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2023 US Open Tournament Recap – An inside look at LACC

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        With the playing of the 123rd U.S. Open, the veil is now off the mystery lady Los Angeles Country Club (LACC), which stood cloaked behind its great hedges along Beverly Hills’ Wilshire Blvd for a century, content to carefully craft its own legacy as one of a very small number of golf’s premier clubs.

         The great reveal was a confluence of contradictions, puzzlement and wonder.  In the end, LACC was validated as a worthy major championship host for the Open, won by rising star Wyndham Clark. But in arriving to that point, questions and critique abounded. At the outset of play, record low scoring exposed the George Thomas/William Bell design’s limitations. An intentionally managed, record low modern-era attendance mark initially belied a seemingly subdued atmosphere, and a tightly compacted layout hampered access to a number of viewing areas.

            Like a highly anticipated Hollywood premier, the previews for LACC as a venue had been gratuitously gushing from the assembled golf media establishment.  Much was made of the strategic challenges the field would face in negotiating the twisting lines of sight, avoiding the ever encroaching ‘eyebrow’ bunkers, contending with undulating and ridged greens, and of course, taming the famed barranca (LA-ese for a gully).

               But when a routine PGA Tour event broke out on Thursday, highlighted by Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele’s matching 62s, the narrative quickly developed that the heralded Gil Hanse led course renovation in 2010 had immoderately broadened fairways, and effaced course character with excessive tree removal.  Slow green speeds owing to ‘marine layer’ (LA-ese for cloudy) were not extracting the penalties intended from the numerous, undulating rolls.  The curiosity of the barranca meandering through much of the north end of the course served to awaken the punditry to the fact that there was not a drop of water on the property in play to deter or intimidate players’ decision making.

                     But, by late Friday, to the exhaled relief of the golf wizards of smart, the course proved to have just needed a day to gather itself, and be disengaged from  the moist marine layer to begin baring its teeth.  With the aid of sunshine and steady breezes, more greens were being missed which allowed complex chipping areas to be showcased, while the day-one dart throwing at flagsticks subsided. The brawny, broad-shouldered fairways quickened and began repelling balls more regularly into thick bermuda rough, from which there were only occasional escapes to the greens.

                      And as the U.S. Open repossessed the Phoenix Open on the weekend, the spectators did their part as well.  On day one, fans were seeing the golf course for the first time, and were inducted with the arduous challenge of navigating over hills, through ravines and chasms, and around tight corners.  They were initially more like explorers of the golf course rather than spectators of the golf tournament, which certainly contributed  to  an absence of championship atmosphere in the early stages.  But once fans became acclimated and the competition began to take shape, there was no lack of enthusiasm for artful shotmaking and clutch putting performances.

                           It was well noted that attendance, about 22,000 per day, was depressed significantly from recent major championships by the USGA, owing to the compact and difficult terrain of the property. It was strained to provide a comfortable experience for those present, and probably could not have handled any more.

                           Interestingly, the central gathering spot on the course was well removed from the clubhouse and located in the southwest corner of the course encompassing the par-5 14th hole’s left side and green complex, the short par-3 15th, the 10th and 12th greens and 11th and 16th tee boxes. This high point of the course provided the most panoramic overview looking back down the canyon, and emerged as the most trafficked, festive, and popular expanse on property.  A, non-verbal game while mingling in this milieu was ‘flash the logo’ on your polo, zippered vest or hat.  Seemingly, every club from Pine Valley to Pinehurst, and Oakmont to Oahu was spotted adorning the outerwear of the well-heeled,  and would often lead to interaction and acknowledgement of both famous and lesser-known clubs among fans.

                     In fact, this Atlanta native spotted a Settindown hat from a well-regarded suburban Atlanta club, and engaged the couple for several minutes, learning that they were neighbors of Stewart Cink, there to follow and support their friend.

                      And, of course, the fan experience culminated on the final hole on Sunday, when the gathered crowds lining the ropes, staged a British Open (yes, British) storming of the fairway to celebrate the tournament’s conclusion in raucous and demonstrative style, exhibiting championship atmosphere.

                      Long before that moment, however, a  genuine treat for first time visitors who didn’t know of its existence, was beholding the extraordinary residence perched hillside above the fourth tee box that cut a concave edge from the course’s northeast border. The four-floor brick manor is fronted by acres of English gardens, ivy covered walls and massive stone stairways, and lords over LACC like a lion surveying his domain.  And yet both course and manor house seem perfectly compatible as if the golf property is a natural back yard for the mansion, and the towering edifice is a landmark affirming the historical site and significance of the grounds.

                     Built in 1929 for heirs of the famous industrialist and philanthropic Guggenheim family, it is now owned by legendary entertainer Lionel Ritchie, who, it was noted, was on tour in Europe during the tournament.  Adjacent to the Beverly Hills mansion was an exposed hillside carrying the moniker ‘US OPEN” replicating the iconic “HOLLYWOOD’ signage on a mountainside just several miles away.

