The 312 acres of The Los Angeles Country Club might be the most valuable real estate in the entire world of golf as it sits tucked into one of the most famous neighborhoods in L.A. The club is also home to some of the most compelling ground for the game, with the gnarly barrancas and cranky terrain that challenges golfers on the famed North Course, host site of the 123rd U.S. Open. Outside the gates there is all that concrete, glass and steel; but here, behind the ivied walls along Wilshire Boulevard, is a museum piece of Golden Age golf architecture at its best.
For decades, the club preferred the role of a Hollywood recluse, having opened its doors only sparingly to championship golf. Before the 2017 Walker Cup, the last USGA championship at LACC was the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur. The PGA Tour hasn’t played there since the L.A. Open in 1940.
But things change, and thanks to the club’s sustained commitment to restoring the brilliance of what George C. Thomas Jr. and his colleagues achieved with the North Course almost a century ago, golf fans will get to experience something truly special when the U.S. Open is played for the first time there this year.
The club was founded in 1897 and arrived, after several moves, at its present location in 1911. That is when Englishman Herbert Fowler’s 36-hole design was built under the supervision of George C. Thomas Jr. and William P. Bell. That same duo would go on to design many other distinctive courses in Southern California, most famously Riviera and Bel-Air, before they were called back in 1927-1928 to revise significantly the LACC layout and give it the indelible stamp of its present incarnation.
Thomas (1873-1932) proved to be a particularly influential golf architect, in large part due to his 1927 book “Golf Architecture in America”, a volume that has lost none of its freshness and bold appeal on behalf of naturalistic, strategic design. He championed variety, alternative paths from tee to green, and what he termed “a course within a course.” That meant designing holes that could be played in totally different ways from one day to the next based upon flexible teeing distances and angles, fairway width, the placement of central and intruding hazards, and extremely varied hole locations within boldly contoured, well-protected parts of the greens. All of this became immediately evident in the complete renovation and rerouting of the North Course that Thomas and Bell undertook in 1927-1928. With 125 feet of elevation change across the site and a profusion of barrancas, sandy washes, native scrub and complex terrain, the course provided a perfect template for Thomas’ approach to design.