Course Review: DeBell Golf Club

It’s been a rainy and gloomy week here in Southern California, but sometimes for us hardcore golfers it can be advantageous when the fair-weather players stay at home.

Actually, I might have abstained myself today had I not already pre-paid for my tee time earlier in the week (when the forecast for the weekend looked much better). My course for today was DeBell Golf Club in the hills of Burbank. It’s one of the LA courses I’ve been wanting to check out for awhile because I thought it would suit my eye and my game.

I had a GolfNow “hot deal” time at 11:20 for $39, which is not that great a deal here, but good enough. As always, I got out there a bit early. The gloomy weather definitely kept some people away and it didn’t seem too busy out, so they sent me out right away with a twosome. We teed off around 10:45 and finished around 3:30, though the pace really didn’t seem that slow. We played the first 6 holes without running into anyone, then hit a log jam on the 7th (a really long and tough par-3 that is a natural bottleneck hole). After that, it was slower going. We ultimately joined with the twosome ahead of us on the 12th hole, which made the pace more bearable after that.

From pictures I had seen of DeBell, I knew it was a pretty little course that was somewhat tucked away out of the crowded urban parts of Burbank. I also knew it had a reputation for being a very quirky little course. It is not a long course (5,633 total yards from that back tees), but it is known for being very tight and very tricky. Though there are no huge changes in elevation, it’s a fairly hilly layout. There are plenty of trees surrounding the narrow fairways and relatively small greens. There are canyon hillsides and creeks running throughout the course, providing many OB and lateral hazard areas just waiting to swallow up any wayward balls.

I normally like tight, short and hilly layouts, but I didn’t like DeBell as much as I wanted to. A few holes here are a bit too funky even for me, and it’s definitely more challenging than the total yardage would suggest. Local knowledge definitely helps here if you have a good strategy on each tee. One of the guys I was playing with was a regular here and he played pretty well because he knew the best angles and lay-up areas.

DeBell feels more like an old executive course at some points with most of the par-4s being very short and all the par-5s under 500. However, four of the five par-3s are pretty long and challenging, so it’s an interesting mix of holes. If you really have control of your shots, are willing to play “smart” and can shape your shots in both directions, you can have a lot of fun on this course with plenty of birdie looks. But if you are off your game just a bit, this course will get frustrating real quick. The latter describes my round. I think the key to success here is generally to be defensive/smart off the tees and then save the aggressiveness for your approaches. 

There are definitely some memorable holes here, but the par-3 12th is one that stood out to me most. At 181 yards from the blue tees, it’s basically a blind shot over a hillside to a green below. You can only see a tiny sliver of the green from the tee box and it’s a little disorienting. In fact, the view is so obscured that down by the green there is a bell that the previous group rings to signify when the green is clear. That’s right, you get to “ring DeBell” when the time comes.

I really did like the setting in the secluded little canyon. Unfortunately, many of the best views of the city in the background were obscured by the storm clouds today. Still, it is definitely one of LA’s more scenic “muni” tracks.

After reading the most recent review on GK, I thought this course was going to be in terrible shape, but I was pleasantly surprised. It is by no means immaculate, but for a LA County course in late November, I can’t complain about the conditions. It was fairly green out there with muddy/soggy patches and bare/dead patches throughout the fairways and rough. Most fairway lies I had were good. The rough was very thick and punishing in some areas, especially with it being so wet out. Overall, the fairways and rough were much nicer than the dormant ones I experienced last week down in North San Diego (courses that are generally considered much nicer and expensive than something like DeBell).

The greens were also not nearly as bad as that previous reviewer made it seem. There were a few bad patches here and there, but for the most part they were very nice and smooth. They were running at medium speeds with some hard-to-read breaks because apparently everything subtly “breaks toward Burbank.” The tee boxes were very chewed up. They had a number of the blues on the front nine moved up and with so many lay-up iron shots off the tees here, they get pretty badly beat up. The tee boxes on the back nine seemed to be in better shape overall, though still not great. I wasn’t in any bunkers, so no comments on the sand.

I can understand why this course has a bit of a love/hate feeling amongst the locals. I think the more you play it and know how to play it, the more fun it could be. However, for some big hitters who like to “grip it and rip it” with a driver on every tee, DeBell is going to provide more frustration than enjoyment. For most, the driver will stay in the bag on all but a handful of holes.

They do have a nice clubhouse, what looks like a very nice restaurant and solid practice facilities. I would definitely play here again (especially on a nicer day with unobscured scenic views), but I would definitely have to go in with a different frame of mind now that I know a little more about it.

Some pictures from DeBell Golf Course (12/1/12):

Below is the view from the 12th tee as described above. In fact, this is standing well to the right of the actual teeing area and you can still only see the far right edge of the green.

And, of course, “DeBell”…


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