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.
My wife and I played Wilshire Country Club on a beautiful August afternoon. Many positive changes have been made to a course that I last played in the early 1980's.
Removing trees from golf courses has been a popular trend in golf course makeovers for many years now and Wilshire has benefited greatly from this project. The now unobstructed views from the club house must be very pleasing to the members dining on the veranda.
The most note worthy feature to the Kyle Phillips remodel is the bunkering. Wilshire's first line of defense is the bunkers. The Phillips bunkers at Wilshire are first rate. They frame the holes perfectly, adding a beauty to the individual holes that is very pleasing to the eye. Moreover, accuracy off the tee is at a premium and playing eighteen holes without catching a bunker off the tee is no small feat.
Wilshire CC's second line of defense is the barranca that wanders through the course. When not directly protecting a golf hole the barranca frames and beautifies. The original architect, Norman Macbeth, must have had a great eye and imagination to make such good use of this natural water feature.
No one hole stands out for me at Wilshire. Rather, there are many good solid holes. Number seventeen is a short par four that requires a perfectly straight drive to set up a short club into a well guarded green. Tee to green bunkering at its best. Hole number nine offers perhaps the only blind tee shot on the course. The drive must be precise to what appears to be a wide open fairway in order to have a reasonable chance with a long club into a well guarded green.
Being an arm chair architect like so many of us, I can suggest a few changes. The par fourth fairway could be shaped better to take advantage of the large tree that guards the right side of the green. This tree is always a talking point when the LPGA has visited Wilshire. I also think the two greens on the par three thirteenth are perfectly ready to be transformed into a Berlitz style green.
All-in-all Wilshire CC is a fine golf course and in my opinion fits its #39 ranking in California. That said, I am also of the opinion that there are about six courses in California ranked above Wilshire that don't belong there and about the same number ranked below Wilshire that are equal to this course.
In explanation of my point, I believe walk-ability to be a factor in my judging and ranking of a golf course. It is difficult for me to give a positive ranking to a course that can need a golf cart to get from a green to the next tee or a near mountain climb to do the same. Some great golf courses can be a demanding walk, but if one is still walking it is a plus.
Stepping down from my soap box I have to finish with just what a good time we had at Wilshire Country Club. The experience was like catching up with an old friend and saying “why didn't we do this sooner”.
A fairly average course that has been in existence for a very long time with a long history.
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