Beverly Hills-adjacent golf club opens doors to world with U.S. Open

Jun 9, 2023, 10:47 PM

FILE - Cameron Champ, of the United States, hits out of a bunker on the ninth hole during the Walke...

FILE - Cameron Champ, of the United States, hits out of a bunker on the ninth hole during the Walker Cup golf matches at Los Angeles Country Club on Sept. 10, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Country Club is opening itself to the world's largest golf audiences with the arrival of the 123rd U.S. Open next week. For its first century of existence, the club and its two courses were rarely seen by anyone except its wealthy members. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — For much of the past century, the Los Angeles Country Club was quite literally a hidden gem.

While Los Angeles grew from a warm-weather outpost into a global metropolis, this picturesque golf club sat in one of the city’s most dazzling settings — 325 acres of multibillion-dollar real estate adjoining Beverly Hills, a few miles from the Pacific. Yet its two courses were rarely seen by anyone except its wealthy members, who cherished privacy and exclusivity over anything the outside world could provide.

This diamond in the (surprisingly playable) rough has gradually revealed itself to eager eyes in the 21st century, and its gleam will be fully on display when it hosts the 123rd U.S. Open that starts Thursday.

It’s the first U.S. Open in 75 years in Los Angeles, a thriving golf town that finally gets an event worthy of its status. The world’s best players and a global audience will see what’s been hiding among Holmby Hills’ mansions to the north and the Century City skyline to the south, just a short walk from Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive shopping district.

Rory McIlroy is among the pros eager for the unveiling.

“I can’t wait,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s going to be one of the best U.S. Opens there’s been for a while.”

The club was founded in the 19th century, and the North Course has been a respected, coveted venue since 1911. The Open marks the LACC’s debut as a major host, and U.S. Golf Association tournament director Charlie Howe thinks everyone will be as impressed as he was when he moved to town in January 2022 to lead preparations for the event.

“I was blown away the first time I stepped foot on this property,” Howe said. “Just how beautiful this is, where it sits, you just kind of have that moment. You have vibes of being in a major city, but then you have this beautifully landscaped golf course that gets to have eyes on it for really the first time. It’s just an inspirational moment for the community here and for the future of the game.”

After decades as a bastion of exclusivity, the club is now hosting golf’s most democratic event. The club’s attitude changed with the generations, and the LACC’s opening began with smaller events like the Pac-12 championship in 2013 — won by LA-area native Max Homa with a North Course-record 61 — and the 2017 Walker Cup.

Players won’t need any Maps to the Stars to see famous homes on this trip to LA. Scottie Scheffler is among the pros who heard about the LACC’s neighbors during the Walker Cup.

“Some pretty expensive real estate in there,” Scheffler said. “It’s like a country club in the middle of town, but it’s a world-class golf course. And it’s in Beverly Hills. You’ve got Lionel Richie’s house right there. It was wild. The Playboy Mansion is back there by the 14th tee. We had local caddies that told us this stuff.”

But the vintage setup comes with challenges for a modern audience. The Open is more frequently staged on suburban courses with plenty of room — not right off heavily trafficked Wilshire Boulevard and near the perpetually car-choked 405 freeway.

Jon Rahm visited the club in Los Angeles around the time the Open date was announced in 2015, and he recalls two immediate thoughts: “How the heck are they going to fit anything around here, and second of all, how are we going to get around the traffic in this place?”

“Golf course-wise, yeah, the golf course is very high quality,” Rahm added. “The golf course could host any event you want. But it’s just logistically, to me, it was the hardest part to understand, especially after playing U.S. Opens and seeing everything that comes to it. But they do have a second 18, so I’m guessing they’re going to take a lot of that room. Is it weird? No. Is it exciting? Yes.”

Howe and his team say they have overcome the logistical problems presented by the tight setting, from parking to crowd control to amenities for the Open’s corporate sponsors and regular fans alike. The USGA proved the Open could work under similar circumstances when it staged the 2013 event at Merion Golf Club, the compact institution in Philadelphia’s Main Line suburbs. Shortly afterward, the LACC secured the 2023 event.

“We’ve always been enamored with this golf course, and hold it in the same level of the American golf clubs like Shinnecock Hills, Oakmont Country Club, Pebble Beach and the other iconic venues,” Howe said. “We just hadn’t had the opportunity recently to consider a site like this because of the challenges of where it sits within Los Angeles, and it being kind of landlocked, and (to) think about getting people here, the logistics, all of those things that go into hosting a major event.”

Los Angeles can be an intimidating market for event organizers, both for its large population and its big-city red tape and regulations, according to Kathryn Schloessman, the President and CEO of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission.

Her organization helps events to cut through those barriers, and she thinks Los Angeles was long overdue for this spotlight. The Riviera Country Club has long coveted an Open, but the USGA has wanted the LACC for decades.

“LA has always been a place people love to come out and play golf, but we had such a drought for so long without major championships,” Schloessman said. “We tried for many, many years to get (the Open) here. I don’t know if they just didn’t understand LA, but it’s just it’s nice to see the change in perception by the USGA of Los Angeles.”

The Open is a golf breakthrough for Los Angeles, and more big events are following: The Riviera will host the golf competition at the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, and the Women’s U.S. Open will be at LACC in 2032 before the men return to the same course in 2039.

But the Open next week heralds the official return of big-time golf to the nation’s second-largest city, and Los Angeles is ready.

“You always want to have an event come back with a big splash,” Schloessman said. “I think that’s why they’re continuing to bring more events out here and really recognizing that they missed the boat for a number of years in LA, and this is a great golf market.”


AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.


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Beverly Hills-adjacent golf club opens doors to world with U.S. Open