I’m off to a slow start this year, but it’s been kind of nice watching SoCal get lots of much-needed rain this month. Lately, though, the weather has been gorgeous. So it was ideal timing for Monday’s SCGA outing at Braemar Country Club in Los Angeles (Tarzana).
It was a 10:00 shotgun start, but not a huge group of players. We enjoyed a nice relaxed pace of around 4.5 hours. Before the round, I briefly met with the Head Pro and inquired about playing the third nine at this 27-hole complex when the other round was over. The SCGA had us playing the U.S. Open/Masters combo, which is the primary set of nines here. I was hoping to play the Western nine while up there.
He said it wouldn’t be likely since the course was closed off to members only. Just in case, I went in and asked the guy in the pro shop after the main round was complete and he was nice enough to let me head out. The Western nine is kind of detached (as is the driving range) from the clubhouse, so it’s a bit of a drive over to the first tee. Either way, I zipped around that nine very quickly, encountering just one threesome along the way.
You have no idea how much more satisfying it is for me, a bit of an obsessive compulsive “completist,” to be able to play all 27 holes at a complex such as Braemar. It made the whole day and the 2.5-hour drive home during rush hour much more worth it.
Braemar was originally designed by Ted Robinson Sr., like several of the older Los Angeles area clubs. It definitely has a familiar feel. A major renovation of the course, clubhouse and facilities happened several years back, but I don’t really know how the current course compares to the original design. The clubhouse is nice, though.
One thing they did do was rename the nines. What was once the West, East and Center nines are now the Western, Masters and US Open courses respectively. No disrespect to Braemar, but the names are just fancy names and I didn’t sense any real connections with the courses themselves. The Masters nine has about as much in common with The Masters/Augusta National as my local park’s tennis court has with Wimbledon.
It seems people have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Braemar because of what would be considered a quirky design by most. I didn’t feel it was that much wackier than many of the older LA courses I’ve played. It’s short, tight and very hilly. The greens have a lot of natural slope. It’s true target golf, even if you can’t always see your targets. At times, it reminded me of the old Rolling Hills, MountainGate, Palos Verdes, North Ranch and Calabasas. Those are all similarly old Los Angeles area courses I liked and I tend to find the quirkiness of these kinds of courses somewhat charming. There’s no doubt Braemar has plenty of character. It just might not be for everyone.
The Masters nine is easily the most enjoyable of the bunch. I felt it had the best overall collection of holes, highlighted by the first two. The first hole is a fun one to start with, featuring a downhill tee shot and then a very tricky blind uphill approach (a common trait on a majority of holes at Braemar). The 2nd hole is a fun downhill par-3 with a very long diagonal green complex.
The U.S. Open nine is also enjoyable. The best hole here is the par-5 4th. It features a downhill tee shot that is almost completely blind. You can’t see the landing area at all, but there’s plenty of room down there. Then it kind of plays through a tunnel with trees and hills on either side of the fairway. The green is guarded by a small pond in front, making for a good risk/reward decision for you longer hitters out there. I also liked the 7th hole of the U.S. Open nine, which is one of the few holes here that plays downhill from tee to green. The 9th is a tough finishing par-3 that plays straight uphill. It feels rather narrow and definitely plays longer than the actual yardage.
Like Marky Mark, the Western nine is easily the funkiest of the bunch. It just feels a bit different automatically because it’s so detached from the rest of the complex and wasn’t quite as nicely maintained (fairways especially felt like a step down from the other two nines). The first hole is a very tough opener with a severe dogleg right and completely blind approach. However, I think my favorite of all 27 holes at Braemar was on the Western nine. The 9th here is a great finishing hole with a tight downhill tee shot and then a tiny little water hazard in front of the green. I just liked the look of this hole all the way through.
The course was in good overall condition. It was nice and greened up because of all the recent rain, but also a bit soft/muddy in many of the low areas throughout. In fact, it was cart-path-only for the outing. The tee boxes were nice. The fairways in general were very good and will get better once the excess water recedes. I noted the fairways on the Western nine were noticeably weaker and more dappled in color. The rough was very nice and lush throughout. Balls tended to settle in and definitely made you work just enough for a good recovery. I was in two bunkers and they both had nice soft (beachy) sand. The greens were the highlight, receptive and rolling very quick. Downhill putts were very tough to stop anywhere near the hole, and there are really no level putts on this entire course.
Overall, I enjoyed myself at Braemar and I was really grateful they allowed me to play the third nine while there. It’s one of the more affordable guest rates if you can get access to the course, so it’s worth checking out. Then you can decide for yourself if it’s just a little too quirky for you.
Some pictures from Braemar Country Club (1/30/17):