Will LACC have Hollywood ending?

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It took 75 years but finally the championship of American golf returns to the Los Angeles area. M. James Ward examines the stakes involved and whether the golf theater produced will be worthy of Tinseltown.
Posted on
June 14, 2023
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

LOS ANGELES, CA. The normal process followed for clubs having interest in hosting a United States Golf Association (USGA) event is to put together a formal application and send it on for consideration. That process is in play for all USGA events including the U.S. Open.

There had been for quite some time one lone exception to that process.

For years the USGA wanted to stage its premier event at The Los Angeles Country Club. The 1928 George C. Thomas, Jr. design features 36 holes and it was the North layout which has always been sought out. What took so long for it to happen?

First, the club has hosted past important events. Five times, between 1926 and 1940, the Los Angeles Open was played at LACC. In addition, other USGA events had been played at the club -- most recently the 2017 Walker Cup matches.

In years past, the club had politely but firmly declined to stage the U.S. Open. The 1986 U.S. Open was LACC's but a 5-4 board vote precluded that and Shinnecock Hills entered the picture. Privacy is a first and foremost consideration. The club straddles a one-half mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard and is surrounded by a range of buildings and activities.

At nearly 320 acres, LACC is the lone holdout with its pristine grounds to the engulfing megapolis that would become greater Los Angeles.

LACC has an active membership but for many years the club eschewed those engaged in the motion picture industry. While such celebrities were welcomed at other notable facilities throughout the broader area, LACC preferred to keep such a connection at an arm's distance.

The golf world was indeed transfixed when at the end of the USGA's 2016 annual meeting it was announced LACC would be the host site for the 123rd U.S. Open. Many throughout the broader global golf community were caught off guard. It had been assumed the zealously guard private club would continue its past practice in not opting to stage the U.S. Open.

The 10th hole (Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

LACC member Dick Shortz played the critical role in taking matters on directly and ultimately flipping what had been a dead-ended conversation and jumpstarting the process to a winning conclusion. To say the USGA was interested, would be a gross understatement.

But having a supportive mindset from the general membership was only the first step. Updating the famed North Course was also a key element in moving matters ahead. The club opted to hire the hottest name in golf architecture -- Gil Hanse. Hanse and partner Jim Wagner in concert with golf historian and writer Geoff Shackelford, were keen enough to bring back to life the Thomas design. The finished work was completed in 2010.

Fairway widths were expanded and the exposure of a devilish barranca that weaves into play on a series of holes was cleared of excessive vegetation but ever ready to inflict scorecard pain.

The North Course will play as a par-70 with five par-3 and three par-5 holes varying in demands and lengths. It's even quite possible the short 15th will play under 100 yards for at least one of the rounds.

Total length will be just under 7,500 yards and the terrain provides for range of internal movements forcing players to deal with varying stances in the fairway area. Greens have been increased to provide for additional pin locations and closely mown areas will be off a number of the greens raising the possibility that approach shots which err will face a challenging recovery situation.

So much of any golf event is tied to the actual theater of how the event unfolds. Torey Pines is not noted for its architecture but in 2008 an epic U.S. Open was played as Tiger Woods, battling through the pain of a broken leg, was able to outlast a gritty Rocco Mediate over 91 holes featuring riveting suspense.

There have also been past U.S. Opens where the drama was fairly muted. Much of that coming from course set-ups that limited players in terms of creativity and overly exacerbated the slightest of misplays.

The 15th hole (Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

The presence of LACC on the U.S. Open calendar has been a long time coming. Many years passed while the alignment of a range of individuals and organizations needed to happen.

For many in the field the intersection with LACC will be a first time coming this week. The USGA has said it will set the golf course accordingly and attempt to bring to the forefront the architectural genius that Thomas possessed.

All of the players are now in place. Lights. Camera. Action. Will the stage be fitting for the outcome it produces?

A U.S. Open of epic proportions would certainly be fitting for a Hollywood ending. The town where dreams are made and broken. How fitting given the setting.

All of the players are now in place. Lights. Camera. Action.

Will the stage be fitting for the outcome it produces?

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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