IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Robinson Ranch Golf Club in Santa Clarita, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: In 1985, when Newhall Land and Farming sold Valencia Country Club, the Robert Trent Jones Sr. gem that hosted the 1998 Nissan Open (now the Northern Trust Open), it promised a new public course for the Santa Clarita Valley and hired noted designer Ted Robinson Sr. to create it.
However, Robinson grew weary of the legal hassles that prevented the course from being built for nearly 20 years and found his own site 10 miles away for two exceptional courses, the Mountain and Valley.
Robinson's project had legal problems of its own, but the Mountain course opened in December 1999 and the Valley followed a few months later. Robinson has designed courses all over the map, including Sahalee Country Club near Seattle and the Experience at Koele on Lanai, but the Southern California courses are the only ones with his name on them.
The Robinson Ranch courses are set in rugged terrain at the foot of the Angeles National Forest, and some of the elevated tees provide spectacular panoramic views of a section of the Santa Clarita Valley.
The Valley Course, with a par of 72, is longer at 6,903 yards from the back tees and a bit more challenging because it is narrower and less forgiving. The Mountain Course, which plays to a par of 71, measures 6,508 yards, and while it presents its own set of challenges, it is friendlier to the high handicapper.
Fire-fighting helicopters scoop water from the lakes at Robinson Ranch while battling the wildfires that plague the high desert area.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Rick Smith.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Larry Atlas.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Duffy Waldorf, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour who lives in the area, came to Robinson Ranch on the official opening day in 2000 and hit the ceremonial first tee shot to within 15 yards of the green on the downhill, 373-yard first hole.
Waldorf was among the first to rave about the putting surfaces at Robinson Ranch, which he compared favorably to those at Augusta National. The A-1 bent grass greens are so pure that Golf magazine has rated them as the best in Southern California.
The most demanding stretch of golf at Robinson Ranch comes on the last six holes of the Valley Course, which has been dubbed "Death Row." It starts with a 596-yard par 5, followed by an uphill, 248-yard par 3 and three par 4s that measure 414, 407 and 441 yards. It's topped off by the par-5, 522-yard finishing hole, which plays to a green guarded by a lake on the right, with the magnificent rustic clubhouse as a backdrop.
The best holes on the Mountain Course might be the 402-yard third hole, rated third-toughest on the course, and the 398-yard fifth, which is rated No. 1. The drive on No. 3 must find the fairway because a large trap and a lake guard the right side, and a large oak tree looms on the left. The second shot must carry the lake, which bisects the fairway slightly more than 100 yards from the green.
No. 5 is made difficult by oaks that line the fairway all the way to the green.
Both courses appear intimidating at first glance, but the driving areas are much wider than they appear from the tees, and the two layouts live up to their motto: "It's not a private club, it just plays like one."
Robinson, who died in 2008 at age 84, considered the facility the best work of his career.
OTHERS COURSES IN THE AREA: Newhall Land and Farming finally completed that other course it promised, and the TPC at Valencia, designed by Chris Gray of PGA Tour Design Services and Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Masters and British Open champion, opened in 2003.
Robinson Ranch and the TPC course are only two of several other outstanding daily-fee courses that have opened in the foothills and valleys north of Los Angeles in the last decade or so. Among the others are Angeles National Golf Club in Sunland, designed by Steve Nicklaus; Rustic Canyon Golf Course, a unique links-style course in Moorpark designed by Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford; the Sky and Shadow courses at 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.
For an enjoyable public course outing, try Elkins Ranch Golf Course in the orange groves of Fillmore, and stick around afterward for one of the famous hamburgers in the snack bar.
WHERE TO STAY: Santa Clarita is a resort area because of Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, which is located right off Interstate 5 next to the TPC
Valencia and across the freeway from private Valencia Country Club. The Best Western Ranch House Inn and the Hilton Garden Inn are located a long tee shot from the park.
The Hyatt Regency Valencia was a favorite of players from the Champions Tour when they were competing in the AT&T Champions Classic at Valencia Country Club before it folded after the 2009 event. The Hyatt is located on Town Center Drive, a Main Street USA-type boulevard that leads to the Valencia Town Center mall.
