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FOCUS ON GOLF / THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Charting a New Course

Los Angeles Has Long Had a Vast Pool of Golfers; Now It Has a Few More High-End Courses on Its Landscape

November 02, 2000|ANDY BRUMER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There has never been a shortage of golfers in Los Angeles, evidenced by the fact that Rancho Park averages well over 100,000 rounds played a year, more than any other course in the country.

Nor is the region lacking for top-tier courses, as Riviera Country Club and L.A. Country Club (North course) are widely considered two of the finest courses anywhere.

Yet, when it comes to building new golf courses to accommodate its rapidly growing number of players, the greater Los Angeles area has come up short. After all, golf requires the two things L.A. notoriously lacks: affordable land and available water.

While Orange County has seen a boom in the development of high-end daily-fee golf courses over the past decade, no new golf courses had been constructed within Los Angeles' city limits since Westchester Golf Course opened 35 years ago.

Until now.

Several remarkable daily-fee courses have either recently opened or will do so soon. The list includes Cascades Golf Club near the intersection of the Golden State and Foothill freeways, and Lost Canyons, opening this week in Simi Valley.

Sometimes referred to as a "country club for a day," a daily-fee golf course generally charges $100-$200 a round. It offers resort-like amenities and services, including attendants who greet golfers when they arrive and clean their clubs before they leave, valet parking, 10-minute tee-time intervals for faster rounds, luxurious clubhouses with locker rooms and gourmet dining facilities, Global Position Systems that use satellites and computers to inform golfers in their carts of their exact yardage to the pin, courses designed by prestigious golf-course architects, top-quality practice facilities, a minimal number of unobtrusive home sites, etc. Golfers pay their greens fees, play their games, receive royal treatment, then go home.

Robinson Ranch, located on 400 acres in the Santa Clarita Valley (25 miles north of downtown L.A.) features two daily-fee tracks, the Mountain and Valley courses. Crafted by the father-and-son architectural team of Ted Robinson Sr. and Ted Robinson Jr., the facility sits in the ruggedly relaxed canyon country at the base of the Angeles National Forest.

The senior Robinson, a prolific and internationally acclaimed golf-course architect with many superb Southern California layouts to his credit, has designed 170 courses, including Sahalee Country Club in Redmond, Wash., site of the 1998 PGA Championship.

The courses at Robinson Ranch seem as if they have belonged to the land for years, though both are less than a year old. The courses feature PGA Tour-quality A-4 bent grass greens with velvet-smooth putting surfaces that will astonish golfers.

A longtime Sierra Club member, Ted Robinson Jr. makes sure that Robinson Ranch adheres to strict environmental standards and practices. In fact, Robinson Ranch will soon become California's first recipient of Audubon International's "Silver Signature" designation, an honor reserved for courses that display leadership qualities in terms of environmental sensitivity and stewardship.

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Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark showcases the work of celebrated architect Robert E. Cupp. His courses have hosted several national championships, including the 1996 U.S. Men's Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Ore., site of Tiger Woods' third consecutive Amateur victory. At Tierra Rejada--which opened last December--Cupp combines a painter's penchant for visual beauty and a poet's playful instincts. With five sets of tees, the course can play between 4,000 and 7,000 yards, making it suitable for golfers of all skill levels.

The front nine ascends into the Santa Susana Mountains, with fairways meandering through rocky foothills alive with sage and other natural grasses, rock outcroppings and wild flowers. Sharp doglegs, tight landing areas and approach shots to several greens that dangle on cliffs put a heavy demand on precision. Holes 6 through 9 seem to leap over canyons before delivering golfers to well-bunkered greens with undulating putting surfaces. The back nine presents a more levelly landscaped test, and serves as a kind of mellow alter ego to the front nine's more animated verve.

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Steve Timm, architect and former head professional at Riviera Country Club, has assisted Cupp on a number of course designs over the last few years. They switched roles in the creation of Cascades Golf Club in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, Timm's first solo design and the first course built inside the L.A. city limits in nearly four decades.

The course takes its name from the southern end of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, with its white-capped rivulets of water rushing to complete the journey from Northern California through cement channels just up and to the right of the course's third hole.

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