Two Different Sides of “Classic” LA Golf

Friday was another double-dip for me as I kept things a little closer to home. It started with a round on a busy and basic muni course and ended on one of the area’s lesser-known private tracks. Both offered some old school Los Angeles charm, but in two very different ways…

Alondra Golf Course • Lawndale, CA • 12/13/13

Okay, I know it’s not technically a “muni” since it’s owned by the county and not a city, but you get the idea.

Alondra Golf Course was the final course on my list for LA County public, regulation-18 facilities. It was on the bottom of the list for a few reasons. One is I knew it wasn’t anything special. Another is that they don’t book single tee times here, so I knew I’d have to walk-on when the time came. And since—like Knollwood last weekend—this course has a reputation for drawing big crowds, it’s always been a deterrent. However, I finally bit the bullet and took the gamble.

With it being Friday, I figured I’d have better chances as an early morning walk-on. I showed up around 6:00 and it was still pretty dark out (made darker by the low-lying fog). However, the parking lot had quite a few cars in it and there were plenty of people milling around outside the clubhouse. The place was already bustling.

I checked in with the starter to put my name on the wait list and he immediately slotted me into group #17. I had to go grab some money from the ATM inside the restaurant because the green fees are cash only here. That’s rare these days. Still, for $27 as the weekday walking rate, it was a reasonable price.

I was part of a fivesome and we ultimately teed off around 6:50. That early, they weren’t really announcing groups to the tee, so people just kind of lined up by the first tee and figured out who was in what group number. It was a real cattle call, but everyone seemed to be regulars and things moved along surprisingly smoothly. By the time we teed off, we could at least see part of the fairway, so I was actually glad to not go out much earlier.

Despite being packed with foursomes and fivesomes ahead of us, things moved along at a great clip and we finished in about three hours and 45 minutes. That’s about as good as I could have ever hoped at a course like this, so it was a pleasant surprise to say the least. 

I know I am spending a lot of time talking about getting started, but honestly that was probably about as exciting as it got. It was rather fun the way everyone was lined up and organized on a dark, foggy and cold morning, and for a moment it felt like I was about to go off on Bethpage Black or Torrey Pines. But it didn’t take long for reality to set in once I was out on Alondra Golf Course.

The course itself is pretty basic and nothing exciting. Just kind of an old, straightforward course. The fairways are lined with trees, but not a thick coverage, so even if you spray a drive you won’t have too tough a recovery. Most holes run alongside one another, so there’s plenty of room for error. There is not one water hazard on the course and only the outer edges of the property bring in any significant trouble (OB). There are some small cement drainage ditches running throughout the course and my ball was really attracted to them, but they were a free drop, so not very penal at all.

The closest comparison I could draw is Skylinks in Long Beach. This course has a similar overall design and look. Very flat and pretty open. Like the revamped version of Skylinks, some of the greenside bunkering at Alondra is pretty interesting and intimidating at times. It’s easily the most memorable feature here. However, unlike Skylinks which has some tricky greens, Alondra’s are very flat and straightforward. Honestly, I don’t think I had one putt all day break more than a few inches!

Still, Alondra is much cheaper than Skylinks and my experiences at both are pretty similar in terms of crowds and conditions. And coincidentally, both are very close to airports. Neither excite me much, though, so I’ll be in no rush to play either again.

Speaking of conditions, Alondra was in about the shape I would have expected from a county course in winter. The tee boxes, fairways and rough were very thin, patchy and firm, but playable enough. Most of the greens were in nice shape—rolling smooth and quick. A few looked more beat up and are recovering from some maintenance. I was in a few bunkers, which were a tad thin. However, they were both pretty well raked and maintained with consistent sand, so that was a pleasant surprise. 

I’m glad to have finally checked this one off the list, and as I’ve found with some of the other bottom-of-the-list courses I’ve played this year, the experience was more enjoyable than expected. It was still a fun day of golf on a beautiful day with some good company, so I can’t complain too much even if the course is definitely one of the more boring options around.

Some pictures from Alondra Golf Course (12/13/13):

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As you may know, I always like a little contrast when I have a 36-hole day. If I can experience two different style courses, it’s always more enjoyable. So from Alondra, I headed east a bit for a very different golf experience..

