Los Angeles CC's North Course returns to spotlight as host of Walker Cup

Los Angeles CC's North Course returns to spotlight as host of Walker Cup

Amateur

Los Angeles CC's North Course returns to spotlight as host of Walker Cup

A decades-long mystery will be resolved this September: How will the Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course fare against the world’s elite players?

When the 320-acre property is turned over to 10 players from the United States competing against 10 from Great Britain and Ireland, it will be the club’s first significant championship since the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur. While non-member competitors have been welcomed for Pac-8, Pac-10, Pac-12 championships and other invitational events, the 2017 Walker Cup marks a new era. The club that has gradually shed some of its ultra-exclusivity to embrace the golf-focused charter established in 1897 by founders Joseph Sartori and Ed Tufts, culminating in 2023 when LACC hosts the U.S. Open.

Since the club’s move to the current site bisected by Wilshire Boulevard – a dirt road in 1911 and now one of the busiest streets in America – its place in the modern game could best be described as off the radar.

“It’s an intriguing place,” said Jeff Hall, USGA manager of rules and Open championships, who will oversee Walker Cup course setup. “It’s such a neat setting with the juxtaposition of the naturalness of the golf course with the modern world surrounding it.”

The North Course hosted the first Los Angeles Open in 1926 won by Harry “Lighthorse” Cooper, a California State Open captured by Macdonald Smith and two USGA championships: the 1930 U.S. Women’s Amateur (Glenna Collett) and the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur (Foster Bradley Jr. won; Jack Nicklaus was among the competitors). For decades after the best juniors were let in the doors, the club was thought to be high on the list of most desired USGA venues. But former executive directors Frank Hannigan and David Fay have said in recent years that a return to LACC was more the fascination of Sandy Tatum, the late, legendary USGA president who grew up playing the course.

Stories of a USGA executive committee flirtation with a U.S. Open bid coming up a vote shy turn out to be more myth than fact. Any invitations would have been stymied by the club’s restrictive membership policies. However, diversification and the end to some of the club’s strict rules have made LACC more palatable in the modern world.

Fay says interest genuinely began in earnest after recent restoration efforts by architect Gil Hanse and the club’s willingness to showcase the North Course. (Note: I worked with Hanse on all phases of the North and South Course renovation projects starting in 2007.)

The Walker Cup will introduce the world to a course reflecting the vision of architects George Thomas and Billy Bell. The tandem of Pennsylvania natives joined forces in 1924, and after their high-profile, nearby designs at Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club, they renovated the North Course to match the high bar set just west of LACC.

Thomas was an LACC member who supervised noted English architect Herbert Fowler’s remodel of all 36 holes in 1921. After refining his philosophy over a productive mid-1920s set of projects, Thomas sought to re-route LACC North and introduce new strategy and aesthetics. He published the seminal “Golf Architecture in America” the same year as LACC was re-imagined with the assistance of Bell, who served as the construction supervisor and engineer.

Over the next 80 years, LACC’s North evolved in similar fashion to several Golden Age classics. Bunkers became bland and dysfunctional, trees were planted in excess and the distinctive barranca traversing much of the front nine had become grassed over. Thomas’ forward-thinking concept for “courses within the course,” recovered in the North Course renovation, was created to allow for greater day-to-day variety but was lost with the reduction of green square footage and alternate teeing grounds.

The USGA’s Hall said the 7,425-yard course should showcase the elasticity returned to the par-70 layout, with the most notable change highlighted by a possible extension of the par-3 seventh into a risk-reward par 4. Players should expect vast yardage differences from round to round, which consists of morning foursomes and afternoon singles over two weekend days.

“We will learn a lot about how it plays for the U.S. Open,” Hall said. “But first and foremost we are there to conduct the Walker Cup.”

Given the opening of doors closed to the public for more than 60 years and the chance to see some splendid mid-city Golden Age architecture, the only mystery will be why it took so long for the golf world to see Los Angeles Country Club on display.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home