Classic Style, Country Club Living

I recently had the opportunity to play two private clubs on another great day. Though the two courses I visited really aren’t too far from one another, they are separated by county lines. The first is technically in San Bernardino Country and the second is in Orange County, but the similarities are hard to deny.

Both feature classic designs that reminded me a lot of other older Southern California public and private courses, but each offers its own unique country club charm…

Western Hills Country Club • Chino Hills, CA • 11/17/14

I sign up for deals and alerts through Donovan Daily, but rarely have I actually used them. However, for the longest time I’ve been getting notified when Western Hills is offering “member for a day” specials. It seems this year, they’ve been doing it about once a month, but the timing never quite worked out for me to take advantage of one of these offers.

I finally had the chance to play and booked myself a 6:44 tee time. I needed to play early and quickly in order to make my second round, so this worked out perfectly. The gate out front doesn’t open until 6:30 and by the time I arrived there were already several cars lined up waiting to get in. Several more lined up behind me by the time they opened the gate. With such an early morning crowd, I started to get a little worried that it wouldn’t be as quick a round as I expected.

I checked in and they had me as third off by myself behind two walking twosomes. The price was $50, which included a cart, so I knew at some point I’d probably be able to push my way through. Thankfully as I pulled up to the first tee, the twosomes acknowledged I was a single in a cart and let me go off first. I left them in the dust and zipped around on my own.

I did have to battle with maintenance as I made my way around the course that early. I ran into workers on almost every green and sprinklers were running on many holes. Sometimes, I had to run in real quickly to hit my ball before getting sprayed. That was annoying, but I’d rather see them out there doing a lot of maintenance than not enough.

Kudos to all the workers here as the course was in excellent shape all the way around. From tee to green, everything was very lush and green with only a few minor weak spots here and there that were generally marked as GUR. The bunkers were damp, but playable. The greens were a bit inconsistent at this time of day because some had been heavily watered, some had been mowed/rolled and others hadn’t been worked on yet, so speeds varied from hole to hole. However, the turf was in great shape and I’m sure by mid day they were playing perfectly.

The front nine at Western Hills is pretty hilly with a few narrow sections and sweeping doglegs. Most of the greens are elevated and most holes have a valley going down in between the main fairway landing areas and the green complexes. So you generally have to fly the ball to the green to reach it.

Both par-3s on the front nine are very fun with elevated tees. The second one—the 8th—is almost a blind tee shot from the white and blue tees.

The back nine flattens out significantly, but is a prettier setting. Of course, the weather was gorgeous by the time I made the turn and the whole back nine was aglow in perfect morning lighting. The only water hazard on the course comes into play by the 17th green and then your tee shot is directly over a pond on the 18th.

One thing that tripped me up on the back nine is the routing. I mistakenly played the 13th hole when I was supposed to be playing the 11th, and then ended up jumping all over the course after that as I made up my own routes and also tried to play around another group that had started on the 10th hole earlier and were now in my way.

There are some really cool houses around parts of the course, so I enjoyed checking those out. Otherwise, the club facilities at Western Hills are pretty understated. There’s a small driving range and practice area and the clubhouse is pretty traditional and basic.

Even though Western Hills is not far from the newer Vellano Country Club, they couldn’t be two more different courses or clubs. If you like classic and low-key, this is your place. If you like something a bit more dramatic and modern, then you’ll prefer Vellano.

Some pictures from Western Hills Country Club (11/17/14):

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I actually ended up finishing a bit too early at Western Hills, but I didn’t mind getting to relax and casually work my way over to the second course for the day…

Yorba Linda Country Club • Yorba Linda, CA • 11/17/14

Yorba Linda definitely has a bigger and fancier clubhouse than Western Hills and the facilities seemed somewhat nicer overall, but it’s still pretty traditional and old school in style.

I had signed up for their annual Fall Fest Food Drive, so the price of entry was $70 and a non-perishable food donation. The event was just a casual round—not a competitive tournament format—but did include a boxed lunch, appetizers afterward and one “closest to the pin” prize.

The round started at 11:00 and my group was the second off on the 9th hole in a shotgun format. There were a lot of players out there, so we knew early on it was going to be a slow day. We didn’t quite expect it to be over five hours, but it was and we were all pretty wiped out by the time we finished.

Yorba Linda CC is another nice old school kind of course that had a familiar feel. It and Western Hills were both originally designed by Harry & David Rainville, though they don’t feel overly similar to one another. Yorba Linda is not quite as hilly as Western Hills’ front nine, but there are some good elevation changes and holes that stand out. There are two holes situated on the other side of Imperial Highway and both of those are interesting ones. Then, I thought three of the four par-3s were very fun.

The 7th is kind of the course’s signature hole over a water hazard. The 13th is another good one over water, and it was our CTP hole. I hit the green, but did not win the prize. The 17th is a unique one that is short but plays straight uphill. We could see the top of the flag, but otherwise it was a blind shot. One of the guys in my group came within inches of acing it, though. We wouldn’t have seen it go in from the tee, but luckily the guys on the next tees would have been witnesses as they said it came very close.

Yorba Linda CC was in pretty good shape overall, but not quite as nice as Western Hills earlier. A little more brown in the mix on fairways and rough, but the fairways were mostly good to play from. The rough was more inconsistent. Some areas had thick, lush kikuyu and other parts were cut down, dried out and much less penal. The bunkers were great and the tee boxes were good overall, though they were completely redoing a couple on the front nine and had us playing from a temporary spot in front of the reds.

The greens were excellent and easily the highlight of the course condition-wise. They were very quick and featured ideal putting surfaces, only getting a little bumpy late in the day with so much traffic.

Overall, I enjoyed Yorba Linda CC, but wasn’t too blown away by the layout or setting. It’s a nice old country club course, but not a must-play. Of the two I played this day, I would tend to lean more toward Western Hills.

Some pictures from Yorba Linda Country Club (11/17/14):

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