Of all the great tournament venues that await us on the 2023 international calendar, the most excitement and curiosity revolves around where the US Open is heading for the first time, Los Angeles Country Club, a fabled venue that has no major pedigree, a club steeped in a history of exclusivity.
The US Open is often played at private member clubs, yet LACC is on another level to the rest. The website Billionaire.com selected it among the 10 most exclusive golf clubs in the world. And one which we know little about due to the 125-year-old club’s privacy policies.
Los Angeles is not a US Open city. It has been home in February each year to the PGA Tour’s LA Open (now the Genesis Invitational) since 1926, but only once before has the Open come to Tinsel Town, 75 years ago, at Riviera CC, the first of Ben Hogan’s four Open titles, eight months before his near-fatal car accident. The course became known as Hogan’s Alley.
LACC is a 36-hole facility, and the Open will be on the North Course, ranked No 19 in America by Golf Digest. The original George Thomas design was restored and modernised by Gil Hanse in 2010. Situated on Wilshire Boulevard, in the heart of Beverly Hills, overlooked by skyscrapers, the club occupies 132 hectares of the most expensive real estate in the world. It moved there in 1911, the same year the first movie studio appeared on Sunset Boulevard.
There is no entrance sign at the gate, and the entire property is hidden from view to passing traffic. In the middle of the city, it features rolling hills, barrancas and massive trees in a secluded, tranquil environment. As such, US Open tickets have been limited to 22 000 a day.
It’s a conservative club, Republican voters to the core, and among the membership you won’t find Hollywood celebrities. Eligibility for membership, it is said, is positive proof you never had an actor in the family. Hollywood types historically played their golf at Bel-Air and Lakeside. Groucho Marx was turned down by LACC, to which he famously replied, “Why would I want to belong to a club that would have me as a member?”
LACC has maintained a reputation as being a “social dinosaur.” The courses are brilliant, yet the club’s culture wouldn’t have appealed to eccentric and avid golfers like a Jack Nicholson or Justin Timberlake.
And LACC members have long had an aversion to tournaments disrupting their routine. These have been largely avoided (their last LA Open was in 1940, a year before Pearl Harbour), which is why it’s a surprise it’s now hosting the biggest of them all.
LARGE GALLERIES DISMAY MEMBERS
The story goes that after hosting the 1954 US Junior Amateur, club members were dismayed by the large galleries which followed play, and cancelled plans to host the 1958 US Amateur. The club’s board later voted against having the 1986 US Open.
Why the change of heart among the current membership? Evidently they are more accommodating and democratic than their predecessors and were so impressed by Hanse’s restoration of the North Course – the bunkers have roughly shaped fingers, with thick, unruly fescue grass lining their edges – that they wanted to show it off to America. And so began discussions 10 years ago with the US Golf Association about the Open. When the USGA agreed to a date, the members still had to have their say in a vote.
The USGA then insisted LACC stage the 2017 Walker Cup between the US and Great Britain and Ireland. The American team included Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa and Will Zalatoris, who will be among the favourites to win the Open at LACC.
The course, like the 2022 US Open venue The Country Club, is considered a unique and challenging classic design, and it has five par 3s, apparently one expected to play more than 250 metres in the Open, and another under 100.
STRICT ON DRESS CODE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Just how private and traditional is LACC? It’s easy to find out. The club’s website informs you of its “customs and traditions.” A member’s attire is rigidly formal. Jackets compulsory after 6pm. Shorts can only be worn between the car park and locker room, nowhere else, and “men’s slacks must be of a tailored nature.” Women’s skirts no shorter than 10cm above the knee.
Loitering in the locker room while in shorts, t-shirts or denim pants of any colour is not permitted. No denim or apparel containing slogans. No wearing of hats inside the clubhouse or on adjacent patios. By the way, did I mention that these rules also apply to children?
And certainly no changing shoes in the car park if you’re hurrying to get to the tee.
As for phones, their use is permitted on the golf courses, in silent mode, but not on the club premises (around the clubhouse) other than inside closed vehicles, or in specific phone booths, for audible calls and messages. The “discreet use of cell phones in silent mode” is permitted in locker rooms. Don’t think of taking a photograph with your phone. You need a camera for that purpose.
Members tread on eggshells. They may not discuss anything about the club using social or professional media platforms that might become accessible by the public. The club clamps down on social media posts. Dissemination of images identifying the club is forbidden. Any written references to the club, its members, activities and practices is not permitted.
Interestingly, the late Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion adjoins the North Course, above the 13th green. He certainly wasn’t a member.