10101 Wilshire Blvd,
California (CA) 90024,
- +1 310 276 6104
1 mile W of Beverley Hills
Members and their guests only
The location for the Los Angeles Country Club makes it possibly one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the world. It’s therefore fitting that the North course does full justice to the land because it is a truly magnificent layout.
The club was founded in 1897 as the Los Angeles Golf Club, moving locations three times before settling on its current site adjacent to Beverly Hills in 1911. The original club founders, Joe Sartori and Ed Tufts, along with Norman Macbeth and Charles Orr, laid out the inaugural course at the new Wilshire site.
The course (now known as the North) at the renamed Los Angeles Country Club was refashioned by Herbert Fowler in 1921 but re-routed in 1927 by George C. Thomas Jr. and his right-hand man, William Bell, with excellent effect. Fast-forward to the new millennium when Gil Hanse was entrusted to restore this classic course to its former glory.
The layout is at once thrilling and often exciting with its hills, ridges, swales and valleys. There are two 18-hole courses, the North and the South, if you can get a game, but only have time for one round, try and persuade your friendly member to play the North course.
There are far too many great holes to mention them all, but the par threes are exceptionally strong, exactingly long and noteworthy. The 7th is perhaps the toughest of them all, measuring almost 240 yards where only the perfect tee shot will find the sanctuary of the green. The 9th is perhaps the signature hole, with the clubhouse as the backdrop, but many members consider the 11th to be the star of the show with downtown LA as the backdrop.
As far as parkland courses go, Los Angeles North is as good as it comes. The course holds your interest all the way round and it’s a challenging and tough but fair layout. Roll this up with a beautiful setting (except perhaps for the odd imposing tower block) and you have a little piece of heaven.
To paraphrase Cecil Rhodes's comment about the English, "To be a member of L.A.C.C. is to win first prize in the lottery of life." As Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford wrote in the L.A.C.C. North Course Commemorative Edition, published in 2010: "Every great course in the world features at least one par-4 under 350 yards allowing for multiple playing options. Designed with an eye toward risk and reward, these devilish little two-shotters accomplish one very simple axiom, as so eloquently written by George Thomas in Golf Architecture in America: “The strategy of golf is the thing which gives the short accurate player a chance with a longer hitter who cannot control his direction or distance.”
Riviera's great par four under 350 yards is its tenth. At L.A.C.C. it is the sixth, and it's a doozy. The hole plays 335 yards from the back tees, and you hit into a narrow valley where the ball will naturally kick right to left. If you are brazen, you can attempt to cut off the corner on the right and incur a big penalty if you miss. The hole doglegs sharply to the right and the approach to the elevated green is made quite tricky because it is such a small target. It is the type of hole you could play dozens and dozens of times and still find exhilarating and challenging each time.
Routing, variety and terrain combine to make the North a world-class course. Given its geographic location, L.A.C.C. North will inevitably be compared with nearby Riviera. In my view L.A.C.C. is the superior course. Thomas simply had a better piece of land to work with at L.A.C.C. than at Riviera. Riviera is built within a valley and doesn't have the elevation changes or other elements that makes L.A.C.C. so unique.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Two interesting details about LACC: We walked and took caddies. At the 4th hole, the caddie said, “See that wall? That’s the backyard wall to the Playboy Mansion.” Even I thought about boosting myself up on that wall to see what eye candy might lie on the other side, but it was a bit high for that, and the caddies said the wall has electric wires on the top. Once, as a practical joke, they convinced a new caddie to let them give him a boost to look over the wall. When his hand reached the top, he got a big shock and was pissed at those guys for rest of the day.
Near Number 14 (a par 5 of 528 yards) was the home of famous TV producer Aaron Spelling. It ran the length of the fairway (more than 500 yards), and makes the LACC clubhouse look like a guesthouse. Larry Berle.
As part of the glorious restoration, Gil Hanse retained Geoff Shackleford, the author of George Thomas’ biography “The Captain”, to provide historical background regarding George Thomas’ and William Bell’s design concepts. Geoff assisted Gil as he perfected his architectural plans as well as during the actual construction. The fairways were constructed during the winter and spring of 2009. Gil is extraordinarily hands-on and always wanted to be onsite as much as possible to drive the bulldozers and craft the bunkers. The first bunker excavated during the 2009 phase was the second fairway bunker on the 17th hole that had been constructed as part of Herbert Fowler’s design in 1920-21. Much to the delight of Gil, who was operating the bulldozer, a cache of sand was discovered under the topsoil, signaling success in locating the original bunker. During 2009, fairway lines were established to compliment the new bunkering, and tree removal commenced, open up some lost vistas on the course and further revealing Gil’s vision for the North Course. It was during this interlude that the Board decided to pursue Gil’s design that called for re-establishing the original routing of the 2nd and 8th holes. The 2010 phase of the project began with the construction of the 5th green complex, followed by restoration of the short par four 6th green complex, the alter ego to Riviera’s famed 10th hole design by Captain Thomas several years before his work on the North Course.
