Situated in between some of the most famous landmarks in Los Angeles sits perhaps the city’s most well-hidden gem.
Los Angeles Country Club, home to one of the city’s oldest and most prestigious golf courses, has long been shrouded in mystery to the general public. The 320-acre property includes two 18-hole courses, the North and South, with the highly regarded North playing host to the U.S. Open this week.
It’s the first time the course will host a tournament of such consequence, marking a significant shift in philosophy for the usually publicity-shy club.
Millions of tourists flood to Hollywood and Beverly Hills every year, but it’d be easy for most to cruise down Santa Monica Boulevard without realizing they’re driving right by a world class golf course, ranked 10th in the world in this year’s Golf.com top 100.
Known for its brutally long par 3s, rustic layout and unique views of the L.A. skyline, the course sits in a crowded area of West L.A. It’s about a mile east of the UCLA campus, a few miles west of Hollywood and the Sunset Strip and flanked by houses with 8-figure price tags.
The Playboy Mansion borders the 13th hole of the North course, yet the story goes that Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was never granted membership to the club.
The entire LACC property is well hidden by a series of fences, tall hedges and trees. Even the driveway to the entrance gate is easy to miss, with almost no markings or signage to indicate much of anything.
No photo opps to be found.
But somewhere around the early 2000s, things began to change.
A shifting membership
The ultra-private setup is by design. For most of LACC’s history, which dates back to 1897 but didn’t move to its current location until 1911, its membership has valued privacy over popularity.
It has all the hallmarks of an old-school country club, from strict dress codes to restaurant staff addressing members by their last name in “Mr.” and “Mrs.” form.
Former President Ronald Reagan was among the few known members, but the club was otherwise reported to avoid celebrities and Hollywood types. It’s unclear if that policy has changed, but Dick Shortz, longtime LACC member and co-chair of the LACC U.S. Open committee, offered some insight: “We changed the membership criteria in some significant ways,” he told Yahoo Sports.
The most obvious change, he says, is age. He estimates the average age of membership went from 72 to 62 in the last decade or so.
“We got a lot of younger membership,” Shortz said. “And I think the younger folks, they have a little different view these days about what are the good things in life. How to be more associated with the community. Golf is less of a go out and play golf with my friends and have a beer and go home. It's more, ‘How can golf benefit the club, and how can golf benefit the members and how can golf benefit the community?’”
And as the sentiment began to change inside the walls at LACC, the ball got rolling on welcoming the outside world for a major championship.
The USGA, which organizes the U.S. Open, had for years been targeting LACC as a potential host site. Around 2007-08, the idea was floated for welcoming fans for the Walker Cup, a team competition of top amateur players for the U.S. facing off against Great Britain and Ireland.
LACC finally relented by agreeing to host the 2017 Walker Cup, where then-amateurs Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa led the U.S. to victory. Scheffler returns to LACC this week ranked No. 1 in the world while Morikawa has two major titles to his name.
The gears of change were in motion. The North course underwent a major renovation that finished in 2010 and the clubhouse got a facelift a few years later.
In 2014, membership voted in favor of hosting the 2023 U.S. Open, which will be the first in Los Angeles since the 1948 Open at Riviera Country Club.
Shortz said the vote passed in a 90% landslide. “It was just overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly in favor of hosting,” he said.
‘Back to the roots’
The Walker Cup was a good appetizer for the main course coming this week.
It didn’t draw anywhere near the types of crowds that will show up for a U.S. Open, but it was a trial balloon for what goes into putting on a public event in the modern age.
LACC was the site of a handful of tournaments in its early days, including the 1930 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, five Los Angeles Opens from 1926-1940 and the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.
The logistics of bringing in thousands of fans have changed since those days, especially as the city has grown around it.
Most attendants will have to shuttle in from parking areas at UCLA, Beverly Hills High School and a nearby structure in Century City.
Unlike U.S. Opens of years past, LACC isn’t naturally built for tons of extra people to walk around, so crowds will be limited to 22,000 paid attendants per day.
“It's not a big footprint. And it's a classic course,” Shortz said. “So there's not a lot of ability to move fans around the golf course.”
But that won’t stop the USGA’s love affair with the course. There are already announced plans to hold the 2032 U.S. Women’s Open and 2039 U.S. Open at LACC. The hope is to make it part of a regular rotation of major venues around the country, akin to Pebble Beach or Pinehurst.
“They see our course as being one of the icons in the country and one in which the players are going to love to play,” Shortz said. “And we're also on the West Coast. So from a TV standpoint, that brings in more eyeballs back east.”
And this week’s tournament is only part of LACC’s continued rebrand.
The club is focusing on community outreach by partnering with the USGA and Southern California Golf Association to invest in a renovation of Maggie Hathaway Golf Course in South L.A. as part of an effort to help underserved youth get involved in the sport.
“We were a leader in the community in golf in a different age, and I think we withdrew a bit, but if you could style it anything, you'd style it back to the roots of the golf club,” Shortz said.