Another private club in the books. Wood Ranch, located in Simi Valley, is actually one of the more accessible courses around, but I had yet to play it until recently. Finally, the timing was right and I was able to sign up for one of their “member for a day” offers.
They had booked me in as a single at 9:06 and paired me with a threesome. However, when I checked in, a guy behind me mentioned he was part of a big group starting at 9:00. Apparently, they had 12 players and that would bounce me from the pairing. However, it ended up working out great. The pro shop guy ended up pairing me with another single (a really nice 87-year-young member of the club) to go off ahead of that group.
Another member twosome jumped off ahead of us, but they played quickly and never slowed us down. We didn’t mess around much either and finished in about two hours, 40 minutes. The price for the round was a reasonable $60 and included access to the range and practice facilities.
I ended up really liking the course itself. Wood Ranch features a very fun, interesting and diverse layout that offers plenty of challenge, but also some good scoring opportunities. I wouldn’t quite categorize it as “target” golf because there is some length and most fairways are relatively forgiving, but accuracy and strategy are definitely vital to posting a good score.
There is a lot of nice visual contour throughout the fairways and rough, as well as around the greens (many of which are somewhat elevated and well guarded by deep bunkers and mounds full of thick rough). The greens themselves feature plenty of slope and undulation. These features are all pretty expected with it being a relatively modern (1980s) Ted Robinson layout.
The abundance of water hazards is the biggest element of challenge throughout Wood Ranch. I didn’t realize there was this much water in play here, but there only a handful of holes without a lake or creek in play. And by “in play” I mean the placement of the hazards definitely shapes your strategy on each hole because of some tricky doglegs and angles from tee to green.
Longer hitters will find numerous risk/reward opportunities. There are many places where you’ll be tempted to cut a corner or take a shortcut, but there isn’t much room for error in these instances. More conservative players can navigate the safer landing areas off the tee, but will be faced with a tougher shots into the greens. Though Wood Ranch will punish you if you are inaccurate, I would still say it’s a very fair layout that forces you to think and execute on all your shots.
The most extreme hole is the short par-4 8th. It’s a dogleg right wrapping around a hillside and then a big water hazard to provide many shot options. Some might try to go straight at the green for the hero shot, but any miss will leave you in trouble. Others will want to figure out how much they want to bite off for the lay-up and play for a favorable approach angle. It’s a tricky little hole, but certainly fun.
As for conditions, the only weakness right now at Wood Ranch is the fairways. The tee boxes were perfect. The greens were also fantastic—firm, smooth and quite fast. Anything above the hole here was hard to stop. The fairways, however, were dormant brown bermuda, which normally I don’t mind playing from. However, the lies I found all day were not super consistent. There were some areas where it was very fluffy and “thatchy.” Rather than a clean divot, about a yard of turf would puff up and really snag the club. Then there were other areas where the fairways were very thin and firm underneath. The 18th fairway was the most noticeably burned out. The whole back nine seemed more thin than the front, in fact. Overall, the fairways were still very playable throughout. You just had to pay attention to the top layer of turf as to how it would affect your swing on the follow-through.
The rough had an intermediate cut of semi-dormant bermuda that was all matted down, so I didn’t know what kinds of lies I would get. Sometimes it would be teed up nicely going with the grain and other times it would settle in behind a tuft against the grain to make for a tough shot. The outer rough and everything around the greens was beautiful lush/green rye grass and very good throughout. I was in eight (yes, eight) bunkers and though I would categorize all as in “good” shape with nice sand, they were also a little inconsistent. A few were super fluffy and others were a bit more firm on top. I might be nitpicking a bit, but I am naturally more critical when it comes to private clubs. In a nutshell, the fairways and first cut of rough were not pretty but playable enough and most everything else was very, very good with only minor inconsistencies.
As we get closer to summer and the bermuda comes out of dormancy, conditions should only improve here and bring the course even more to life.
I would highly recommend playing Wood Ranch if you get the chance. It’s worth the trek out to Simi Valley, right across the street from the Reagan Library, which I still haven’t visited. This is a very enjoyable layout that will test every part of your game. Adding to the challenge for me was how windy it was out there all morning. This is a course that would be much more “comfortable” to play (especially as a first-timer) on a more calm day!
I should also note that the staff was very friendly here and made all the guests feel welcome as “members for a day” at this nice club.
Some pictures from Wood Ranch Golf Club: