Yesterday, I played at Lakewood Country Club for the first time. It’s kind of surprising I had never played here before given how many times I’ve played the other Long Beach area courses like El Dorado Park, Recreation Park and Skylinks. Somehow, Lakewood has avoided me all these years.
Well, I finally had the perfect excuse to go there and take part in the SCGA’s one-day tournament at the course. This is my first year as an official SCGA member and this was my first outing of any kind. Admittedly, I was a little nervous coming in. It wasn’t so much about the competition, which I wasn’t too concerned with. It was making sure I followed all the “official” rules and protocols. Since they play by full USGA rules, I didn’t want to do something wrong out there.
With that in mind, my main goal for the day was to stay out of trouble. Luckily, this course is pretty forgiving, so I was able to avoid any questionable rules or etiquette situations even though I didn’t play well overall. Still, the whole event was more casual than I was expecting, so it wasn’t as hardcore as I feared. It’s all about being honest with your scores, asking your playing partners for rules advice and having fun in more-competitive-than-normal format.
Probably the most nerve-wracking part of the experience was finishing out every putt on every hole. There are no “gimmies” here and it’s amazing how stressful some super short putts can be. I actually missed a really short one on the second hole, which ate at me for awhile, but did fine with them after that.
My tee time was at 9:38, which was in the middle of the pack with groups teeing off all morning. By the time it got to our group, things had fallen behind schedule, so we were about a half-hour late when we actually got on the first tee. There was basically one guy running the whole thing with limited help from the staff of the course. He did what he could to keep things moving on the first tee, but things were very slow on the course. By the time we got to the short par-3 3rd hole, there was a stack of dudes waiting on the tee—four groups deep! It opened up a little after that, but it was still over five hours for the round.
The SCGA has really been pushing their “Pace of Play Pledge” this year in an effort to make the game more enjoyable and keep things moving at a more reasonable pace on Southern California’s busy courses. But when you abide by full-on USGA rules and everybody’s concentrating a bit more than normal, it’s naturally going to be a slower pace during a tournament. Penalty drops and provisionals take extra time to do “properly” and it’s amazing how much slower things go when everyone is holing out every putt. It’s not something you normally think about, but it definitely slows things down a lot. It is what it is, though, and there are a reason these rules exist, so I don’t mind abiding by them when it comes to officially sanctioned tournaments like this. I just wish there were a way the pace could be cut down a little bit more.
As for the course itself, it is a solid layout. Though I’ve never played Lakewood before, it did feel eerily familiar. It fits right in with many SoCal muni tracks and felt comfortable to me. Between the relatively flat overall terrain, the kikuyu fairways and standard variety of trees lining the holes (eucalyptus, palm, etc.), it seemed like plenty of other courses I’ve played around here and that was just fine. It won’t blow you away, but it’s a good layout.
No holes really stood out to me as anything too dramatic on this average parkland style layout, but I never felt bored out there because each hole does offer something slightly different. You’ll use every club in your bag with a good mix of lengths and designs. For the most part, the course is pretty forgiving from tee to green, but wayward shots can put you into trouble. Trees will definitely come into play and there are some large water hazards in the middle of both nines. The fairway bunkers and greenside sand traps are well-positioned, so you have to play the right angles on many holes.
One interesting thing about Lakewood Country Club is its location. It’s just north of the Long Beach airport, so you get plenty of air traffic noise from that like you do on Skylinks. The front nine feels a little “ghetto” with the airport next door and kind of a drab industrial feel around the course. Then the back nine goes into a more residential area with some of the nicest houses I’ve seen neighboring the course. Even though the course itself flows from nine to nine, the vibe of the atmosphere is quite different from one side to the other.
Lakewood Country Club was in okay shape. It is pretty dry and thin out there right now—typical muni kikuyu with tight lies throughout the fairways. The rough was very patchy and inconsistent, but cut very tight so it wasn’t much trouble unless you were between two small clumps of grass. The aprons near the greens were nice, lush and consistent. The greens are still recovering from the first half of aeration, so one side is punched and sanded. They were not horribly bumpy, but very slow. The normal halves were a little quicker, but still relatively slow. The greens were quite soft and receptive, though, so it made for more aggressive play to some tricky pin placements for the tournament. The bunkers were a little crusty, but had enough sand to get the job done. A few of the tee boxes were “lumpy,” but mostly fine.
I’m sure this won’t be the last time I play Lakewood Country Club. It’s a solid addition to the Long Beach area rotation. Like the others, though, it is known for notoriously slow play (especially on weekends) because it gets so much traffic. Like all Los Angeles County munis, they pack ‘em in here, so that’s the price of having a course that’s conveniently located, not crazily overpriced and enjoyable enough to keep people coming back to play.
Some pictures from Lakewood Country Club (5/11/13):