Yesterday, I went and played Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, CA for the first time. This one has been on my wish list for a long time, but opportunities to access this private club are very few and far between. The few charity tournaments I have seen there have been ridiculously expensive.
A friend of mine found out about this recent charity tournament hosted by the San Pedro chapter of the Beacon House, a recovery and support home for men overcoming drug and alcohol problems. The price was still quite expensive, but not as bad as any other tournaments we’ve seen. We bit the bullet and signed up. It never hurts knowing that the proceeds all go to a good charity, and that part of the fee is tax-deductible!
On a quick side note, you may notice a little different presentation with this article. It is the first course review on the new and improved Bogeys Across America blog, so it’s time to change things up just a little bit. Also, I want there to be distinction between old Tumblr articles and new ones. Perhaps the most notable change will be how the pictures are presented. The image previews are tiled in the article below. You can click on any one to see the picture in greater detail and to scroll through the slideshow. I’m really excited about this new feature!
Anyway, back to Virginia Country Club. The tournament had a pretty full field and was a shotgun start at 11:00. My group started on the very intimidating par-3 7th hole, which is all carry over the only water hazard on the course (that same hazard also comes into play on the par-5 12th hole).
The pace of play was very slow, which is to be expected in these types of tournaments. It was a team scramble format and everyone was forced to play cart-path-only. That is a terrible combination because everyone has to walk out to the different balls spread all over the place, decide which one to play, figure out yardage, go back and grab clubs, etc. Adding to the fun is that the cart paths at Virginia are purposely kept out of the way, so there were plenty of long walks across fairways up to the greens. The round took over 5.5 hours to complete. Food was provided throughout the day, including at the reception/awards ceremony afterward. We also got pretty well-stocked goodie bags and nice pullover sweatshirts with the tournament logo. This was the first year Beacon House has held this tournament, so other than the cart-path-only (which was the club’s requirement and not the tournament organizer’s), I’d say they did an excellent job.
As for the course itself, Virginia Country Club has plenty of character and a very rich history. The country club’s roots date back to 1909. Like so many of these old courses, it’s evolved a lot over the years. The original members designed the first 9-hole version of the course with oiled sand greens, amidst a sheep pasture. It’s hard to imagine this land once being a sheep pasture since it is now in the heart of bustling Long Beach, not far from the busy 405/710 interchange.
Willie Watson was soon brought in to craft the full 18-hole course, which was later renovated by William P. Bell and A.W. Tillinghast. Robert Muir Graves and Edmund Dearing also were involved in even later renovations. John Harbottle III was the latest to get his hands on it during another renovation in 2002. He’s been involved in similar renovations at other historic Southern California clubs (Hacienda and Saticoy both come to mind). I’ve come to appreciate his throwback style, which seems more restorative to original design principles than renovating with modern elements. You can read more about the course design history on VCC’s website.
As with Hacienda and Saticoy, the bunkering at Virginia is truly the standout design feature of the course. The bunkers just look cool with rugged lines and rough-hewn edges. They are deep and punitive, and they really frame the fairways and nice green complexes throughout this course. The greens themselves are medium-sized and have some significant undulation. However, they are not overly tricked out. I never felt that any putt seemed unfair or any breaks were too severe. The undulations are prominent, but ultimately fairly gentle and flowing.
Given the location, there are a lot more changes in elevation than you might expect. This is a very hilly course. There are probably a few too many blind, uphill approach shots than I personally prefer. Given how much you want to avoid bunkers and other trouble areas, it’s hard hitting confident shots when you have no idea what awaits you at the top of a hill.
This is best summed up on the unique par-3 15th hole. This one plays straight uphill and, unless you have played here before, you have no idea what is up there. You can see the tip of the flag beyond a nasty-looking bunker. There is ultimately some room for error up there as it’s kind of a bowl-shaped complex with hills left and behind the green.
The 18th hole is the opposite because it features a blind downhill approach shot. This is a par-5 that gradually doglegs left along the fairway and then takes a sharp left turn at the very end. There is a big valley (just rough, no hazards) as the fairway drops off and then dips back up to a steep false front on the green. It’s a pretty unusual hole that you’ll probably either love or hate depending on what score you walk away with.
One hole that caught my eye was the par-4 6th. This is the #1 handicap hole, playing at 438 yards from the longest tees (we were playing whites, which were 415 yards). It has one of the more narrow-feeling tee shots on the course. Most of Virginia is pretty open off the tee. The hole ultimately doglegs left and plays slightly uphill to a well-protected green. About 100 yards short of the green, a small ravine cuts across. It is full of rugged fescue rough and reminded me a little of The Riviera.
Another hole that I liked, but wasn’t fully able to enjoy was the par-4 14th. This is a short hole that apparently has two green complexes. What I surmised was the normal green is to the left and has an awesome look to it. Two tall dead trees guard the front and then the bunkering is really nice. A hill frames this hole from behind. Unfortunately, this was not the green in play yesterday. Instead, we played to the back right green. It’s a bit longer and a little further uphill. The green itself is tiny and slanted very strongly from back to front. I don’t know if they switch back and forth, work is being done on the old green or if they are just fully transitioning to this new green complex on the right, but the one on the left seemed much more appealing to me and I wished we had played it instead (even though our team did end up with a birdie on this hole).
The course was in winter condition and certainly not looking as pretty as I know it can. That said, it played nicely. The tee boxes were really good, though most of the par-3s were heavily sanded. The fairways have a bermuda turf that is very, very thatchy, fluffy and grabby. Don’t expect to pick balls clean and be sure to follow through or you will hit it fat. The rough was dormant bermuda. It was cut down and we benefitted from being able to place our balls in the scramble format. Even though it wasn’t deep, it was still pretty grabby and the ball would settle in easily.
We didn’t end up playing out of any bunkers, but we recovered our fair share of poorly hit balls out of the sand. The bunkers were absolutely perfect from what I encountered. Lastly, the greens were very nice. They were just receptive enough and rolling pure at medium/fast speeds. They did have a light topdressing that did not affect any putts. The greens were definitely not as fast as they looked and I’m sure they can really get these surfaces humming whenever they want to ramp up the speed.
Though Virginia Country Club has plenty of character and challenge, and the club facilities are nice, I honestly wasn’t as impressed as I wanted to be. Some of that had to do with the winter look of the course, which surely isn’t the best aesthetic presentation. Factor that in with a hefty price tag just to get on the course and it was all a bit of a letdown. I sure wouldn’t mind playing here again during a better time of year and not stuck in an ultra-slow tournament format, but I wouldn’t break the bank to come back. It’s likely a one and done for me unless a very friendly member invites me out for a redemption round.
Some pictures from Virginia Country Club (1/15/18):
(Click on any picture to pull up the detailed slideshow that you can scroll through.)