IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Angeles National Golf Club in Sunland, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: What had become an eyesore in the Big Tujunga Wash alongside Interstate 10 east of Los Angeles now boasts the only Nicklaus Design course in Los Angeles County.
Even though the area had become a dumping ground, the course was created only after a 15-year battle with bureaucrats and environmentalists.
The project, which at various times was called Los Angeles International Golf Club, Red Tail Golf Club and Canyon Trails Golf Club, has become one of the best golf experiences in Southern California.
Angeles National, with the basic design created by Steve Nicklaus -- son of the greatest golfer of all-time -- plays to a par of 72 and measures 7,140 from the back, or the Nicklaus Tees. However, there are four sets of tees to make the course playable for golfers of all abilities.
Golfers must receive permission from the golf shop to play the Nicklaus Tees. Club officials who prefer that only single-digit handicappers play from the tips, but are willing to be flexible for those who want to get the full experience at Angeles National -- as long as they do not slow the pace of play.
Players who receive permission to play from the Nicklaus Tees receive a special introduction from the course starter similar to what you hear on the PGA Tour.
The stunning Spanish-style clubhouse, which includes a full-service restaurant and bar, opened in May of 2009 and offers a panoramic view of the course.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Ben Krug.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Tom Addis, first general manager at Angeles National and a former president of the PGA of America, has called the layout "the best golf course in the Los Angeles area."
Judging from the response of golfers in the area who have flocked to the course at the base of the Angeles National Forest since it opened in 2004, that might not be far from the truth.
There are three lakes on the property, which come into play to one degree or another on five holes, and the course is dotted by large boulders, some of which were moved for strategic reasons, and native vegetation and trees.
Despite the landscape, there is ample driving room at Angeles National, and there is some undulation on the greens -- but they are not over the top. Golfers find the test challenging yet fair.
The first five holes are a lot of fun and have a nice feel to them, allowing the golfer to get comfortable with the course before hitting the meat-and-potatoes of the front nine on Nos. 6 through 9.
Book-ending the final four on the front side are two exceptional par 4s, the 459-yard (from the Nicklaus Tees) sixth hole, called "Hollow," and the 486-yard ninth hole, which is known as "Oak Tree." They are the most difficult holes on the front, requiring approach shots over a barranca, and perhaps he most challenging on the entire course.
The seventh hole is a 176-yard par 3 called "Roller Coaster," featuring the most contoured green on the course, which invites a three-putt. No. 8 is a 530-yard par 5 called "Fortress," in what is probably the most scenic spot on the property, with a large lake waiting for any long tee shot down the left side, and the mountains providing a backdrop in the distance.
On the back side, the 130-yard 12th hole, called "Valley," is deceptive because the narrow green is 42 yards from front to back and is surrounded by bunkers. The 494-yard 13th, known as "Wasteland," is a reachable par 5 with a waste bunker that juts out into the fairway from the right.
And the finish is something else.
The well-bunkered 16th hole is a 537-yard par 5 that has been dubbed "Domino," followed by two strong par 4s. The 406-yard dogleg 17th, "Tujunga," tempts golfers to cut the corner over a large bunker, and the 416-yard finish, known as "Creek," is a slight dogleg left with a large lake fed by a creek to the left of the tiered green.
Keep an eye out for some of the regulars, including former baseball greats Fernando Valenzuela and Frank Robinson, actors Don Cheadle and Will Farrell, and PGA Tour star Shigeki Maruyama.
OTHERS COURSES IN THE AREA: Angeles National is one of several courses that have opened in the foothills and valleys north of Los Angeles in the last 10 years or so. Among the others the Mountain and Valley Courses designed by Ted Robinson at Robinson Ranch in Canyon Country; TPC Valencia, which had two-time major champion Mark O'Meara on the design team; Rustic Canyon Golf Course, a unique links-style course in Moorpark designed by Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford; Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley, designed by Pete Dye and Fred Couples; Moorpark Country Club, designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy; Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, designed by Robert Muir Graves, and Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark, designed by Robert Cupp.