                       Almost as much was made of the former Playboy Mansion concealed beyond the high hedges abutting the 14th fairway.  Long abandoned by its now deceased famous owner Hugh Hefner, it has nonetheless left a calling card in the form of a private zoo occupying space on the grounds.  Monkeys squealing and peafowl chirping are only two very distinct and audible sounds penetrating the hedge and causing curiosity and amusement among spectators huddled beside the separating hedge.

                         Back inside on that 14th fairway, down its left side, the course opens up to the prime aforementioned gathering area, while also providing one of the choice locations   for surveying the severity of penalty for landing a shot in the thick, tall bermuda rough.  Errant drives or second shot approaches to the lengthy Par-5 would dive underneath the cover of 4-inch high grass and always require a spotter to pinpoint its location with handy blue colored wire flags. 

                        Watching this scenario play out several times with the usual result being a deep gouging lunge to return the ball to fairway, a fellow spectator revealed himself as an LACC member and remarked that member play over the preceding weeks had necessitated implementation of a local rule to drop a ball and play on when a shot could not be located in the high grass.  “When they cut this rough back to standard height, they’re going to be finding golf balls for months,” the member laughed.

                          Overall, broad open fairways compressed onto the compact terrain interrupted by the winding barranca create a very different flow and feel from what is generally perceived as classic, traditional design.  At the same time, the quirky characteristic of five par-3s coupled with the need to manufacture an extra par-5 at the first hole by backing up the tee box to the clubhouse veranda in order to have a Par 70 layout, identifies LACC as a throwback not beholden to conventional standard of par.  These oddities certainly contributed to overall lower scoring, and while collectively the Par-3 quintet provide great diversity and challenge at the member play level, they didn’t match up well against the professional game.  The long seventh and 11th  holes, which could stretch past 290 yards sounded forbidding, but for tour players, these are merely tiny par-4s that they expect to birdie, or make 3 on most of the time.  Actual birdie 2’s were rare enough, but not unattainable. The large putting surfaces on both holes granted a score of 3 readily.

             The ninth was probably the most vanilla, while also offering the least amount of viewing access.  Just a straightforward stock 7 or 8 iron was all that was necessary to traverse the deep chasm below where spectators were crossing from one part of the course to the other.  Bogey at this hole was generally a regrettable player error, with the loss of ground to the field a certainty.  Lliterally less than 3 steps off the back of the green was another quirk of a created 10th tee box in order to push that hole’s length to over 400 yards.

                           However, the other two par-3s, the fourth and 15th,  played more starring roles.   Beneath the backdrop of the Ritchie residence, the positioning of the fourth green was like an emerald oasis in a canyon of scrub brush that presented a vexing mental image.  It was missed frequently, and required an entertaining range of recovery shots to salvage par.

                             The well chronicled 15th hole, measuring from 80 to 124 yards, served up the most drama of the week, yielding 3 hole-in-ones as well as countless instances of artistic shotmaking by utilizing slope and ridges to draw balls near the hole. At the same time, it had the teeth to punish misses that found the wrong side of those same contours, and require imaginative short game play to recover.

                           Elsewhere, the most previewed hole on the course was the the 330 yard,  par-4 sixth hole that promised fireworks or fiasco for risk takers tempted to take a dangerous line over a squat tree cornering the right edge of the twisting fairway. Most avoided that route on day one, but by the weekend, the field  had figured out the risk was not as advertised, and were dialing in the correct distance and line to leave easy up and down opportunities from the plateau to the green’s right.  At championship level, it did not measure up to the “great, short par-4” label.

                           That aside, some of the best holes to watch included the 500 yard par-4 second with fronting barranca that demanded precision power to clear and end up on the shallow green; the par-5 14th , which presented the most decision making for second shots; and the lengthy and visually intimidating par-4 16th and 17th holes.

                          In the final analysis, the maiden voyage of Los Angeles Country Club emerging from behind the camera and into the spotlight was a successful show.  A dramatic finish with a worthy winner accomplished the annual USGA goal of identifying the best player in the field.  Prime time viewing, great interest in the course, and star power contenders combined for a 9% television ratings increase over the 2022 Open.

                             And the USGA further stamped Los Angeles as a new favorite venue by adding George Thomas’ other L.A. gem, Riviera Country Club to the Open line-up for 2031. This in addition to a return visit to LACC in 2039, as well as a host assignment for the U.S. Women’s Open in 2032 makes a major statement for the west coast ‘cathedrals of golf’ standing alongside its traditional east coast rivals for USGA attention.

                              Until then, the grand old lady will be content to withdraw from the camera’s glare, and retreat again to its preferred role of providing a peaceful pursuit of enjoying the game of golf over its pleasant, pastoral surrounds.

Post Hoc:   The author’s first grandchild a U.S. Open week born baby in Los Angeles.
Hello world Birdie-Rose Franzman


About the Author


How we got onto 16 with a 5 minute wait at the WM Phoenix Open!

How I got on hole 16 (The Stadium hole) at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with little to no wait!! I also have tips and tricks on what to do once you are inside the gate and inside the stadium hole. Check this out if you ever plan to make a trip out! If you ever have the chance, it is definitely worth the trip.

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