Riviera hole 16 Sunset

Los Angeles Golf: 2017 Trip Recap and Photo Tour

For those of you not in the Pacific Northwest (Portland to be exact), let me enlighten you on something: it’s been a miserable weather year.

We’ve had more snow and rain this winter than any in recent memory.

I’ve had landslides on the hill by by my house that have closed roads and have almost caused me to miss a flight.

We also even ran out of heating oil (we’re in an old house), upon our return from London over New Years – which wasn’t able to be refilled for over a week due to snow.

It got down to 44 degrees…in our house. 

Sorry, just needed to vent for a second to set the stage.

So amidst all of this, it was clear it was time to get out for a few days, and more importantly, go some place where golf was a more feasible option.

Enter Los Angeles!

LA in January, how could that be a bad idea?

We lined up rounds at some of our dream golf courses (Riviera Country Club, Wilshire Country Club, Valley Club of Montecito, and Los Angeles Country Club), and proceeded to book an AirBnB in Santa Monica.

All was looking right in the world.

Until, we found out about the torrential rain the area has been seeing.

Global warming strikes again – this time in the destination that was supposed to be my savior from weeks of horrible weather.

This sounds like a lot of bitching, and maybe it is, but I have absolutely no doubt none of you will feel sorry for me by the end of this post – and I’m ok with that 🙂

Day 1: Riviera Golf Club

Riviera Country Club Hole 9

Tal ripping one on 9

On this trip with me were golf photographer extraordinaire Patrick Koenig, as well as Mr. Hole-in-One, Ben Garrett.

When we landed at LAX on Thursday morning we honestly, weren’t sure if we’d be playing golf.

It had been pouring down rain the day before, and it was supposed to be pouring again on Friday.

Our round at Riviera was originally supposed to be on Friday, but in order to escape weather we’d been trying to change it. But due to the fact there were five of us (long story), we were unsure if we’d be able to make it happen.

Fortunately my friend Tal, and our host Mayumi, are two of the most generous and flexible people in the world, so at 1:30 on Thursday afternoon we headed out as a fivesome – can’t say I expected that.

When you show up at Riviera, you truly feel important for the afternoon. Whether it’s the unbelievably expensive homes surrounding the property, or the beautiful clubhouse itself – you know you’re in for a treat.

Riv was one of those courses that has always been ranked highly, but I didn’t fully understand why.

More than most of the other courses I’ve played in my life, it’s one that really needs to be experienced to properly see why it’s so special, and such a well designed course.

It’s not going to awe you with giant elevation changes (save for the first tee shot), or shock you with crazy green undulations.

Riviera Country Club Hole 1

The opening tee shot at Riviera

What I did find, was that out of all the difficult, truly championship golf courses I’ve played (think Medinah, Olympic, Oakland Hills etc) this was by far my favorite.

It was the first George C. Thomas design I’ve played, and I love his design philosophy of starting with a benign par 5 to get you going.

Right after the starter announced my name, and proceeded to tell us “in the spirit of the game, no mulligans are given on the first tee” I topped one that barely made it 100 yards.

But then was still able to save bogey.

The bunkering on the course is world class. From the wrap around green side bunker at 3, to the bunker in the middle of the green at 6, to the all-world short par 4, 10th – it’s all there for a reason, and it makes you think about every shot.

Riviera Country Club Hole 6

The world famous 6th. Look closely as there is a bunker in the middle of the green.

Riviera Country Club Hole 2

The bunkers on 2 force you to be precise with your approach.

The kikuyu grass that covers the property took some getting used to, as it grabs your club in the rough and makes hitting balls out extremely difficult.

The setting of the course deep in a canyon, with the clubhouse perched atop a hill watching over you, is one of the best settings for golf I’ve experienced – and I can’t wait to relive it when the pros play the Genesis Open this week.

Riviera Country Club Hole 7

The 7th was one of my favorite holes on the course.

Riviera hole 16 Sunset

The par 3 16th at sunset. We just barely got our round in.

Riviera Country Club Hole 18

The magic of camera lenses. It definitely wasn’t this light out…

Riviera Country Club Hole 18

The crew, minus our host Mayumi – next time we want a photo with you!

Day 2: Rained Out

On day two we were supposed to play Wilshire Country Club, which d

Griffith Park

18 holes of THIS. Photo courtesy of @pjkoenig.

espite not knowing a ton about it, aside from that Kyle Phillips did a great renovation, it was one we were excited for.

Despite a torrential downpour, and the fact no one at the proshop was answering their phone, we decided to make the 40 minute drive to the course to see if they’d let a few crazy north-westerners out on the course anyway.

Nope.  Absolutely not.

Ben and Patrick, being much more diehard than me, found the only course that was open in the city (Griffith Park) and played what might have been the wettest 18 holes I’ve ever seen.

I was the prudent one and got work done in the clubhouse.

Day 3: Golf in Santa Barbara

After 3-4 inches of rain fell on Friday, we made the drive up to Santa Barbara in beautiful weather to go experience a truly special club.

Out of respect for the club and our host, I’m not going to post any photos of the course, and I’m simply going to say it’s the kind of club you’d want to be a member at, and if this were the only place in the world where you could spend the rest of your golfing days, you’d count yourself a lucky person.

Day 4: Los Angeles Country Club (North)

LACC North Hole 9

A look at the clubhouse and the par 3 9th. This is basically where my camera went away for the day.

I think it’s safe to say that LACC was probably the day the whole group was most excited for. We’d heard great things about the renovation work Gil Hanse and his team have done, and I have yet to play a Hanse course I haven’t really enjoyed.