Also not far are several fine muni courses in the Los Angeles City chain, including Hansen Dam Golf Course in Pacoima, the Harding and Wilson courses at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, and the Encino and Balboa courses at Sepulveda Golf Complex in Encino.
WHERE TO STAY: The best hotels in downtown Los Angeles -- including the Westin Bonaventure, the New Otani, the Omni Hotel Los Angeles, the Millennium Biltmore, the Hilton Checkers, the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Marriott Downtown -- are about a 20-minute drive from Angeles National during non-commute hours. The Sheraton Universal, adjacent to the theme park, also is about 20 minutes away.
ON THE WEB: www.angelesnational.com.
THE LAST RESORT: Legacy Golf Resort in Phoenix, Ariz.
THE LAYOUT: Dwight B. Heard was perhaps the man who had the most influence on the growth of Phoenix into a major metropolitan area and the development of the Valley of the Sun as a viable community in the desert.
Heard, who died at the age of 60 in 1929, is given much of the credit for the Arizona Republic newspaper (of which he was publisher), the Heard Museum, the Phoenix skyline, Roosevelt Dam, vital irrigation canals and the Arizona cattle industry.
And, in 1999, the exquisite Legacy Golf Resort was created on the last 280 acres remaining from the Heard Ranch and the Bartlett-Heard Land and Cattle Co., which he founded in 1900 with his father-in-law, A.C. Bartlett.
Centerpiece of the resort is the 6,908-yard, par-71 championship course designed by Gary Panks, the noted golf course architect who has his headquarters in nearby Scottsdale.
The Legacy Resort was good enough in its infancy to host the LPGA Tour for the 2000 Standard Register Ping, when tournament officials were looking for a one-year alternative because the host course at Moon Valley Golf and Country Club across town was being renovated.
The Legacy features Panks' trademark large greens, which are carpeted by hybrid Tif-Eagle Bermuda grass and usually run to about 11 on the Stimpmeter. Be sure use enough club on approach shots to the greens because few balls bounce onto the elevated putting surfaces.
The course, which plays to a USGA rating of 72.1 with a slope of 128, is dotted by more than 50 bunkers but only two water features, which come into play on three holes.
The elevation of the property at the Legacy affords guests panoramic views of the Phoenix Skyline and the mountains that ring the city, including Squaw Peak, Camelback Mountain and South Mountain.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Tony Barten.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Unlike many courses in the Valley of the Sun, the Legacy is not all sand and target golf. Because it is located at the base of a mountain, Panks' masterful design plays over rolling terrain.
Many of the holes play from elevated tees to the fairway and then to elevated, or at least pedestal-type greens, making accuracy a must.
"The course was originally designed with tourists in mind, but we improved the level of difficulty and it is more of an upscale public course now," former head pro Joe Gaffney said.
"We can play it as long as 7,000 yards, but with four sets of tees it is enjoyable for anyone from the resort guest to the tour player."
The beginning of the course is adjacent to the historic Sierra Vista House, the original bunkhouse on the ranch, where the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, a good friend of Heard, and Pancho Villa visited in the early 1900s.
The first hole is a strong par 4, 424 yards from the back tee, and requires an accurate tee shot because bunkers await on either side of the fairway in the driving area. Another bunker protects the right side of the two-tiered green.
No. 7, which plays 150 yards from the tips, is one of five par 3s on the course and perhaps the most unique because of the two-tiered green that is 35 yards wide is almost surrounded by five bunkers. However, there is a narrow peninsula of ground in the front on which a low, running shot might bounce onto the putting surface.
Even if you have a nice round going midway through the back nine, you must negotiate the strong finish at the Legacy to reach the sanctuary of the Trail's End Bar and Grill in the hacienda-style clubhouse.
After a first encounter with the water on the par-4 12th hole, which requires a 170-yard carry across a lake on the tee shot, the second lake plays a prominent role on the 14th and 15th holes.
No. 14 -- rated the most difficult on the card -- is a three-shot par 5 at 580 yards, with the lake and a 10,000-square-foot landscape bunker guarding the left side of the green, leaving some bailout room on the right.
The 15th hole, which might be the signature hole on many courses, is a gorgeous par 3 that plays 185 yards across the same lake to an elevated green guarded by three strategically-placed bunkers.
Use enough club, but not too much, because the come-backer from over the green can be almost as intimidating as the tee shot.
The 545-yard, par-5 finishing hole provides the signature at the Legacy, with three large grain silos from the Heard Ranch still standing sentinel on the right side of the fairway. These 30-foot structures were the tallest buildings in Maricopa County when they were built in 1902.
The final green can be reached in two shots by big hitters, but stay to the left because all the trouble is on the right side.
The course has hosted the Steve Young Desert Classic and is a favorite of other well-known athletes such as Michael Jordan, Jake Plummer and Jason Kidd.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: The Phoenix-Scottsdale area is another of those regions that bills itself as the golf capital of the world, especially with weather that allows golfers to play all year if they can take the summer heat.
Not far from the Legacy in Phoenix are the Raven Golf Club at South Mountain (Panks-David Graham), Phantom Horse Golf Club (Forrest Richardson), Cave Creek Golf Course (Jack Snyder), Aguila Golf Course (Panks), Maryvale Golf Course (William F. Bell), Club West Golf Club (Ken Kavanaugh-Brian Whitcome), and the Links (Richardson-Bill Johnston) and Adobe (William P. Bell) courses at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa.
In Scottsdale are the Resort (Arthur Hills) and Club (Snyder) courses at the venerable Camelback Inn, Troon North Golf Club (Tom Weiskopf-Jay Moorish), the Talon (Panks-David Graham) and Raptor (Tom Fazio) courses at Grayhawk Golf Club, the Championship (Nick Faldo) and Signature (Arnold Palmer) courses at Wildfire Golf Club, Kierland Golf Club (David Miller) and the TPC of Scottsdale (Weiskopf-Moorish), which hosts the PGA Tour's Waste Management Phoenix Open every February.
Also in the area are the ASU Karsten Course (Pete Dye) in Tempe, the North (Snyder) and South (Moorish) courses at the Boulders Resort in Carefree, Estrella Mountain Ranch Golf Club (Jack Nicklaus II), Sun Ridge Canyon Golf Club in Fountain Hills (Keith Foster), Palm Valley Golf Club (Hale Irwin) in Goodyear, the Blue (Robert Trent Jones Sr.), Gold (Jones Sr.) and Red (Red Lawrence) courses at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club (Robert Trent Jones II) in Cave Creek, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club in Fountain Hills (Miller), and the Dinosaur Mountain (Ken Kavanaugh) and Sidewinder (Kavanaugh-Stuart Penge-Greg Nash) courses at Gold Canyon Golf Club.
WHERE TO STAY: The Legacy Resort, an all-suite property in the shadow of South Mountain that bills itself as a family-friendly operation, is a reflection of the Heard Ranch's Spanish-mission village.
For non-golfers and guests looking for other activities after coming off the links, the Legacy also offers spa services, a health club, tennis, swimming, shuffleboard, volleyball, jogging and hiking trails, bingo games, arts and crafts, and a children's playground.
The Legacy Golf Resort is located minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and for sports fans looking for a ballgame, it is not far from Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks), the U.S. Airways Center (Phoenix Suns and Coyotes), University of Phoenix Stadium (Phoenix Cardinals) in Glendale and Sun Devil Stadium (Arizona State University) in Tempe.
Other golf resorts in the area include the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix, the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, the Arizona Golf Resort in Mesa, the Boulders Resort in Carefree, Wild Horse Pass Resort in Chandler, the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park and Gold Canyon Golf Resort.
ON THE WEB: www.shellhospitality.com/The-Legacy-Golf-Resort.