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SPORTS EXTRA / FOCUS ON GOLF

Courses Of Action

Riviera Synonymous With L.A. Open, but 10 Other Sites Have Been Used

February 22, 2001|GEOFF SHACKELFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the Nissan Open and Riviera Country Club became synonymous over the last 20 years, most of the players in this week's field are probably unaware that 10 other golf courses have hosted the event formerly known as the Los Angeles Open. Besides 39 appearances at Riviera since the tournament's inception in 1926, the event has been played at familiar public courses, exclusive private clubs and three layouts that no longer exist. But each of these "other" courses has played a vital role in sustaining the 75-year-old Nissan Open.

LOS ANGELES COUNTRY CLUB

A five-time venue, the site of the first Los Angeles Open won by Harry Cooper in 1926. The inaugural tournament was played on the club's North Course, designed by Herbert Fowler and George Thomas. But a controversial par-three prompted architect and club member Thomas to update the course during the fall of 1927. Players criticized the now-extinct 120-yard 17th after an overnight Santa Ana wind had dried out the putting surface, causing several contestants to putt off the green. Thomas himself selected the controversial hole location that ultimately led to the sporty 17th's demise. However, the replacement 17th designed by Thomas and Billy Bell became one of the finest par-fours in town. Los Angeles Country Club later was the site of MacDonald Smith's fourth victory in 1934 and the 1940 victory by Lawson Little, one of the amateur golfing great's few triumphs as a professional.

EL CABALLERO COUNTRY CLUB

Not to be confused with the modern-day El Caballero, this now-extinct Billy Bell design was built on part of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzana ranch. El Caballero featured several dramatic holes playing amid sage-covered hills, with several sandy arroyos and typical Bell bunkers that created a stern test. Cooper, winner of the inaugural Los Angeles Open, made a strong bid to defend his 1926 title here, but took nine shots on the 115-yard 17th hole en route to a final-round 83. After witnessing Bobby Cruickshank's 1927 Los Angeles Open victory here, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice declared El Caballero to be one of the great courses on the West Coast. However, the layout closed during World War II and was replaced by homes in the postwar real estate boom.

WILSHIRE COUNTRY CLUB

This four-time site was designed in 1919 by noted English amateur golfer Norman MacBeth. When Smith won his first of four L.A. Opens at Wilshire in 1928, the par-four 18th hole became somewhat infamous after several players fell victim to the dramatic barranca surrounding the green. Augusta National architect Alister MacKenzie later said of Wilshire: "The 18th is magnificent. It has not a single bunker, but owes its excellence to a large deep arroyo running almost the full length of the hole."

LOS ANGELES MEMORIAL COLISEUM

No, it was not a host golf course, but the Coliseum did preside over a unique pre-tournament event, the 1941 "World's Long Drive Contest." Before the tournament, won that week by Johnny Bulla, the Junior Chamber of Commerce positioned a mat under the Coliseum peristyle where contestants hit drives toward the western end. Noted long driver Jimmy Thomson's 267-yard effort edged Ben Hogan's 260-yarder for first place. Babe Didrikson Zaharias also entered, hitting a 240-yard drive in the same stadium she had won the 1932 Olympic gold medals in the javelin and 80-meter hurdles.

HILLCREST COUNTRY CLUB

A two-time host with two world-class champions: Smith in 1932 and Ben Hogan in 1942. The Willie Watson course originally featured numerous bunkers that have since been lost. However, the dramatic 18th has always relied on a 50-foot, tightly mown grass channel fronting the green as its only defense. In 1942 Sam Snead needed to par the 18th hole to win, but after a poorly played approach shot rolled all the way back down the fronting embankment, Snead took eight and helped Hogan claim one of the first significant wins of his career. Because of the war, the Los Angeles Open was one of the few events played in 1942, and its $10,000 purse was underwritten by The Times.

GRIFFITH PARK, WILSON COURSE

This three-time Los Angeles Open site hosted Jimmy Demaret's seven-stroke victory in 1939. The 36-hole public facility was designed and partly financed by George Thomas in 1923 when it was known as Los Angeles Municipal. Several original holes were lost during a postwar freeway expansion project, particularly on the sporty Harding Course.

FOX HILLS GOLF COURSE

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