Also in the area are the Hampton Inn Santa Clarita, and the Fairfield Inn by Marriott, the Residence Inn and the Comfort Suites, all in Stevenson Ranch.
ON THE WEB: www.robinsonranchgolf.com
THE LAST RESORT: Ojai Valley Inn and Spa in Ojai, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: Humphrey Bogart and some of his Hollywood cronies commissioned the great George C. Thomas Jr. -- who designed Riviera, Bel-Air and Los Angeles North among other notable layouts -- to create this golfing treasure in the Topa Topa Mountains above the beach community of Ventura in 1923.
Another noted designer, Billy Bell, assisted Thomas, who said his goal in designing this course was "that the average golfer could enjoy his round without too great a penalty, and that a test must be afforded requiring the low-handicap man to play fine golf in order to secure pars."
This classic course, which measures 6,292 yards and plays to a par of 70 with a rating of 70.7 and a slope of 125, was retooled in 1988 by noted modern designer Jay Morrish -- who paid particular attention to the greens.
Ojai hosted the Senior PGA Tour, now the Champions Tour, for seven years during the 1980s and 1990s, in addition to hosting the EMC Skills Challenge and the Michael Douglas and Friends Celebrity Tournament, two made-for-television events.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Mark Greenslit.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Doug Sanders and three-time Masters champion Jimmy Demaret once represented Ojai on the PGA Tour.
Winners of the FHP Health Care Classic, which was played at Ojai from 1991 to 1996, included Walter Morgan, Bruce Devlin, Jay Sigel, Al Geiberger, Bruce Crampton and Chi Chi Rodriguez.
In 1999, two holes of Thomas' original layout that were dormant for more than 50 years were restored. The U.S. Army took over the hotel during World War II to house officers returning from overseas, and Quonset huts were placed on the back nine. When the course was handed back after the war, two of the holes had been replaced.
One of the new-old holes is a 203-yard downhill par-3 to a green guarded in front by a massive bunker complex, a gaping arroyo on the left and out of bounds right -- but the green area is like a giant catcher's glove, funneling balls toward the hole. It is a replica of a hole Thomas grew up playing at famed Pine Valley.
Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, a golf historian and a fan of George C. Thomas courses, has called the tee ball on this hole "one of the great shots in golf."
Next is a gorgeous par-4, 403 yards uphill with a panoramic view of the mountains.
A few years ago, Ojai finished a multi-million-dollar renovation of the inn that includes a new clubhouse. The course has been reconfigured, with the two "lost" holes leading to the No. 1 handicap hole, a 442-yard uphill par-4 that now is No. 18, giving Ojai one of the most beautiful and challenging finishes anywhere.
The picturesque par-4, 358-yard second hole requires two shots over barrancas and has been selected as one of the "500 Greatest Golf Holes" by Golf magazine.
The new two-story, 1,645-square-foot pro shop is designed in the Spanish Colonial style of architecture with a red tile roof and white plaster walls, arches and terra cotta floor tiles.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Right down the street in Ojai is a terrific municipal layout, Soule Park Golf Course.
It's only a short drive from Ojai to Buenaventura and Olivas Park golf courses in Ventura, Elkins Ranch Golf Course in Fillmore, River Ridge Golf Course in Oxnard, Rustic Canyon Golf Club in Moorpark, Moorpark Country Club, Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark, Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley, Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo and the nine-hole Saticoy Regional Golf Course in Ventura.
Also not far are Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita and TPC Valencia.
WHERE TO STAY: The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa has been rated among the top 10 hotel spas in the United States by USA Today, Travel and Leisure magazine, National Geographic Traveler magazine and Town & Country magazine.
Ojai once was a hideaway for Hollywood stars such as Bogart, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth, Hoagy Carmichael, Judy Garland, Paul Newman, Lana Turner and Loretta Young.
Other fine accommodations in the quaint village of Ojai include the Casa Ojai Inn, the Ojai Rancho Inn, the Emerald Iguana Inn and Casa de La Luna.
ON THE WEB: www.ojairesort.com