On Monday, I had the day off for President’s Day, so you can bet I’d be out playing golf. Luckily, the timing was perfect to get to play a private course that I haven’t visited yet: Sunset Hills Country Club in Thousand Oaks.
They happened to have a “member for a day” outing in the guise of a post-Valentine’s tournament. Guests were welcome and I was able to get a couple of guys to join me for a day of golf and fun. Signing up for the event was a little tricky because nobody I talked to seemed to have all the details about the tournament. All their online information said it was a 1:00 shotgun, but when I called to register they slotted me in with a 10:07 time. I really didn’t care that much about the tournament, though, so whatever got me on the course I was fine with.
The price was $65, which isn’t anything great for Sunset Hills, but not horrible for a private course on a holiday. It did include a cart and also a lunch ticket. At the turn, we enjoyed a tasty cheeseburger, chips and a drink with the voucher.
Checking in at the course was also a bit confusing. When I arrived, the pro shop guy let me know he was unable to sign me in or take my payment until the other person who was in charge of the “tournament” arrived. There were plenty of members out at the club Monday, but we didn’t see anyone else that seemed to be gearing up for the same outing we were supposedly part of. Finally, a little after 10:00, the woman arrived and we were able to check in. It turns out there really wasn’t enough interest in the tournament, so it was really just open play for us as a guest group. It seems like they would have told us this in advance, but oh well.
Again, we were more concerned about playing the course than any tournament or event set-up, so it was no big deal. Once we teed off, it was smooth sailing. We did ultimately catch some member groups, but the total pace was great at under four hours—even with a relaxed lunch break at the turn. The pacing is definitely one nice advantage of country club golf.
I’ve heard mixed reviews about the course itself from friends. I was well aware that it was more of a short/target kind of layout with some old school quirks. These assessments are certainly true. Sunset Hills tops out at just barely over 6,000 yards from the back tees and it requires a great deal of accuracy to score well.
Most holes have some sort of dogleg (some quite severe) and pretty narrow angles off the tee. I play a pretty significant fade from left to right and there were only a few holes all day where I could even attempt a normal drive. Most holes have some big, old-growth trees hanging over along the left and narrow fairways that slope to the right. There aren’t many good bail-out options either, so it was a struggle for me all day to get safely off the tee.
If you cannot play a dead straight ball or, even better, a right-to-left shot, you will have a long day at Sunset Hills. You don’t need to be long, but you need to control your shots.
In some ways, it’s one of the most difficult 6,000-yard courses I’ve ever played. In others, I can see it being one that you can really pick apart if you are on your game and can play the necessary shots. If you hit a fairway, you are generally left with a favorable approach angle and distance. The greens are tiny, but they do not feature much sloping or undulation. So if you hit fairways and greens, you can score well.
Our group did have a decent share of birdie opportunities, but at the same time, one bad shot on any hole quickly led to doubles and triples for us, too.
The 12th and 13th holes are kind of separated from the rest of the course after you drive through a tunnel. The 12th is a nice little par-3 over a creek with a rock wall in front of the green. It’s probably the best-looking hole on the course and perhaps the easiest. The 13th features an elevated tee and some nice views, though you can’t see much of the fairway from the tee box and the hole itself is a very tricky one with a sharp dogleg right up by the green and the aforementioned creek running down the entire right side. This hole sums up just how tough some of these “short” holes at Sunset Hills really are.
The course was in decent winter shape. The highlights were the bunkers, which were very nice, and the greens. They were excellent—receptive, smooth and rolling at good speeds. Some tee boxes were fantastic and others were a bit more beat up. The fairways were just okay, but most lies I had were fine. Of course, I hit very few fairways on Monday so my sample size was small. The rough was pretty inconsistent, but mostly pretty lush and quite tough to hit from in some places.
Overall, it was a fun experience at Sunset Hills, but it is not a course I will be racing to come back and play. Part of me wants a rematch and the other part of me is just fine with it being a “one and done” experience.
Some pictures from Sunset Hills Country Club (2/16/15):