After work concluded in the lower course (the 2nd through 9th holes, and the 17th hole), the construction effort shifted to the upper holes where tree removal exposed sweeping vistas not only across the differing elevations of the course itself, but also across the Los Angeles basin. Views from 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes span the Santa Monica Mountains, Griffith Observatory and the downtown skyline. One of the last initiatives of Gil Hanse was an ode to architect George Thomas to re-establish the old 17th, a short par three that played a key role in the final round of the 1926 LA Open. This hole, designed by Herbert Fowler and built by the Captain in 1920, was coined the “105 yard terror”. Fortunately the site remained untouched until 2010, except for the trees and brush growing upon it, so it was not difficult to rebuild the green to its original contours. Although not part of the regular course set up, this hole is often used by the membership as the 19th hole to settle up those precious bets. Unlike other courses in the area, the hybrid-Bermuda grass seed in the fairways provided for excellent turf conditions and played firm and fast throughout. With Gill adding many natural barrancas in front of greens, and hand-crafting bunkers that jut into the greens creating putting surfaces that resemble the shape of a molar tooth, it’s a real challenge to hit greens in regulation.
The restoration of the North Course took me by surprise. I hardly recognized the layout with all the tree clearance, incredible change in the bunker design and playing to new green locations. The current bunkers at LACC don’t resemble the bunkering at the other nearby Thomas layouts. Upon reflection, I considered the North Course almost unplayable for high handicap golfers as the entrance to every green is guarded by punishing bunkers, eliminating the ability to run the ball into the green. The current layout has turned many of the par fours into three shot holes for average players or individuals who can’t hit it very far. With the Walker Cup being hosted at this historic venue in 2017, the club will be well prepared for its first major showing of modern times as it rarely opens its doors to public eyes. Of all the courses on my itinerary, this was the toughest test.
Playing any of the courses ranked in the World Top 100 is always a treat and my game on the North at LACC was no. 33 on the current list for me. The all American country club feel is evident on arrival and endorsed as you move through the locker room, the bar and grill, the pro-shop and then the starters hut – you are getting set-up for a great experience.
The opening hole like many great courses gets you moving away from the clubhouse quickly without having to be the most testing – take a par-5 and move on as it soon gets tough. There have been many changes to the course since 2009, all of these can been seen on the club website and there are plenty of before and after images – every hole has been improved without a doubt.
The 4th is the first par-3 and a beauty with the return of a sandy hazard short of the green and improved aesthetics all around. The 6th is a stand-out hole for me, one of those under 350 yard par-4’s that is unforgettable. It is certainly drivable but at what cost? The sensible play is straight for about 220 yards, leaving a 90 yard pitch to a raised thin green with bunkers front and back, best hole on the front nine. The back nine opens with a par-4 around 400 yards with a tricky approach to another great bunkered green-site. Hole 11, another par-3 but yet again no giveaway par to be had here – tip is to keep the tee shot left and it should feed to the green.
I have not really mentioned the greens yet; here goes… true, very very fast, subtle borrows and have a habit of making you look as though you have not got a clue! The 13th is a long par 4, around 420 yards and my excitement increased when the members I played with told me the Playboy Mansion is behind the hedge to the left of the green, a good looking hole indeed! The last par-3 comes at the 15th and is the shortest at around 140 yards played to a diagonally sited green – the green also has the ‘bump’ in the middle, which is believed to have originally been a bunker in the 1920’s – the club putting green also has the ‘bump’ which allows the members to practise the putt they may face on the great 15th green. All great courses have a strong 17th hole and the LACC has a very special hole indeed, a tough par-4 with bunkers at landing point down the left-side and trees and a ditch down the right – cross bunkers short of the green add to the look and difficulty of the approach. The drive at the last is not too tricky but the right-side is favourable – the shot and the walk to the green is a great experience, the clubhouse is so inviting to look at and the feeling of being in there in around ten minutes to reflect on one of the great golf experiences is very satisfying.
The North Course is certainly worthy of the world ranking. The club history document is well worth a read - https://www.thelacc.org/history