at the green on his second shot? Similar questions will be posed again and again throughout the round at Rustic Canyon. Importantly too, because the 1st is reachable in two, hopefully management will elect to keep the tee times 10 to 12 minutes apart. This public course is destined to become so wildly popular that it would be a great shame if it was eventually worn out due to excessive play.
Second hole, 455 yards; Hanse has a true appreciation of how the Golden Age designers incorporated out of bounds into the strategy of certain holes. The 3rd at Fenway Golf Club is a prime example, and like there, the second green at Rustic Canyon is best approached from the side of the fairway nearer the out of bounds. Not only will the golfer enjoy a good look at the green but the ground contours help funnel his ball toward the green.
Third hole, 320 yards; In the 3rd, 7th, and 12th holes, Rustic Canyon distinguishes itself from another public course (Bethpage Black) with three sub-350 yard holes of genuine merit. Golfers will debate which of the three they prefer.
Fourth hole, 160 yards; The 4th and 9th holes have drawn comments from golfers who feel that they are perhaps ‘under bunkered’ holes. From each tee, the golfer sees an uninterrupted green path from tee to green, hence what could be so hard about these holes? The answer becomes evident when one realizes that these two greens possess the most interior contour of any on the course and have a way of turning two shots into three.