Candlewood Country Club • Whittier, CA • 12/13/13

I honestly didn’t know much of anything about this course before today. I had never even heard of it before getting an email from MoreGolfToday.com a few weeks ago. I don’t remember even signing up for their mailing list, but it’s hard to keep track at this point. Anyway, they were offering a “member for a day” voucher at Candlewood. It was $60 and included a round of golf amongst a few other minor guest perks. Like a lot of private courses in today’s economy, they are offering more guest packages to boost exposure for the club and hopefully garner more interest in membership. For me, I just see it as a great opportunity to play another new course!

The voucher was good until March, but Friday seemed like a convenient day to use it. Since Alondra was my final public LA County course to play and not too far away from Candlewood, it was a fitting transition to start trying to play more of the private local courses as I head into next year.

Candlewood is in Whittier and in the middle of a very busy area. You pull right off a heavily trafficked street (Telephone Rd.) and right into the parking lot. However, once you are on the property it feels pretty isolated. There are a few outer-edge holes bordering some streets, but mostly the course is quiet and tucked back in a small, scenic little ravine. A small creek runs through much of the course and the hills and trees keep the neighboring homes from feeling like they are too close.

The staff was very nice and accommodating to me as an unaccompanied guest. It’s a pretty casual little clubhouse. The club has been there since 1956, so it has a old, welcoming country club vibe. Not fancy, but comfortable. They sent me out by myself on the back nine first. I played through one foursome and then ran into a number of twosomes. I didn’t push too much because the pace was moving along nicely and I hate being a guest out there who’s a nuisance to the members. Still, I ended up finishing in a little over three hours—definitely a perk of private club golf on a Friday!

As for the course itself, I really enjoyed it. It’s right up my alley. It’s short, tight and hilly, so it was a complete departure from Alondra in the morning. The treelines here are thick and many branches hang out quite a bit, so there are some very narrow chutes coming out of some of the tee boxes and a number of uncomfortable angles depending on how you shape your shots. 

The greens were pretty well protected by bunkers and the naturally hilly terrain, so it was definitely target golf to the max. However, just because the scorecard shows short overall yardage (just under 6,200 from the back blue tees), it does not play that short. That’s because it’s a par-70 with only two par-5s in the entire layout. There is a good mix of par-4s, with a few short ones and a few longer ones mixed in, and the majority falling in the 365-390 range.

I’m not sure what they deem the signature hole here, but the two par-3s that stood out to me were numbers 3 and 8 (though the 10th is a nice looking one, too). The 3rd hole plays over that aforementioned creek with a very narrow window from tee to green. A dead straight ball (or one with very little turn) is about your only option here.

The 8th is one I Tweeted out as a fade-hitter’s worst nightmare. Water is short and right and there’s no bail-out room long and right either. On the left, there are tall trees that overhang quite a bit. It plays 170 yards from the blues, so anyone with a natural fade (or even a high ball flight) will have a really tough time. Somehow, I was able to hit my hybrid dead straight and low, and I put it about 10 feet from the hole! (Of course, I missed the birdie putt.)

One other design quirk is the routing of the 6th and 7th holes. Both are listed on the card as par 4 or 5. The 6th hole has two greens. One goes up the hill and left for a relatively long par-4. The other goes down the hill and right to create a tricky par-5. Then, the 7th has two sets of tee boxes. One plays as a long par-5 and the other plays as a par-4 version. It was set up Friday as the 6th being a par-4 and the 7th being a par-5, and from the looks of things right now, I would guess it plays that way more often than not. Still an interesting design option.

For being winter, Candlewood was in very nice condition—especially considering how many shaded areas there are that obviously don’t get much light this time of year. You’ll see the sun was quite harsh shining through the trees in my photos. The tee boxes, fairways and rough were very good and consistent. There were a few bad patches here and there, but many were marked as GUR, so that’s a good sign the management is on top of things. The bunkers were a little thin, but playable enough. The greens were excellent with pure surfaces. They were very soft and receptive on approaches, but silky smooth and super fast on putts. Very, very slick, so you do not want to be above the hole here!

All in all, it was a really enjoyable experience at Candlewood Country Club. It’s amazing they’ve been able to retain this gem of a course amongst the hustle and bustle of Whittier, but it’s clear the members here value a sense of tradition and quality. Not everyone will enjoy the tight layout, but I found it to be a very fun course.

Some pictures from Candlewood Country Club (12/13/13):

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The 3rd hole:

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Tee view on the 6th hole:

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Fairway view on the 6th, showing the par-4 green up and to the left and the par-5 green down and to the right.

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Approach view on the 7th. This one is a difficult, but beautiful hole whether it’s playing as a par-4 or par-5.

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The 8th hole below. Good luck fade-hitters!

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