Los Angeles Country Club (North Course)
California, United States of America

Thirteenth hole, 470/430 yards;  The rolls in the land here are of the sort not found on other parkland gems like Winged Foot West and Riviera and made the perfect canvas for Bell’s stylish bunkers to both dictate play and enhance the beauty of the surrounds (this statement is not made lightly as the Playboy Mansion is past the thick hedge behind the green!). MacKenzie, Tillinghast and Thomas are unmatched at creating long two shotters that are a delight to play. At the thirteenth, the golfer should carry his tee ball as high and as long left as possible because the green – yet again – opens from that angle. An ill-conceived bunker added front left in recent times undermined Thomas’s strategic intent; Hanse Design’s swift removal of it was a welcome event.

The carry to reach the plateau in the fairway is shorter down the right but that leaves an obstructed approach shot. Better to seek the left side off the tee.

 

The ability to bounce balls in from the left is one of the best shots recovered during the restoration.

Fourteenth hole, 600/530 yards; Ever prescient, Thomas seemed to have an answer for everything.  Take par fives, which are especially vulnerable to changes in technology. He has the first hole, which in one of his versions of ‘a course within a course’ plays as a par 4 to a front hole location. The double-dogleg eighth confounds golfers to this day and then we have here. Long hitter can attempt to reach the hole in two by knocking his tee shot over the bunker at the inside corner of the dogleg. The price of failure is crushingly high though, as the ground falls abruptly right toward out of bounds. As Hanse admiringly notes, the fourteenth green ‘…just hangs on the edge and the slightest miss likely means the ball ends up somewhere bad.’ Shackelford also cites this as an all-time favorite green and it is no surprise that this cunning three shotter is the favorite hole of several members. By the time the professionals come here in 2023, there is no telling how high and how far they will hit the ball. Regardless, this green complex will be more than ready to defend Old Man Par.

The fourteenth fairway turns right along this series of sunken pits to a green fiercely protected by the contours of the land.

The fourteenth fairway turns right along this series of sunken pits to a green fiercely protected by the contours of the land.

Shackelford appreciates how the fairway sweeps left to right, yet the green goes front right to back left. It is certainly a design ploy of which we would like to see more. Even a mere pitch to the newly recovered right hole locations (like the one above!) is no bargain. A miss slightly right or long courts disaster as the ball might tumble as much as 50 feet downhill.

Fifteenth hole, 135/135 yards; Thomas’s design talent is evident on many levels: routing, variety, strategy, the list goes on. This hole stands front and center in demonstrating his genius because it was built on dead flat land without a shred of character. There was nothing. Yet, this connector hole needed to be built to display the character rich fourteenth and sixteenth. Three bunkers and a lengthy crescent shaped green conspire to create a one shotter with dramatic playing qualities that allow the fifteenth to hold its place alongside the other exemplary one shotters. On a big, brawny course like here (and coincidentally, Riviera), what a delight to find a short hole thrown into the mix late in the round.

The range of one shotters here is second to none capped off by this little beauty. Hanse considers this one of his favorite holes on the course, largely because it is ‘… a ton of fun to play on a regular basis.’

The challenge goes well beyond hitting the green, which is 43 yards in length. The little mound that was restored in the middle left of the putting surface ups the ante and 3 putts loom for the player who doesn’t find the correct section for the day’s hole location.

The banana shape green bends around this bunker on the right.

The banana shape green bends around this bunker on the right.

Sixteenth hole, 505/435 yards; Brilliantly routed, the sixteenth plays along the spine of a hill, with the tenth hole in the valley to its right and the eleventh in the valley to the left. As at the fourth at Rye Golf Club, the challenge boils down to hitting the ball both far and straight in two shots, a distinct weakness of most golfers! The confident, bold player on the top of his game delights in finding such a hole that repels the timidly/feebly struck ball. What a hole this most have been in the age of hickory golf as it would have required two stout blows. The same once again holds true as this hole now boasts a back tee of 505 yards.

Played high along an ever narrowing finger of land, the sixteenth asks the golfer to squeeze his tee ball past the left bunker and then avoid the right bunker eight yards shy of the putting surface.

Played high along an ever narrowing finger of land, the sixteenth asks the golfer to squeeze his tee ball past the left bunker and then avoid the right bunker eight yards shy of the putting surface.

Seventeenth hole, 455/410 yards; The course ends with three two shotters though the golfer may hardly realize that fact as they are all so different. From the elevated tee, the golfer is afforded a grand look down the fairway as well as peeks of the wash that borders the right side of the fairway. The green complex (i.e. the diagonal array of greenside bunkers combined with the angled putting surface that is broad rather than deep) favors the golfer who flirts with the wash off the tee.

Both breathtaking and strategic, the seventeenth asks the golfer ideally to first hit a fade off the tee and then a draw into the green.

 

This day’s hole location is one of the more reasonable ones. The same can’t be said when it is moved just beyond the far left bunkers! Note the bridge behind that climbs to the eighteenth tee.

 

Eighteenth hole, 500/415 yards; The Home hole is played over the same vast field as the first but headed toward the clubhouse. Without any natural features Thomas was on his own to liven the proceedings – and like the fifteenth he and Bell were up to the task. The fairway elbows left over an expansive Bell bunker and the winged green best accepts shots from the outside of the dogleg. An exception occurs when the hole is in the back right portion and then the golfer’s interests are better served from the left side of the fairway. Every good player at the club notes the day’s hole location before they commence their round and leave the first tee.

The Home green is canted and open in front to receive shots played from the outside of this slight dogleg left.

Good things happen when Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner come to southern California and see Geoff Shackelford. Witness their work together at Rustic Canyon some thirty miles away, which the author ranks among the handful of most enjoyable public courses in the country. Not just by coincidence, Rustic Canyon embodies many of Thomas’s design tenets, a sure sign of the admiration that the three have long held for The Captain. Pity other architects haven’t as readily embrace the work and writings of George Thomas. He was convinced that the best of golf course architecture was yet to come. Yet when you look at his work around southern California, you might well conclude he got more right, more often than any architect before or since. His ‘course within a course’ concept of playing from certain tees to specific hole locations with par sometimes changing remains as advanced and forward thinking today as when he detailed it in 1927. Regarding their work, Hanse sums it up nicely when he states, ‘At the end of the day it is Thomas’s work and we were just happy to be putting it back. I can tell you this though: By the end of the project, we were all much better golf course architects having worked at LACC and learned from Thomas. In fact, I took parts of what I saw and tried my best to transpose some of the ‘course within a course’ concepts into the Olympic Course in Rio.’

Thomas never got a Cypress Point or Pebble Beach site upon which to work. Yet, remember his quote at the start of this profile where he notes that ‘… there are many inland courses which are as fine as the linksland by the sea.’ How true did that statement turn out here?! On the North Course, the two received the best property they ever worked on with its abundance of natural features laced throughout and they capitalized on it to perfection in the later stage of their partnership. Save for the Old Course at St. Andrews, this parkland course may well exceed the golf required at all the other British Open rota courses. As such, Thomas’s fully restored North Course represents the pinnacle of parkland design and now Golden Age restoration.

Separated by a bank of roses from the first and Home holes, the Colonial Georgian clubhouse basks in the California sunshine as it lords over play.

 The End