Saturday, January 28, 2006

We Love L.A! - Los Angeles Country Club and Riviera

Los Angeles Country Club (#59 in the world) is located in the heart of some of the most valuable real estate on the planet. While technically accurate that the course is located in the City of Los Angeles, the city is made up of many neighborhoods. L.A.C.C. is located in the heart of the toniest neighborhoods. The course is bounded by Beverly Hills, Century City and near Brentwood and Westwood. The southern boundary of the course is Santa Monica Boulevard. Wilshire Blvd divides the North Course from the South. Sunset Blvd forms the rough northern boundary of the course. It is an oasis within one of the largest and most densely populated urban areas in the world. The members of Los Angeles C.C. guard the privacy jealously. You approach the guard gate and give your name. While we have been to many courses and had to stop at a guard gate (Sunningdale, Pine Valley, Riviera), at L.A.C.C. it really adds an element of exclusivity that feels appropriate for this part of L.A. It is one of only a very few remaining golf courses in the United States where you must wear long pants - there are no shorts allowed. The course does not have a lot of movie star or entertainment industry members, contrary to popular opinion. What is does have is world class golf. It is our understanding that the U.S.G.A. would like to host events at L.A.C.C. but the club has repeatedly declined.

In what has to be the most exciting non-golf related attraction next to a golf course anywhere in the world, off the 13th green of the North Course is the Playboy mansion. All around you there are signs that you are in a very exclusive environment. A building located off one of the fairways that at first appears to be a Ritz Carlton is the home of one of Hollywood's most famous producers. The house has 123 rooms and is 56,000 square feet. The 11th hole, a par three, is one of the most picturesque tee shots in the world. A 220 yard+ difficult reverse-Redan hole, with the Los Angeles skyline in the background. You stand on an elevated tee box and feel like you're on top of the world. L.A.C.C. was designed by George Thomas who also designed nearby Riviera and Bel Air. Having played all three, I think L.A. is Thomas's best work. The terrain is quite hilly and you have to play the course very strategically or it will beat you up.

The day I was fortunate enough to play L.A. Country Club was made even more special by the treatment we were given in the locker room. On the day of our summer visit, the locker room attendant let me use Ronald Reagan's locker. Reagan was a one time member of L.A.C.C. With an American flag atop the locker, it was with great pride that I had the privilege to be able to use the locker of this great American.

Riviera (#36 in the world) is built within a valley and in my view doesn't have as much character as L.A.C.C. has. The 18th at Riviera is a disappointing hole and the overall feel of Riviera is cold. The clubhouse is 46,000 square feet. I'd take the clubhouse at a Garden City or Shinnecock ahead of this type any time. Bigger is not always better. Riviera, like The Olympic Club in San Francisco is affiliated with an Athletic club and that changes the character and feel of the place. The Spanish style clubhouse does look impressive, especially when you are down on the course looking up at it. It sits on a high mesa overlooking the Canyon and the Pacific Ocean. The first hole, only steps away from the locker room starts your round on a dramatic note. You drive the ball off of a plateau on the top of the hill. The fairway is 75 feet below you in the Canyon. One of the defining characteristics of Riviera is the Barranca that runs through it. The Barranca is a large gully or ditch where runoff water from the canyon flows through during heavy rains. Even when it is dry, it is a formidable hazard.

The par threes at Riviera are all good holes and Thomas's risk/reward philosophy shines on these. The other hole I really liked at Riviera is the 10th hole. It is a driveable par four with great risk-reward characteristics, so far I would rate it one of the best holes in the top 100.

One thing that you learn quickly at Riviera is that Kikuyu grass is not like grass in the traditional sense. Having grown up and played golf in the East, playing on Kikuyu is a big change. Originally imported from Africa, Kikuyu is used at Riviera because the course is located in a canyon and occasionally has problems with drainage and runoff. Kikuyu was planted because it was though to help prevent erosion.

Riviera also has a unique distinction among the top 100 courses. It is the only one that can claim to have held an Olympic event. During the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, equestrian events were held at Riviera. At the time, Riviera had polo fields and stables.

Riviera was the 'country' portion of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and many of the country pursuits such as shooting, horse riding, etc. were conducted there. Riviera now sits in one of the most densely populated areas on earth. Among the rich and famous to have graced Riviera are Katherine Hepburn, Basil Rathbone, Mack Sennett, W.C. Fields, Mary Pickford, Dean Martin, James Garner, Peter Falk, Sammy Davis, Gregory Peck, Kevin Costner, Liz Taylor, Mickey Rooney and Howard Hughes.

Compared with nearby Riviera, L.A.C.C. is the clearly superior course. In our own world rankings we would personally reverse the order of these two courses and rank Riviera #59 and Los Angeles #36. Both are world class, however.

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