Clubbing a ball around a huge lawn isn't everyone's idea of a great way to spend fouror five hours.
In fact some people really don't like golf. The late football player Red Grange once said: "Golf lacks something for me. It would be better if once in a while someone came up from behind and tackled you just as you were hitting the ball."
But judging by attendance figures at public golf courses, there is plenty of interest in the sport. There were 24.7 million golfers in the United States in 1989, compared with 15.1 million in 1980. In California, participation in the sport has risen 13% in three years.
"The biggest single reason that we're seeing the growth of golf is that it's mirroring a shift in the age of baby boomers," said Bob Thomas of the Golf Assn. of California.
The average age of a golfer is about 40, according to 1986 statistics from the National Golf Foundation, the most recent figures available.
In Ventura County, devotion may be a better word than interest for conveying local enthusiasm for the game. According to local pros, over the last few years play at most public courses in the county has increased significantly--by as many as 20,000 to 30,000 rounds yearly. Several courses are on the verge of going over 100,000 rounds annually, and Los Robles Golf Course in Thousand Oaks is one of the five busiest courses in the country, according to Bob Meyers, the club's director.
"Why is it so addicting?" mused Ron Stevens, general manager of Camarillo Springs Golf Course. "That's a good question. Depending on where you play, drugs might even be cheaper."
Lovers of the game will tell you that golf supplies one of the great chemical-free highs. All it takes is one good shot or one great hole to get a person hooked--and, of course, a desire to wear loud, patterned pants.
Here is an annotated guide to the pleasantries and idiosyncracies of the county's 18 championship golf courses.
* Buenaventura Golf Course, 5882 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura 93003. Green fees are $12 weekdays , $15 weekends. (805) 642-2231.
This course sits within four miles of two other courses (Olivas Park and River Ridge). All three have a "smell factor" to contend with. River Ridge sits on a landfill, Olivas Park has a sewage plant across the street and Buenaventura is located near a mushroom farm.
Don't assume that the mushrooms smell better than the sewage--they don't. But then, golfers are a lot like mail carriers: They'll play through rain, sleet, snow and stench.
As for the course itself, nine of its holes were built in 1939. The second nine were added in 1941. It's very flat and fairly narrow with many palm trees that serve to remind you that you're not in Kansas. As at most courses, familiarity with each hole helps your score tremendously, except for the par-three 14th hole.
"It's our signature hole," said head pro Bill Hulbert. "It's the toughest shot on the course."
Buenaventura attracts its fair share of celebrities. Punk rocker Derf Scratch of the band Fear was spotted one day playing with his pop, Chuck Milner. Scratch, having heard the story about the body discovered years ago on the 10th hole, may be working on a great punk song about death and putting.
Arnold Palmer is sure to be holding his breath in anticipation.
* Camarillo Springs Golf Course, 791 Camarillo Springs Road, Camarillo 93012. Green fees are $16 weekdays, $22 weekends. (805) 484-1075.
The superstitious getting ready to play here might consider some sort of pagan ritual--involving old golf balls and performed in the bathtub--to appease the water gods. There are 10 holes where water comes into play.
General Manager Ron Stevens claims that he has the best greens in the county. Of course he isn't the only manager to say it. But in this case, Stevens may be right. If he is, the public is certainly paying for it. It is one of the most expensive public facilities in the county.
The course, built in 1975 and recently redesigned, is flat and surrounded by senior citizens (they live in a mobile home park). If you hit a trailer, you run the risk of being hunted down by vigilantes in golf carts.
Holes 4 through 8 sit behind a hill in a "smell basin" created by the sewage plant bordering the course. Gas masks left over from the Gulf War should be supplied to anyone entering this area. When the wind blows, the stench is so bad it's worth at least two strokes. Even the woman running the snack cart said, "I have a hard time selling sandwiches over here."
* Elkins Ranch Golf Course, 1386 Chambersburg Road, Fillmore 93015. Fees are $17 weekdays, $22 weekends, making this the most expensive public course in the county. (805) 524-1121.
"People come up here and sometimes golf isn't the thing they came here for," golf pro Dan Hodapp said. "They want a cheeseburger."