William F. Bell is a renowned golf course architect, particularly within California and, even more particularly, for his contributions to municipal golf in the state. The most well-known example in that lot is certainly the South and North courses at Torrey Pines, however recent developments have helped elevate Soule Park Golf Course — in the mountains northwest of Los Angeles — to among the most highly-regarded munis in the nation.
Gil Hanse, a noted restorer and renovator, undertook a dramatic project to polish off Soule Park. The most dramatic change perhaps was to the bunkers, which were meant to emulate those of William Bell...but it’s important to realize that Hanse was imitating those of William P. Bell, who worked closely with George Thomas at Riviera, Bel-Air and others (and who, of course, is the father of the younger Bell).
Granted, despite the contributions of the Bell(s) and Hanse, much of the credit for the course’s success goes to the beautiful Ojai Valley, which provides photogenic views from most locations, as well as the occasional carry over one of the region’s famed barrancas.
A trip to Ojai has been on my radar for some time. A trip to play Soule Park and its neighbor Ojai Valley Inn seemed a no-brainier. As it turned out the trip would allow time for only one round of golf before driving on to SLO wine country.
Strange as this sounds I chose to play Soule Park because I would be the the first person to review the course on this web-site.
I hope that I am up to the task.
Soule Park is a municipal golf course in the small town of Ojai, CA. Other writers are far better at documenting the history of a golf course and what architect did this and what architect did that.
I can say this, William Bell laid out a good golf course for public play. Gil Hanse restored the golf course. The golf course I played was everything anyone would ever want from a public golf course. Moreover, the green fees are so reasonable that anyone can make the trip to Soule Park and not break the bank.
The routing of the course works well with the land. There is just enough elevation change to make the course interesting while still being very walk-able. I walked, carried my golf bag, shot even par, and am 66 years old.
Soule Park has no weak holes. One might say that there are no great holes but all eighteen holes work well together.
My review of memorable holes goes like this: The par three third hole is the first eye opener. The bunkering is truly beautiful. Also noted, hole three is one of the few holes where you can't see the green when hitting your shot. The ninth hole is a risk reward par four. Bunkers angle up the fairway making the straight hole play like a dogleg left. Some big hitters can try for the green while the rest of us must bite off the bunkers for our favorite wedge shot. Fifteen is a classic long par four. A good drive down the hill leaves the golfer a long uphill shot over the barranca to a sloped green. The final hole is a short par five that does not give out too many birdie fours. A good drive is needed to hit a tight landing area while avoiding the stream and bunkers on the right Going for the green requires a precise long shot. The green is guarded by the same stream in front and on the left. Bailing out right leaves a challenging pitch. Added to this is a long, narrow, well-sloped green...a fine finishing hole to a fine golf course.
As for design details, Soule Park is above the mark usually seen in municipal golf. The green complexes are interesting and challenging. All eighteen greens are a natural extension of the surrounding landscape. The runoff areas allow for a variety of creative short shots. The bunkering is wonderfully attractive. Most of the bunkers are set away from the greens which is common to William Bell public golf design. Gil Hanse deserves high marks for his restoration work and achieving a very attractive and challenging public golf course.
Soule Park is a standout public golf course. Top 100 in California has it rated at #81. I personally have it as California's 36th best course. Not as good as La Purisima, Torrey Pines, Sandpiper, and Rustic Canyon but better than Bayonet, La Costa, Trump National LA, and Maderas.
Hopefully my writing will inspire others to make the drive to Ojai to play and review Soule Park. A golf course of this quality deserves more than just one review.