Ojai Valley Inn gets a bad rap. The Fried Egg posted a scathing review of the course by writer Garrett Morrison in the fall of 2019, mainly revolving around the fact that the resort markets the course as a Thomas/Bell “original” – with the corresponding price markup – when it’s been substantially modified over the years by Jay Morrish. It’s a fair criticism, but I don’t believe that such a criticism should reflect on the course itself. It’s simply a blast to play, deftly routed across the barrancas and rolling terrain of the property, with lush fairways and kikuyu rough.
The course appears to have switched the nines since I played it, which is a little bit confusing since they’d already made some revisions around the time I was there, adding two “lost” holes and removing two others. (I even have the yardage guide from prior to that change.) What was the back nine is now the front; this side features substantially more elevation changes and semi-blind shots. I liked #1, a short par four bending right around a large hill; #4, a driveable par four that plays across a barranca and between two trees; #5, a long, downhill par four featuring a dramatic elevated tee shot; and #8, a short par three that’s far more narrow than it appears. #9 and #18 are somewhat different holes today than when I played due to the addition of an event building between them that drastically narrowed their playing corridors; I can’t speak to this change, but I do recall both holes as good golf holes - #9 in this case being a reachable par five, and #18 being a long par four.
The current back nine plays flatter and like more of a parkland-style layout, with the barrancas coming into play only on the last few holes. Here, I liked #11, a very long par three to a large and undulating green; #16, one of the “lost” holes, a downhill par three to a very narrow green that falls away off both left and right, and #17, the second “lost” hole: a long, uphill par four that doglegs right to an awkward and small green.
Morrison’s write-up states that “at the moment, [Ojai Valley Inn] is not even the best course in Ojai”, alluding to the relatively recent Gil Hanse-led renovations of the Soule Park municipal course just down the road. (Indeed, this very site ranks Soule Park slightly above Ojai Valley Inn as well.) I haven’t been fortunate enough to play Soule Park – it was hardly a destination course when I was in Ojai, and on my most recent trip to Ventura County I chose to play Rustic Canyon instead – but I’d certainly be impressed if it is indeed better, because Ojai Valley Inn is certainly worth playing if you happen to be in the area.
Date: May 14, 2020