Wilshire CC hosting LPGA event reinforces value of course design, location

Wilshire CC hosting LPGA event reinforces value of course design, location

LPGA Tour

Wilshire CC hosting LPGA event reinforces value of course design, location

LOS ANGELES – Location, location and architecture. That will be Wilshire Country Club’s model to a successful tournament golf return this week.

Those principles should be the LPGA’s continued priority as the tour now refines a robust domestic schedule. If the early results from this city-center course are any indication, the LPGA is experiencing a valuable lesson in how appealing their product can be when paired with a cool design and a lively location.

Next week they return to another city-adjacent classic with design bones, Lake Merced Country Club.

A quick perusal of the 2018 LPGA schedule reveals few designs anyone would put atop their list of must-study, must-experience courses. Later in the year there is the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open at charming Gullane, and the Ricoh Women’s British Open at equally charming Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Players would likely nominate annual stops at Columbia Edgewater Country Club, Kingsmill’s River Course or Mission Hills as favorites. Otherwise, timeless design is hard to find on the LPGA schedule.

The return to Wilshire, however, is an impressive coup given its Hollywood-adjacent location, tournament-hosting history and ambiance. The 1919 Norman MacBeth is one of most character-rich designs golfers will see on any tour this year.

MacBeth’s 6,506-yard design took elements from many of the great links – including Lytham, where he grew up playing – to produce a complete exam that calls on every shaped shot imaginable, short-game cleverness and tactical skills.

Those attributes were on display during Round 1 of the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open, when future Hall of Famer Inbee Park carved her way around in 5-under 66, using her patience and skill to attack at the right times while playing safely to green centers when necessary. Given blustery conditions and difficult hole locations that caught locals off guard, it was an impressive display.

Wilshire’s par-4 first hole includes beautiful bunkering, a creek and other strong design values.

Park’s round was a beautiful contrast to that of playing partner Lexi Thompson, who did not have her best approach game nor did she quite have a solid grasp of the hard-to-read greens. Yet Wilshire still rewarded Thompson’s more powerful, aggressive style in a 68.

The field’s scoring disparity revealed a course susceptible to sound play and punishing of sloppiness. Credit Wilshire’s seemingly small greens. They average a very normal 6,000 square feet. But their mix of slopes and contours, when combined with Wilshire’s minimal number of flat stances, keeps players off guard. Throw in an incredibly fun set of par 3s that can play many different ways with pesky barrancas to keep aggressive play in check, and you have what longtime head pro Rick Reilly calls a “gem.”

Since a restoration by Kyle Phillips and his team in 2009, Wilshire’s place as the “hidden gem” in Los Angeles has been hard to keep secret. Prime-time audiences on Golf Channel will all but obliterate that label this week. While architectural giants Riviera and Los Angeles Country Club-North still get most of the rankings attention, Wilshire has taken on a new cache thanks to the recent design rejuvenation.

The club still has yet to restore its two most iconic holes – the L.A. Open’s 15th and 17th holes – so when that eventually happens after sorting out some waterway issues, the course should easily land on Golfweek’s ranking of America’s Best Classic Courses.

The Par-3 7th green at Wilshire CC during round one of the Hugel-JTBC LA Open.

The LPGA will rightly focus this week on their proximity to the Hollywood sign and a golf-loving Koreatown community that is turning out in droves. But the tour should not lose sight of Wilshire’s role in adding a different kind of spark to its calendar.

With more crafty designs of Wilshire’s caliber no longer able to host the PGA Tour or major championships due to a lack of yardage, the LPGA should continue to target the Wilshires of the world. Fans and players may not know exactly why they are watching more LPGA action, but architecture aficionados will certainly point to good, old-fashioned golf course design as the reason.

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