Will LACC’s North Course Provide a U.S. Open Rollercoaster Ride?
Welcome to The Los Angeles Country Club, whose North Course will host its first U.S. Open from June 15-18. It’s a place unfamiliar to most people, an oasis bordering Beverly Hills that was a bean and barley farm before the hands of Herbert Fowler and George Thomas shaped it into one of golf’s legendary landscapes in the 1920s.
And if the USGA’s Jeff Hall is prescient, it might provide the setting for a rollicking 123rd U.S. Open Championship.
“I almost feel bad for the standard bearers, because they could be very busy changing those numbers,” said Hall, who has been involved in U.S. Open course setup since 2006. “There are a number of holes where I think we could see two-shot swings on Saturday and Sunday.”
The North Course’s championship history includes five Los Angeles Opens, the 1930 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur and the 2017 Walker Cup Match, where the winning USA side featured major champions Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa as well as 2022 U.S. Open runner-up Will Zalatoris. That two-day competition gave the USGA important insights into how the best players in the world might challenge the North Course in June.
The history of The Los Angeles Country Club dates to 1897 and a rudimentary nine-hole course built not far from downtown LA. After two subsequent moves brought on by an expanding membership, the club established its current home in 1911, with a course laid out by four members. After acquiring additional land, the members enlisted Fowler to design two courses a decade later, and the Englishman delivered the North and South Courses, which were seen as a championship layout and a members’ course, respectively.
In 1927, after the first LA Open was held on the North Course, modifications to the original Fowler 1921 layout were undertaken by Thomas, a Philadelphia native and LACC member who had executed Fowler’s design as the primary engineer on the project. Though several holes play over the same ground as the Fowler design, Thomas revamped many of them and created several new holes. He was fresh off completing his own original designs for nearby Bel-Air and The Riviera Country Clubs – the former will host the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur, while the latter is a perennial PGA Tour site that hosted the only previous U.S. Open in Los Angeles (1948).
The par-70 course that will greet competitors in June is unusual in that it features five par 3s and three par 5s – one more of each than is typical for a U.S. Open.
“The collection of par 3s here is second to none in the country,” said Hall. They range from the downhill, 290-yard 11th hole, with its backdrop of the downtown skyline, to the devilish 15th hole, listed at 124 yards on the card, although it played as short as 78 yards during Walker Cup match play.
“There’s an ebb and flow throughout the course, with wonderful strategy, especially off the tee,” noted Hall. “It’ll be interesting to see how the best players in the world game-plan and attack the course.”
Golf architect Gil Hanse, who with his design partner Jim Wagner and golf historian Geoff Shackelford painstakingly restored the Thomas course, considers the assignment at LACC that began in 2006 the most significant of his career, which also includes restoring recent U.S. Open host sites Merion, Oakmont, Winged Foot and The Country Club.
“I can say without hesitation that we learned more on this project – about ourselves, about relationships with clubs, and certainly about George Thomas and golf architecture – than on any other project we’ve ever been associated with,” said Hanse.
What sets the North Course apart?
“The characteristic that is most prominent in my mind is the barranca that runs predominantly through the front nine and provides a significant amount of strategy,” said Hanse of the network of gullies that traverse the layout. “Thomas incorporated it in many ways – it fronts some of the greens and parallels some of the holes, while on other holes you have diagonal carries over it, so he utilized it dramatically. Although I don’t think it’s unique to Southern California, it’s an identifying trademark of the great Thomas courses here.”
Hence the potential for the momentum swings that Hall alluded to. Beginning with the 578-yard, par-5 first hole, there are numerous birdie opportunities on the North Course, as well as holes that, as Hall put it, “will have the player’s undivided attention.” That list begins with the daunting second hole, a 497-yard par 4 that features an approach shot to a green set above the barranca.
Hanse is most looking forward to the attention that the North Course will receive, both from casual fans and architecture aficionados.
“I think this is one of the masterpieces of golf course architecture, not only in the United States but in the entire world,” he said. “Seeing the best players on stages like this is an amazing opportunity for people who love golf architecture and love the possibilities, as opposed to the game just being a power game. I believe this course is going to produce a winner who is very cerebral in the way they approach it and I think that will be very fitting for this championship.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.
Feb 15, 2023