Wilshire Country Club
California, United States of America

Seventh hole, 140 yards; While the expanded fourth green is the largest putting surface on the course, the seventh represents the smallest making the heterogeneity of these one shotters a highlight of the outward side. Hitting the green from the tee is difficult enough but recoveries, especially from one of the deep greenside bunkers might be more challenging. Only a fool – or a man already desperately down – chases back right hole locations. Pity that this vicious little hole falls on the front nine; late in the round, it would be a pivotal and maddening part of any match.

Prudence dictates aiming for the middle of the green and putting toward perimeter hole locations.

The depth of the greenside bunker is appreciated by the plight of this 6 foot 4 inch chap.

Ninth hole, 430 yards; Macbeth was not a fan of blind approach shots as Wilshire attests but the occasional blind drive was part of his repertoire and witnessed here. Thank goodness the hillside has never been altered and fortunately it was a Brit who routed the hole and preserved its uncommon character. Cresting the hill provides grand views of the nearby art deco El Royale hotel and the iconic Hollywood sign four miles distant. Squeezing an approach shot past the left bunker and onto the rolling green is one of the day’s most satisfying shots.

An occasional blind tee ball is something to be admired and this is Wilshire's one.

An occasional blind tee ball is something to be admired and this is Wilshire’s.

Tenth hole, 155 yards; A highly respected one shotter, this hole was built by Macbeth but not until the 1930s. Originally, there was a dogleg right par 4 that bent around the side of today’s clubhouse. During the Depression the club sold off some land prompting Macbeth’s construction of this banana-shaped green. Over 40 yards long, it narrows to a mere seven paces (!) at its waist and in the prevailing left to right breeze presents a daunting challenge.

The green’s unique configuration requires a nine iron to a front left hole location and a mid iron to a back right one. Like the fourth, such diversity is uncommon for a inland one shotter.

Eleventh hole, 365 yards; A variety of reasons exist why a course might measure ~6,300 yards.  Most commonly it’s a lack of three shot holes but that’s not the case here.  Wilshire length is what it is because of its large number of sub-400 yard two shot holes.  There are seven in all and this is the author’s favorite. Thanks to Phillips’s artful bunkering this hole has never appeared better if compared to original photographs. Today’s green speeds exacerbate the problems posed by the putting surface’s severe back to front tilt; fifteen feet below the hole is advantageous to eight feet above. A true position hole.

Second only to the seventh as the smallest target, the eleventh green appears as an island in a sea of sand.

Twelfth hole, 405 yards; Sandy Tatum, whose father was a founding member, has played many rounds at Wilshire over the decades and felt that over that time the largest change was the loss of contact with the barranca. While playing after Phillips’s work, he exclaimed on this tee how nice the barranca’s presence was again. Local ace player Michael Robin notes ahead how short grass confounds around the pushed-up green, representing a nice change of pace from the two prior highly bunkered greens.

Note the width of the twelfth fairway. As recently as 2007, a wall of trees hid the barranca down the left making the hole one dimensional. Note the pushed-up green and the channel of short grass that runs left of it.

Sixteenth hole, 555 yards; What a hole this must have been in its infancy when hickory golf clubs dominated play. The barranca was wider and even more intimidating and two strong woods plus a solid mashie-niblick were required to cover the distance. Situated on a large peninsula within a bend of the barranca, today’s green still expresses a disdain for sloppy golf but Macbeth’s commanding scale and the naturalness of the green’s position is less apparent.

Note the sheen of the tight, new Tif-Dwarf 419 Hybrid Bermuda turf that was laid down in phase two of the restoration; congratulations to Green Keeper Doug Martin for presenting such superb playing surfaces conducive to good golf. Macbeth would be pleased in the manner in which balls run out, sometimes until they are unceremoniously dumped into bunkers such as these down the left of sixteen.

The sixteenth green is nestled into a soft ‘U’ of the winding barranca. Everything on the far side of the barranca was once putting green making it visually quite striking – and different. Macbeth wasn’t afraid to build trench bunkers around the back of greens, as we see above.

As seen from behind, the  sixteenth green is still formidably defended even if the putting surface no longer occupies all of the peninsula.

As seen from behind, the sixteenth green is still formidably defended even if the putting surface no longer occupies all of the peninsula.

