Greens & Gridirons: Blockbuster attractions

Greens & Gridirons: Blockbuster attractions

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Greens & Gridirons: Blockbuster attractions

Having spent the better part of my adult life in Los Angeles, I’ve grown accustomed to the marked difference in sports fanaticism here compared with my beloved hometown of Detroit. Win or lose, Motor City maniacs can be relied upon to turn over and incinerate cop cars, bust shop windows and assault anyone wearing the opponent’s colors. Bravo, I say. Put your money where your loud mouth is!

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Here on the kicked-back Rest Coast, celebrities sit courtside at pro sporting events and shamelessly chat with their agents, only sporadically glancing at the action. Embarrassing. And since we have no pro football franchise, the annual USC-UCLA football game is as close as we get to a rabid, red-blooded rivalry.

Two days before the 2008 crosstown matchup, stalwart USC frat boys – so-called Trojan Knights – were standing vigil by the lifesize bronze statue of Tommy Trojan, guarding against the expected depredations of crosstown Bruin pranksters. In 1962, determined UCLA reprobates commandeered a helicopter to drop a load of manure on Tommy’s head. And in 1989, USC wastrels returned the favor by dumping hundreds of crickets into UCLA’s Powell Library, then posted signs reading: “Hope you enjoy studying today, Bruins. USC beat UCLA!”

Ah, tradition!

The chief commotion before the ’08 game was more pedestrian: an agreement by each coach to forfeit a timeout for “equipment failure” so that each team could wear its home jerseys. Is that the same as a wardrobe malfunction? Only in Hollywood . . .

Eager to escape the smoggy tedium of the central city, I steered the Road-Ragemobile northeast about 25 minutes to Angeles National Golf Club. Billing itself as the “only Nicklaus design in Los Angeles County” is a bit disingenuous: After all, the architect is son Steve, not the Bear himself. That aside, Angeles National is a pleasure to play, its generous desert landing areas offset by well-guarded, sloping greens and some daunting forced carries. They have recovered nicely from the 2005 flood that washed away the 17th green, flagstick and all. I’m surprised they didn’t market that as the world’s only moving island green.

Back in Westwood that afternoon, it was hard to find many students sufficiently stoked to insult their private-school enemies downtown.

A towering volleyball player conceded that the “Trojans are more into it than we are. I get a little more excited during basketball season.” An accounting student was more cut-and-dried. “I just want to see them beat the spread, which was 311⁄2 two days ago. But I don’t think we will. My friends and I are definitely going to the game. We all have shirts that say: Win or lose, we drink more booze.”

Inspired by that all-American sentiment, I loaded up the trunk with Pro V1s and cold cervezas and headed toward the high desert, stopping in Santa Clarita at one of my favorite upscale dailies, Robinson Ranch. Spread out over 400 acres, these two 18-hole tracks, Mountain and Valley, are forever in splendid shape, boast the best greens in Southern California and wind through glorious stands of sycamores and coastal live oaks.

Elevated tees offer big vistas of the surrounding mountains, and the Valley Course finishes with a stretch of six holes dubbed “Death Row” for their toughness. Director of golf Rick Smith – our own West Coast version – runs a tight ship at the Ranch, which is host to lots of celeb-heavy showbiz outings.

Another major success story 40 minutes northwest of Los Angeles is Rustic Canyon, which stands head and shoulders above the scruffy munis in the same price range, ranking No. 4 among Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in California.

Designer Gil Hanse ingeniously fashioned Rustic Canyon out of a dry wash and canyon, crafting a Scottish ambiance in suburban L.A. It’s a walker’s paradise with shaved-down approaches that allow you to putt from as far as 30 yards out. (Afternoon winds also urge one to keep the ball close to the earth.) The greens are big enough but bend and twist like the rattlesnakes that call the tall native grasses home. Plan ahead: Rustic costs half of what its neighbors charge, and the tee sheet is almost always full.

Finally, it’s game day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and I admittedly am closer to the flatscreen than the gridiron. Not only does one have to be mad to fight the nearly 88,000 fans who flock there, but they also use parts of the adjacent Brookside Golf Course to park cars.

The twin Billy Bell designs are some 80 years old, and have hosted numerous tournaments, including the 1968 Los Angeles Open and the 1974 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. They get loads of play, often at a molasses-like pace. Bring a volume of Wodehouse and a cooler full of cold hops.

The 7,037-yard Koiner layout is the more demanding of the two tracks, playing 1,000 yards longer than its sister course, but with bigger greens to compensate. The rough is perpetually gnarly, and four ponds and a concrete barranca come into play on 10 of the holes. Putting surfaces tend to be hairy and unpredictable, and day-after-football play is not recommended. Irate hackers report it difficult to find balls on the fairway because of itinerant napkins and embedded sparerib bones – a small price to pay to watch our noble gladiators battle for the coveted Victory Bell.

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The playbook

The game: UCLA vs. USC

The site: Rose Bowl, Dec. 6, 2008

The courses: Angeles National (angelesnational.com); Brookside (brookside.americangolf.com); Robinson Ranch (robinsonranchgolf.com); Rustic Canyon (rusticcanyongolfcourse.com)

Don’t miss: The USC Song Girls, whose fan base might eclipse that of the Trojans, and Traveler, the white steed that gallops up and down the sidelines when USC scores. And did we mention the Song Girls?

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