This is the brutally honest take from an L.A. golfer. I don't withhold any compliments, but I pull any punches, either.
I'd venture to guess that Los Angeles has more golfers per public golf hole than any city in the country.
Sky-high local real estate values have made any new course economically unfeasible. So unless you're a guest of Beverly Hills club member, L.A. is probably the single toughest place for a visiting businessman to get out and play a round, say, on a getaway day, or for that matter, for a local resident to sneak in a round on an average weekday afternoon.
There are no golf courses in Santa Monica. There is an executive-length course in Venice Beach and a pitch and putt course in Westwood where you can hone your short game, but if you want to play 18 on a full-size public course, here are your best options.
- Rancho Park -- located on the southern border of Century City: The best public course in the area and the most crowded is within striking distance of Santa Monica, Century City, and Beverly Hills, the three areas in which most of our non-downtown visitors lodge. The more or less annual host of the L.A. Open for about ten years between '65 and '75, Rancho is also the most difficult track in the city apart from L.A.C.C. North, Bel-Air, and Riviera, and is far too much of a challenge for most double-digit handicappers. Of course, that doesn't stop them from playing it. Because of their masochistic dedication to the place, I have never played Rancho (even in the early morning) in less than five hours.
- The Harding and Wilson courses -- located in Griffith Park, 10 minutes or so from downtown.Description: These are the other standby munis and are too are heavily played, but since there are two courses on the lot, it's easier for a walk-up to get on here than at Rancho. Wilson is a garden-variety 72, and the longer of the two, and (ironically) the one most people want to play; the shorter Harding is a much underappreciated little George Thomas gem.
- Brookside -- Pasadena and Industry Hills -- Industry HillsDescription: Each has two courses (a blessing, again, for walk-ups), one longer and generally better than the other, although the shorter courses are entertaining enough.
- Eisenhower course -- Industry Hills Description: Local lore has it that the PGA Tour once asked Johnny Miller to give the course a look-over as a potential LA Open venue and that Miller, having played it, pronounced it too difficult. It's softened up some since then, much of the jungle-like brush surrounding landing areas having been cleaned up and groomed by the resort corporation that bought the property about three years ago. But it can still be a torture chamber for high handicappers.
- Rustic Canyon Course -- Moorpark Description: This newly opened course is equally far from the city and was designed, in part, by architecture critic Geoff Shackleford; I'm eager to have a look at it but haven't yet.
- Sand Canyon Golf Course -- Santa ClaritaDescription: This course has attracted some national ink, but it's just plain bad , and undeserving of any more attention. The incredibly scenic and now infamous Ocean Trails, again about an hour from most of LA, figures to play at 15 holes for the foreseeable future-the beleaguered original owners have just run out of money and been forced out of the project, halting course repairs. Still, because of its Pacific Views, it's probably the best of the just-outside-of-LA layouts, and certainly the course from which visitors bring home most stories, even if most of those stories involve the gorge now residing where three of the course's holes used to be.