Using both aerial and ground photos from the 1920s, Kyle Phillips Golf Course Design recreated the Macbeth Course for the Club in 2006. This section highlights Macbeth’s use of the barranca as well as the original massive size (and their proximity to each other) of the sixteenth and eighteenth greens.

Eighteenth hole, 440 yards; Like Merion, Wilshire demands careful, well judged irons for most of the round and then closes with a beast.  Kyle Phillips’s Lead Design Associate Mark Thawley notes with admiration that in its day this gnarly barranca was ‘… surely one of the greatest hazards in American golf.’  Unfortunately,  a’ hundred year storm’ deluged the region in 1938 causing wide spread damage to this barranca and the waterways in general. In came the Army Corp of Engineers and while the water network was stabilized, the concrete used by them is a poor substitute for Mother Nature. Much of the aesthetics and some of the strategy was lost. Despite a host of challenges, legal and otherwise the club is considering a restoration of the barranca to its wider, natural state and an enlargement of the  green to its original 60 yard length. Let’s hope!

One of the best holes to emerge from the Golden Age is the Home hole at Wilshire. Los Angeles stands proud in the background but the eyes of an old trooper are more likely to be drawn to the mesmerizing color of the turf and fairway contours in the foreground.

The same barranca that threatens off the tee is crossed on one’s approach shot before looping alongside and behind the green. It is the very definition of a well routed hole.

The immense eighteenth green seen in all its glory in 1933 highlights Macbeth as a standout thinker …

… as does this view from behind.

Two years after the horrific storm did so much damage to his beloved sixteenth and eighteenth holes, Macbeth passed away.  He was another bright ‘point of light’ that migrated from Britain to America who established and nurtured the game of golf.  Macbeth shined most brightly here at Wilshire Country Club and it is altogether appropriate that it be preserved and treasured as a monument to what he gave the game.

Naccarato muses:

An aspect about Wilshire that I really enjoy is the history of its membership and the people who visited there frequently.  Howard Hughes, the late Billionaire of whose drive and genius I am an ardent fan, was a Wilshire member whose passion for golf was born in Pasadena, where the sport had become fashionable in this region.  As his love for golf grew, Hughes’ patience for the game’s difficulty unfortunately did not, which from all accounts was probably the only thing that held him back from being an excellent player. According to his biography, Hughes maintained his Wilshire membership until the day he died, despite becoming a recluse and not having been seen in public for a great many years! I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to golf and Los Angeles, so it’s easy for me to dream about all of the characters Hughes may likely have crossed while at Wilshire….Max Behr, who was also a Wilshire member, MacBeth himself, and, who knows, maybe even a visiting George Thomas!  Whenever I look up at Hughes’ former house above the 8th green and 9th tee, I catch myself thinking about a scantily clad Kate Hepburn or Ava Gardner standing out on the balcony, cajoling the Billionaire to hurry up and come home, or of Hughes, much to the chagrin of club officials, landing his plane on the nearby 6th fairway!  I then look over at the 9th tee and see a vivid picture of Ben Hogan asking his caddy at which letter of the El Royale Hotel sign he should aim his tee shot!  And, yes, that’s the very same hotel at which a certain man at the highest level of the U.S. government purportedly romanced a famous Hollywood blond bombshell! The club recognizes and embraces its history as much as, if not more than, any other club, which gets big points from me.  I just love that the club honors its golf designer by annually hosting what is unquestionably one of Los Angeles’ most popular local golf tournaments, the “Macbeth Invitational”, and uses the patented Hughes Tool Co. drill bits as tee markers!

Drill bits make for distinctive tee markers but mind your frustration as they don’t treat driver heads well.

What’s going on at Wilshire is important. More courses built in remote locations won’t drive the game nearly as much as improving courses situated close to one’s home and work. Such courses are often hemmed in by urbanization and lack the capacity to expand and counter technology. That doesn’t bother the author in the least. Golf is meant to be played in 3 hours or less and the amount of ground that a golfer can comfortably walk during that time is in the 6,200 to 6,400 yard range. Wilshire length exceeds that but given the close green to next tee proximity it is one of the quickest walking courses west of the Mississippi. Wilshire represents golf where it matters the most and demonstrates in spades what fun and how engaging a game can be had on a course well under 7,000 yards. Wilshire and its glorious past are the way forward.

GolfClubAtlas.com thanks Tommy Naccarato for the vintage photographs found throughout this course profile.

The End