Wilshire Country Club is located in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles, close to Hollywood, where the golf course occupies a tight 104-acre property that’s bisected by the Beverly Boulevard. One-time member Howard Hughes’s old mansion borders the southern perimeter of the course, close to the 2nd green.
In 1919, Englishman Norman Macbeth laid out the fairways at Wilshire, bringing a meandering barranca into play at more than half the holes. The architect’s portfolio also includes the old Los Angeles Country Club course and other highly regarded (though no longer existing) Californian layouts at Midwick and St Andrews in Laguna Niguel.
It’s said Macbeth’s interest in turf was the reason why he constructed distinctive double greens at the par three holes, because this allowed him to experiment with the types of grass that would work best for the playing conditions. Nowadays, these two separate putting surfaces can be connected to form unique multi-tiered greens, as at the short 4th.
Highlight holes include par threes at the 7th and 10th, which both play to long, shallow greens that are protected on all sides by deep, jagged-edged bunkers. The 555-yard 16th features another remarkable green which lies within a large “U” of the snaking creek that runs through the site.
Kyle Phillips was hired in 2008 to recapture the playing strategies that the original architect had intended for every hole and so his restoration focused on maximising Macbeth’s use of the water course, the pruning and removal of trees and the reconstruction of all the bunkers.
Kyle Phillips kindly provided us with the following exclusive comments:
I knew about the evolving changes to the course made by architect Norman Macbeth. After playing with Alister MacKenzie at the opening of Cypress Point in 1928, Macbeth began rebuilding the bunkers at Wilshire to imitate MacKenzie’s style.
The first phases of our Master Plan at Wilshire CC which have so far been implemented include the complete restoration of bunkers, green expansion/restoration (16 greens) and the regression and reduction of trees.
Subsequent to that work, a turf reduction plan was implemented last year in response to the water issues in Southern California. This involved the introduction of a number of fairway waste areas to cut down on irrigation requirements
The work remaining at Wilshire includes the restoration of greens at the 3rd and 18th holes and the restoration of the iconic barranca, along with another two double greens.
It is easy for a course in Los Angeles to get overlooked given all the great golf in the vicinity, such as Los Angeles Country Club, Riviera and Bel-Air. I had a chance to play the Wilshire Country Club this month and it was an unexpected treat. The course doesn't get a lot of notoriety but it was a fabulous day's golf.
The course is built on gently rolling terrain and is an easy walk. Of special note were holes near the clubhouse that have a big barranca (a dry river gorge) running through them. You have to hit approaches into narrow greens angling away from you when approach the pin. The 18th is an especially difficult one that plays at an unsettling angle both off the tee and into the green. I also really like the difficult par three fourth hole with a long narrow multi-tiered green.
I played Wilshire on a sunny seventy degree day and the environment is enhanced by the "Hollywood" sign in the hills above you in the intermediate distance as you walk around the course. The greens were pure and our caddies were expert and helped guide us into the hole the entire round. There is plenty of shot variety and holes that play uphill and downhill into greens.
I have never heard of the original architect Norman MacBeth before, and its too bad he doesn't have more courses to his credit, because he did good here at Wilshire!
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs