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 been recognized as one of the best golf experiences in Southern California since its opening in 2004.
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 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 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, 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 the 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 Shigeki Maruyama, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour.
OTHERS COURSES IN THE AREA: Angeles National is one of several courses that opened in the foothills and valleys north of Los Angeles in a span of 10 years or so. Among the others are 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 DoubleTree by Hilton, the Omni Los Angeles Hotel, the Millennium Biltmore, the Hilton Checkers 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 in Universal City, also is about 20 minutes away.
ON THE WEB: www.angelesnational.com
THE LAST RESORT: Stoke Park Country Club in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, England.
THE LAYOUT: The legendary Harry Shapland Colt designed 27 magnificent holes on a revered piece of land, once owned by the family of William Penn, which has a recorded history dating more than 1,000 years.
Queen Elizabeth I owned Stoke Park from 1581-1603 before it was taken over by Sir Edward Coke, who coined the phrase, "An Englishman's home is his castle."
In 1998, Stoke Park brought back nine holes that had been dormant since the land was used to grow potatoes during the lean days of World War II, recreating Colt's original 27-hole design.
Unlike most 27-hole facilities, where each nine is numbered 1 through 9, the holes at Stoke Park are numbered 1 through 27.
Colt also designed the famed courses at Muirfield, Sunningdale, Royal Portrush and Wentworth in addition to Pine Valley, considered by many to be the best golf course in the United States.
Movie buffs might recognize Stoke Park from the golf scenes in the 1964 James Bond film, "Goldfinger," especially the car park in front of the distinctive white domed clubhouse.
Bond, played by Sean Connery, was driving his souped-up Aston Martin, which was auctioned off in a charity event at Stoke Park a few years ago.
Oddjob, Goldfinger's caddie, threatens Bond by throwing his steel-lined bowler like a discus and knocking the head off a plaster statue. The statue is still there because the film's producers created a duplicate for the beheading in the movie.
Connery, an avid golfer, hit his own golf shots in the movie.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Stuart Collier.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Stand on the seventh tee at Stoke Park Club and you get the feeling you might be thousands of miles away. Like on the famed 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, one-third of dreaded "Amen Corner."
That's because when Colt designed what was then called Stoke Poges Club (which opened in 1908), Alister MacKenzie was his assistant. When MacKenzie was commissioned by Bobby Jones to design Augusta National in 1933, he had a similar plot of land, so he simply borrowed the design.
No. 7 is part of Stoke Park's own "Amen Corner," a fearsome foursome that can stack up with any similar stretch of holes in the world. First is the par-4, 422-yard fourth hole, a slight dogleg right, followed by the par-5 fifth, a 525-yard test that sweeps left through a row of trees, and then the uphill, 408-yard sixth hole.
Only when you finish those challenges do you reach the treacherous seventh.
There are other reminders of Augusta at Stoke Park, especially when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom, most notably on the picturesque 156-yard 11th hole, where the tee shot through a grove of trees must carry a large pond.
The last two holes for the first 18 are typically strong Colt par-4s, at 418 and 407 yards, which were the setting for the finish of the Goldfinger-Bond match.
Goldfinger miraculously "finds" his ball in the rough on No. 17, after Oddjob drops a new one out of a hole in his pocket, and wins the hole. However, Bond turns the tables on No. 18 below the famous Stoke Park dome.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Stoke Park, located outside London on the outskirts of Windsor and Eaton about seven miles from Heathrow Airport, is near some other shrines of British golf -- including the Wentworth Club and its famed West Course in Virginia Water; Sunningdale Golf Club in Sunningdale; the Belfry Golf Club in Sutton Coldfield, Europe's most prominent Ryder Cup venue; and Royal Birkdale Golf Club near Southport, which has hosted the Open Championship nine times, the last when Padraig Harrington won in 2008.
Also in the area are Lambourne Club in Burnham, the Marriott Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club in Warwickshire, Woburn Golf Club in Milton Keynes and Foxhills Golf Club in Ottershaw -- which is considered the most American-like club in England.
WHERE TO STAY: They will treat you like a queen or king at the five-star Stoke Park Hotel, which in 1999 became a charter member of Leading Small Hotels of the World. It offers 20 bedrooms filled with priceless antiques and original paintings and prints.
Stoke Park Mansion, which houses the hotel, clubhouse, restaurants and conference rooms, is said to have influenced the architects of the White House since the dome is similar and both edifices have an oval office.
Not far is the luxurious Cliveden Hotel, the former Astor estate, in Taplow.
Also close are the Bull Hotel, a 17th century coach stop in Gerrards Cross; Burnham Beeches Hotel, a magnificent structure of Georgian architecture on 10 landscaped acres in Burnam; Grovefield House Hotel, a charming Edwardian country house in Windsor; the Christopher Hotel, the only hotel in Eton; the Castle Hotel in Windsor, a two-minute walk from the front gate at Windsor Castle; and Sir Christopher Wren Hotel on the banks of the Thames River in Windsor.
ON THE WEB: www.stokepark.com