Unfortunately for us? That wet day on Friday was just a precursor for what was to come.

An absolute deluge that would start slowly ramping up from the time we teed off, to being an absolute torrent of wind and water by the time finished.

My buddy JT was our host for the day, and was essentially the hero of the trip.

We were willing to play this course in any weather – as long as they would let us out.

And so this born and bred, southern California guy, who probably could never have fathomed actually playing golf at his home course in this kind of weather, sent us an email the day before that simply said “I’m game if you guys are!”

And boy are we glad he was.

The North Course at LACC was unanimously named the favorite by our group.

Granted, this wasn’t without a lot of debating, arguing, and waffling (because all three of the major courses we played were world class) – and all will make it in my top 25 personally.

Originally laid out by George C. Thomas, LACC started out similar to Riviera with a gentle par 5 to get you going.

However, he didn’t wait long to kick you in the teeth, with #2 being a straight forward, long par 4.

I felt like the course really started to show it’s character at #3 though. A shortish par 4, with wildly hilly fairways and an elevated green. Placement off the tee was key if you wanted the best angle and distance on your approach. If you hit it just right you’ll kick way down a hill to the left and have a pretty straight forward pitch up.

LACC North Hole 3

On the walk up on #3.

LACC North Hole 3

The approach on #3

Also if it hadn’t been clear in previous days, we obviously weren’t from LA – as we were just as fascinated with the houses and celebrity culture than we were the courses.

Lionel Richie’s spot off the 4th (and 5th) greens was one of the most massive residences I’ve ever seen.

LACC North Hole 4

The par 3 4th hole on the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club.

Los Angeles Country Club Hole 7

The green on the 7th at LACC. The house to the back is part of Lionel Richie’s Compound.

And in years of golf? Hardly ever seen anyone there. Well, aside from the time he heard “All Night Long” blasting from the whole house – which, I find amazing.

The routing of the course keeps you guessing the whole time, and never felt stale.

The par 3s were all great (and long) with the exception of the short 15th, which ironically was my favorite. There was a tongue that stuck out way to the right, that couldn’t have been more than 15 feet deep – can’t wait to see the pros try and hit that pin in the 2023 US Open.

LACC Hole 15

The short par 3, 15th.

The weather proceeded to get worse and worse and by the end of the round the 18th green was a lake and the cup was completely full of water.

But you know what? In some odd way, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I have a feeling I’ll be able to make it back to play it in proper conditions (and experience the new South course), and it never hurts to have another good story to tell.

Day 5: Rustic Canyon Golf Club

Rustic Canyon Hole 15

Looking back at the stout 15th hole at Rustic Canyon.

After what we were told was the wettest day in LA’s history, we weren’t sure how the public Rustic Canyon track was going to hold up.

But we decided to drive an hour an a half north to Moorpark to find out.

An original Hanse design, it was one we’d all heard good things about, but didn’t necessarily know a whole lot about.

And holy crap, what a surprise.

Rustic Canyon was awesome.

There was a fantastic variety in holes, great scenery, and while the fairways were in pretty rough shape, the greens were well maintained and rolled true.

And considering we paid $32 each for the round, I’d say it is up there with Machrihanish as the best value course I’ve ever played.

The highlight of the day was when we stepped up to the #8 tee box. 8 is a shorter par 3, but with a stiff headwind, was playing about 130.

Ben walks up to the teebox first, and as he is putting his peg in the ground he says, “Watch this, Ace-Cam.”

He hits the ball up into the wind and says it again “ACE-CAM!”

The ball landed about 15 feet beyond the hole on a ridge, and proceeded to trickle all the way back to the hole, and drop in.

Ben Garrett Hole in One

Mr. Hole in One. Photo by @pjkoenig

The celebration that ensued was unlike anything I’ve experienced on a golf course – despite the fact this was not his first rodeo.

In fact, it wasn’t his second, third, or even fourth.

This was his SEVENTH hole in one.

And his FOURTH in the last 6 months.

Let the hate commence.

The only downside was that because of all the rain, we were literally the only ones out there, so the restaurant was closed.

He wasn’t even able to by a celebratory round of beers.

In & Out had to suffice.

Rustic Canyon Hole 17

The par 3, 17th at Rustic Canyon

Rustic Canyon Hole 1

Split fairways on the par 5, 1st.

Rustic Canyon Hole 6

The par 3, 6th.

Rustic Canyon Hole 8

The scene of the hole in one. The short par 3, 8th.

Wrapping Up Our Los Angeles Golf Trip

After that we headed to the airport were I hopped a red eye to Orlando for the 2017 PGA Show and they took off back north to Seattle.

Despite the weather, the trip was everything we hoped it would be.

While we were bummed about Wilshire, we got to play all of the main courses we’d set out to experience and 2 of the 3 we had perfect weather days.

I’m slowly making progress on my top 100 quest with the numbers now at:

  • Golf Magazine America – 37/100
  • Golf Magazine World – 32/100
  • Golf Digest America – 31/100
  • Golf Digest World – 23/100

Here’s to the next trip, which will be Atlanta in April!

Also, member of a private club and like to geek out about golf with other likeminded people? Check out The Eighty Club.

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  1. Dawson

    I thought George C Thomas designed Riviera. Go to Canada if you want to see some truly outstanding Stanley Thompson courses; Banff Springs, Jasper Park Lodge, Highlands Links. Excellent site and photos! Keep up the great work.

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