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A Great Deal Better Than Most

June 12, 2003|Peter Yoon

The drive: About 47 miles from downtown L.A.

Address: 15100 Happy Camp Canyon Road, Moorpark. (805) 530-0221.

Rates: $30-$45 (additional charge for carts).

Overview: This year-old course bucks the trend of recently opened, high-priced, daily-fee courses, but don't be fooled by the low green fees -- this is not your local muni. In terms of condition and upkeep, this links-style course equals others costing three times as much. In terms of memorable rounds, it far surpasses them. That's because Rustic Canyon is so different from anything in Southern California, you can't forget it. Designers Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford -- an occasional contributor to The Times -- used classic influences, but let the natural land dictate most of the layout. You won't find large mounds of moved earth here, only wide fairways, penal bunkers and large, undulating greens. With several short par-fours, two par-fives reachable in two by long hitters and well-positioned hazards, the layout will challenge course management as much as it will ball-striking. Though the fairways are generous, you'll pay the price for missing them: Most are surrounded by environmentally protected areas. Large aprons 15 to 30 yards deep surround each green and are intended as chipping areas and make the greens seem bigger than they are. You'll miss some greens because of this and you'll miss others because the greens are hard and difficult to hold with approach shots. Sharpen your bump-and-run skills before coming here because you'll need them.

Free tip: Everything breaks toward the fourth green. The fourth green is the low point on the course so be aware of this when putting or you will walk away wondering why your putt broke a certain way. Also take the fourth green into consideration when hitting full shots. A good rule of thumb is to add a club when playing away from it and subtract one when playing toward it.

Nice touches: They allow walking, which, like many things at Rustic Canyon, is a departure from your standard cookie-cutter golf course built in the last 10 years. Other than a longish journey from the ninth green to the 10th tee, the course is very walker friendly.

Snapshot to remember: Every hole here is unique, and you'll distinctly remember every one -- especially the tee shots on Nos. 14 and 16. You'll want to come back again and again and the best part is, your wallet won't mind if you do.

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