2002: Rare combo: Quality, affordability

Moorpark, Calif.

On a Saturday morning in the fall, superintendent Jeff Hicks arrived at 5 a.m. to open the gates to Rustic Canyon Golf Course, only to find a line of eight cars awaiting entry. “We’re all booked up,” he told one driver. “We know,” said the would-be golfer. “We’re here to book times for next Saturday.”

If the golf industry built more courses like Rustic Canyon, the game wouldn’t be in an economic slide. Throughout the Los Angeles area, high-end layouts with triple-digit green fees are discounting and having trouble filling their tee sheets. Not Rustic Canyon. Here is a golf course that meets real market demand – thoughtfully and inexpensively.

Opened in April 2002, Rustic Canyon is a low-profile layout with a classical design sensibility and plenty of optional shot-making opportunities. The par-72 layout stretches to 6,906 yards (73.1 rating/130 slope), and sits 800 feet above sea level in the canyons above Simi Valley, 45 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Designer Gil Hanse and his associate, Jim Wagner, teamed with L.A.-based golf writer/architecture historian Geoff Shackelford and his associates to design and build a retro-style layout.

They moved only 17,000 cubic yards of earth in the process of routing this easily walkable layout around and through a dry wash and barrancas. Despite 240 feet of elevation change on site and sizable environmentally sensitive areas that had to be avoided, they’ve succeeded spectacularly. You can tell they had fun shaping this layout, especially with some intensely contoured greens that sit in the middle of vast chipping areas that surround the putting surfaces. You also have to love their scruffy, rough-hewn bunker faces.

Kudos to developer Craig Price and his firm, Highlands Golf, which owns and manages the property. You can almost (but not quite) forgive them for the cluttered look of the clubhouse and practice range. The paved cart paths also are clumsy. At least they’ve held the line on budgets – $3.1 million to build the course – and kept green fees easily affordable.

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