Course Review: Los Angeles Country Club North Course (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Designers: Herbert Fowler, George Thomas, William Bell
Overview: Every so often a restoration of a course will breathe new life into a tired facility. That seems to be the case with the ultra-private Los Angeles Country Club, a course that rests on some of the most expensive property in the U.S.. Devised initially by Herbert Fowler, then tweaked extensively by George Thomas and William Bell, LACC had become plain over time, though the rolling, meandering land it is built on was always stunning. Golf architect Gil Hanse and architect/writer/gadfly Geoff Shackelford were hired to restore the course, using Thomas’ work in the mid-1920s as their template. They cleared trees, opened up vistas, reestablished the barrancas, and reworked the bunkers back into the rugged, stunning configuration Thomas envisioned. The result is a revelation – and should show clubs looking to recapture their history exactly what is achievable. Removing trees opened up options, and the course is now both challenging and a delight to play.
- – Aesthetically, LACC is stunning with its new rugged bunkering, barrancas that have been reestablished (for those who aren’t familiar with the concept, barrancas are small valleys that in this instance have been naturalized), and recaptured greens with “wings.” You’ll few parkland courses that are as intriguing visually.
- – Great holes abound. The short sixth, with its narrow green tucked into the side of a hill, leaves a multitude of ways one might tackle it from the tee to the approach. The seventh, a winding par five, uses the barranca to great effect, and I thought the 11th, a long, downhill par three with its green banked into a hillside, was a real stunner as well.
- – Greens. The putting surfaces at LACC are ingenious. I regularly dropped balls to putt to different areas of the greens just to sense the subtleties. My caddy said players regularly misread them – thinking they break one way when they actually move another. I quite enjoyed the “bump” that was established on the 15th green, and the 9th was another that captured my attention. Shackelford points out the restoration recaptured Thomas’ “wings,” that were meant to present alternative ways of playing each hole. In other words, you could use the wings on the greens in different ways to change the difficulty of the hole. Clever.
Bogeys: It is tough to really pick on any one part of LACC, other than to say the back nine perhaps doesn’t quite measure up to the tremendous first nine holes. The finishing hole is enhanced by the uber-cool clubhouse behind it, with its expansive lawn, but is basically a wide plain of short grass with a pretty neat (though small) green. That’s not bad, mind you, but it might be one of the few moments when LACC doesn’t stun you. I do wonder about the scale of the area in contrast to the size of the green, but that’s just nit-picking.
The Final Tally: LACC is without question one of the great parkland golf courses in the world. The routing is staggeringly good, and though I think the front nine stands out, that doesn’t mean the finishing holes are lacking. They simply aren’t quite up to the unusually high standard set by the front. Thomas’ meticulous work recreated by Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford is a sight to behold, and certainly brings the course alive, especially in contrast with its relatively drab and plain previous state. It might not quite rival Merion or Oakmont, but LACC is definitely in the elite group of great parkland courses in the U.S. – or the world for that matter.