The Hosts with the Most

Saturd­­ay was a great day of golf made possible by some new friends. I got to play two Southern California private clubs alongside members, which gave me a little taste of the good life that comes to belonging to exclusive country clubs. Of course, I love lots of variety when it comes to the courses I play, but I can certainly understand the appeal of membership.

It all started a couple weeks ago when a great guy named Allen noticed the article about me in the SCGA’s FORE Magazine and caught the note about me now trying to play as many private courses as I could. He found my email through my blog and contacted me. He happens to be a member at South Hills Country Club and invited me out for a round. His other friend, Richard, would be joining us. The twist was that Richard is a member at Old Ranch Country Club and the invite was for a 36-hole day at both clubs!

As you might expect, I could not resist this offer and I am definitely open to similar offers from any other private club members in Southern California (hint, hint).

Ultimately, we found a Saturday that worked for all of us and everything clicked into place with the plan. The weather didn’t fully cooperate, but that was minor inconvenience in an otherwise excellent day of golf and fun…

South Hills Country Club • West Covina, CA • 11/1/14

I had actually played South Hills once before in a tournament, but I didn’t remember that much about it. I didn’t have many pictures and it was long before I started this blog, so I was excited to check it out again.

We teed off around 7:00 under gloomy skies and got dumped on by rain a couple times on the front nine. By the time we made the turn, the weather had subsided and the rest of the round was nice. We enjoyed our own pace as a threesome and finished in about 3.5 hours. Indeed, that kind of pacing is one of the big perks of country club golf.

South Hills does have a nice big clubhouse and ample amenities, and the vibe around here is a bit more relaxed. It definitely seems like this place is more about the golf than the social aspects of a member club, but then again we were in and out pretty early.

The course was designed by William P. Bell and his son, William F. Bell, who have had their hands in many classic Southern California courses. South Hills definitely fits that style as it rolls with the terrain and definitely feels like an older course throughout. The front nine is a relatively flat overall with just a few minor hilly parts and then the back gets a little more dramatic with the hills and doglegs.

On many holes, positioning off the tee is beneficial to have a better approach angle in. Most greens are fairly well protected by bunkers. The 8th hole is one of the signature designs as a par-5 with a pond guarding the front of the green. Longer hitters will be tempted to go for it, but there isn’t a lot of bail-out room.

Another signature hole is the par-3 10th, which is next to the small driving range and is definitely more aesthetically “dressed up” than the rest of the course with some flowers and a little waterfall. I’m not sure if that was always there or added in at some point along the way for a more dramatic visual presentation on this hole.

There isn’t a lot about the design that really jumps out at you when you are playing South Hills, but it is a very good, classic layout that provides ample challenge and variety from 1-18.

The greens, however, do stand out as something special. They are fantastic. They are quick, slick and full of subtle tricks. Anything above the hole is a supreme knee-knocker. Anything uphill required a confident stroke to keep your ball on line. If you like fast and true greens, then you will enjoy yourself at South Hills.

The greens were in magnificent shape. The rain helped soften them up for more aggressive approach shots, but the surfaces were still smooth and super speedy. The rest of the course was lush and green with some mushy spots here and there because of the rain. The bunkers were too wet and compacted to get a real read on the sand.

South Hills isn’t one of the private clubs you hear much about, but it’s enjoyable on all levels and I was grateful for the opportunity to play it again. It was even better than I remembered.

Some pictures from South Hills Country Club (11/1/14):

After finishing at South Hills we hit the road and worked our way down toward Seal Beach. As we neared our destination, the skies opened up once again for a pretty heavy downpour, but we were not going to be deterred…

Old Ranch Country Club • Seal Beach, CA • 11/1/14

Before hitting the course, we enjoyed a great lunch in the Members Grille Room, which is a pretty tiny little room full of activity. With it still raining outside, it was definitely the place to be. Whereas the member vibe at South Hills was pretty mellow, it’s clear that the membership group at Old Ranch is a very social bunch. Everyone knew everyone, lots of stories and trash talk were being bandied about and it was a very fun atmosphere.

By the time we were ready to tee off around 12:30, the weather had cleared up once again. It was a little gloomy throughout most of the front nine, but then was pretty beautiful by the end of the round. We were all feeling so good by then, we decided to play another nine holes! At Old Ranch, we were joined by another one of their buddies, so it was a great foursome to be a part of.

The Old Ranch course was designed by Ted Robinson, which means you can expect a lot of water hazards and some big, undulating greens. Old Ranch has both of these features in abundance. When I looked at the course from the satellite view, I noticed a lot of water, but it really doesn’t come into play that much. There are some holes where it is definitely a factor like 6, 9 and 18. However, a lot of it is more for aesthetics.

In general, I would say Old Ranch is a pretty friendly member layout. There are a lot of tee sets and combos to suit anyone’s game. Playing from the tips would certainly ramp up the challenge, but most fairways are pretty wide and forgiving, so you can be aggressive off the tee.

Where Old Ranch does have some bite is on the very large greens that have no shortage of slopes and undulations. Two putts aren’t always a guarantee here.

I mentioned the 6th, 9th and 18th holes, which are the ones where water comes most into play and the ones that definitely stood out to me personally. The 6th is a great par-5 that wraps around a pond (dogleg left) and tempts you to cut the corner as much as you can.

The 9th is even more strategic. Longer hitters have to worry about the water that bisects the fairway. Shorter hitters have to worry about hitting over it on the second shot. It’s a hole that makes you work for a good score.

The 18th is considered the toughest on the course and can be especially difficult if the wind is blowing hard. It’s a long par-4 with water in play on both your tee shot and approach (the approach especially). It’s a great finishing hole.

Overall, the course was in good shape. They have bermuda grass here, so this time of year it gets a little dappled in color, but the lies were always great and the surfaces were nice. The greens were not nearly as fast as South Hills, but still rolling at good speeds. They were still a week or two away from being fully recovered from the recent aeration. The bunkers here were good. The rough was a little more inconsistent than the fairways, but mostly good and penal enough to make you work.

Old Ranch isn’t a course that will blow you away, but it’s still plenty enjoyable. At times it reminded me of more of a Florida style course (maybe that’s just me), and it’s a great club atmosphere that really makes this a place worth checking out. I’m very glad I got to play it, especially with such wonderful hosts.

Some pictures from Old Ranch Country Club (11/1/14):

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