A Priceless Experience at Sherwood Country Club

After getting beat down by the wind and dust clouds in the desert on Sunday, Monday was an extra enjoyable experience at one of Southern California’s premier private clubs. Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks is not a course us regular folks get a chance to play often, so I took advantage of the opportunity and savored every minute of it.

This event was put on by MasterCard’s Priceless Golf program and was offered exclusively to cardholders. Last year, the SCGA held a member outing here and it was so popular they had to have a lottery just to select the participants. They are having another outing this year that I believe is already filled up at a steep price of $285 per player.

It’s a sought-after course because its a very high-end private club and is well-known from television as the host (up until now anyway) of Tiger Woods’ annual Chevron World Challenge tournament and formerly Greg Norman’s Shark Shootout, as well.

This MasterCard event was a tad more expensive than that at $300, but it turned out to be well worth the extra $15 because of all the extra perks that came along with the tournament.

Perhaps no perk was bigger than the opportunity to spend some time along former PGA Tour great, two-time U.S. Open Champion and current TV analyst, Curtis Strange. The day started with a clinic on the range. He told some stories to the group, walked us through his typical practice routine and casually hit some of the smoothest, straightest and purest shots you’ll see—seemingly with no effort at all.

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The tournament was a shotgun start and my group began on the 15th hole. We ran into Curtis once again on the signature 6th hole (intimidating par-3 over water), where he played the hole alongside us. On the tee box, he posed for individual pictures with each of us, which were printed, framed and autographed by the time we got back into the clubhouse for the reception afterward.

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After a brief cocktail reception (with open bar no less) in the member’s lounge area, they conducted another Q&A session with him and he told some more great stories from being a touring pro and broadcaster for ESPN/ABC.

The stuff with Curtis Strange was truly icing on the cake for what would already be a fantastic event on an incredible course. Food was provided throughout the day, including some great barbecue grub that could be grabbed when you made your turn. We got a $20 voucher that could be applied to any merchandise in the pro shop. I bought a hat and a bag tag. We also got commemorative tins with MasterCard logo Pro-V1 balls, one of which I got signed by Mr. Strange and gave as a gift to a friend.

All in all, it was a very well run event with all sorts of great goodies and privileges that made it worth the price of admission.

Regarding the course itself, Sherwood Country Club is not an experience I’ll soon forget. I was impressed with every aspect of this place.

As you pull into the community through the giant gates, you drive past some ridiculously nice homes on the way to the course. Throughout the course, there are some more amazing homes perched atop the surrounding hills. The clubhouse is massive and beautiful with kind of a colonial style look—red bricks and white columns.

The course, as one would hope, was in gorgeous condition all the way around. The fairways were cut tight, the rough is beautifully manicured (and brutal) and the greens were as pure as pure could be even though they were set to aerate them the next day. Things looked and played exactly as nice as expected from such a high-end course.

The course design itself is also spectacular. I’ve had mixed impressions of Jack Nicklaus designs in the past, but there’s no doubt Sherwood is the best course of his I’ve played. There are a few tricky holes and greens can be tough as you’d expect from Nicklaus, but there isn’t anything overly severe or silly. It’s the perfect balance between interesting, challenging and rewarding if you hit good shots.

It’s definitely a tough course with a lot of hills, big oak trees and other trouble to get into (canyon ravines, water hazards, creeks, etc.), but every hole is fair if you play it properly. More than anything, the key here is to position yourself well off the tee. Listen to your caddie and if you get the right angles, you can attack on your approach. If you are just off on your drive, the next shot can be tricky. If you are way off on your drive, then you are generally punished significantly.

There are so many memorable and beautiful holes at Sherwood, it’s hard to focus on just a couple. However, the signature holes here are the aforementioned par-3 6th and the par-4 18th, which are both quite intimidating to say the least.

The 6th is set back in a little canyon with a big water hazard between you and green. It’s an all or nothing kind of shot, but long is definitely your best—and only—miss here. The wind was blowing hard right into our faces by the time we got to this hole. Between that and Curtis Strange watching over me as I teed off, it was extra nerve-wracking.

The 18th is a beast with a blind tee shot over a hill and a fairway that slopes severely from left to right. If you find a safe place, then you are looking at a fairly long approach shot directly over the small pond that guards the green. It’s a very pretty hole with the clubhouse overlooking the green.

We benefited some from the fact that they had our tournament group playing up a lot on many holes, usually at the white tees or even further up in some cases. On one hand, this can bring more trouble into play. On the other, taking some distance out of the equation probably made it more comparable for us amateurs to play the holes from the approach distances and angles that the pros might play. At least for a relatively short hitter like me, that would be the argument.

That said, I thought they moved all the par-3 tee boxes up too much and took some of the bite out of those great holes. No matter how the course is set-up, though, it’s a really enjoyable layout on all levels. I always thought it looked neat on television, but I was even more impressed in person.

I’m not sure what else to say about this day at Sherwood, but it was a great experience for sure. I was hesitant to sign up because of the price tag, but I looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience to not only play the course and all the other stuff with Curtis Strange was just a real bonus. I’m sure glad I did take the day off to attend this great event.

One of my playing partners informed me that MasterCard had a similar event last year at Riviera with Mark O’Meara as the guest. I’m really bummed I was not aware of that, but now my eyes will be peeled for future Priceless Golf events like this.

Some pictures from Sherwood Country Club (3/31/14):

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