Course Review: Woodland Hills Country Club

On Friday afternoon, I was out in the Los Angeles area and I was able to tee it up at Woodland Hills Country Club in Woodland Hills. I was able to arrange a preview round with the club and I was excited to finally play this course. It seems I know a lot of people who are friends of members here, even though this club has a fairly small membership core around just 400 members. Yet, the invites never materialized. This week, I was able to take matters in my own hands and make the arrangements to play here.

I was set to tee off around 2:00 and it’s pretty loose around here like you’ll find at most smaller private clubs. Some other members were there getting ready to go around the same time and it was essentially first come, first serve on the first tee. I ended up joining up with a threesome of members and we teed off around 1:40.

I was warned that there was the weekly Friday skins game out on the course ahead of us. However, with the small membership they take pride in pushing a 3.5-hour minimum pace. Though it seemed slow at times out there (especially on the back nine), I ended up finishing in right about that target time. The first threesome I played with bailed after nine holes and then I joined another group on the 12th hole. Everyone I encountered at the club was super friendly and welcoming. They were glad to share a lot of info about the course and relaxed social setting of WHCC.

The golf course at Woodland Hills Country Club was designed in 1925 by William P. “Billy” Bell, who is the man behind many older courses throughout Southern California. Geoff Shackelford led a major bunker renovation in 2012, which aimed to restore the sand traps back to their original 1925 style. A lot of older SoCal clubs have done this and it really pays off some cool, rugged-shaped bunkers that provide both beauty and intimidation factor.

The opening tee shot prepares you for your round at Woodland Hills. You hit from a severely elevated right next to the clubhouse and then your roller coaster ride begins. There’s a reason “Hills” is in the name. This is anything but a flat course.

The changes in elevation throughout the front nine are a bit more moderate. It’s fairly hilly by any standards, but nothing like the back nine. The back nine is full of very significant slopes as you essentially alternate playing uphill and then back downhill on a large hillside.

I’ve found that courses from this golden era in similar hilly settings throughout greater Los Angeles tend to favor a right-to-left ball flight off the tee. Woodland Hills is certainly no exception. As someone who plays a very consistent left-to-right shot with my driver, I wasn’t comfortable at all on a majority of the tee boxes here. Most holes have at least one tree along the left side that cuts off your angle just enough or forces you to try and hit over. Then, most holes also have a firm fairway that slopes hard from left-to-right. Even when I pulled off my best possible tee shots, I was often rewarded with a ball that landed dead center and then took off to the right—usually ending up in the rough or bare dirt areas among the trees.

There are a few fairways that slope the opposite direction (number 18 very strongly so) or play relatively flat, but these are few and far between. Let’s just say this course destroyed me and I sure did not get any friendly “member bounces.” I was in and out of trouble all day long and it wore me out. I will have to say that a lot of the damage was also self-inflicted, too, so the course design is not totally to blame. It sure didn’t help me get any confidence going, though!

Woodland Hills is very much a target golf course where positioning off the tee is vital. The best players will be able to shape their shots both ways when necessary to play into those sloped fairways or use the helpful downhill slopes when available. From the back black tees, this course only stretches out to 6,384 yards. I played the blues at 6,169 and it felt much, much longer than that, especially on the straight-uphill holes on the back nine (11, 12, 14 and 17 to be specific). The 13th and 16th are your only downhill salvations on this side. However, even from the blues the 16th is a par-4 that measures 469. It is very much downhill, though, so if you catch the right slopes it will definitely play a lot shorter. It should be noted this is a par-70 course with five par-3s and only three par-5s, so the total yardage can be deceiving.

Being an older club, it would seem that the blue and black tees were added at some point to stretch out the course as much as possible. As is almost always the case, these tees sometimes feel very forced in and the angles perhaps aren’t what the original designer intended. Woodland Hills also has several very quirky routing details with odd arrangements of tee boxes, cart paths and nearby green complexes. The best example of this is the 13th green, which has a walking bridge just behind it that leads you to the 14th tee box across a ravine. Where you park your carts for the 13th green is kind of far away from that green, as well, so you have to bring your driver up to the green with you for the next tee shot. When there are multiple groups on top of each other like there were Friday, it gets pretty crazy in this spot with everybody tangled up.

Probably my favorite hole was the par-4 8th, which is one of the few flat holes out on the course. The tee shot is an awkward one with a big tree and hillside on the left and a fairway that bottlenecks a couple times to make the landing area feel tighter than it really is. Along the right is a steep shelve that drops off into a waste bunker that runs almost the full length of the hole. It reminded me of the famed San Andreas bunker at PGA West’s TPC Stadium Course. This same bunker comes into play on your tee shot for the 11th hole coming back the other way. The 8th is a sure tough hole, but I really liked the distinctive design of it.

I was disappointed overall in the selection of par-3s at Woodland Hills. I liked the 15th, which plays across a canyon in the back corner of the property. However, the rest didn’t do too much for me. The 2nd is the other flat hole on the course with a big patch of turf-reduced dirt and desert landscaping in between the tee and green. It’s a fine hole, but nothing too exciting.

Then, you have the 6th and 7th holes, which are back-to-back par-3s located across a street. The 6th is just weird. It is uphill and fairly long (201 from the blacks, 196 from the blues). There is, of course, a big tree hanging over on the left side just in front of the tee boxes and then a fence that runs along the left with the cart path. That fence kind of works like a kids’ bumper at the bowling alley. On the right is the other bumper, which is a steep hillside that looks like it will feed everything back to the middle. I was unable to get around/over the tree, so I wasn’t able to enjoy the bumper effect on either side.

The 7th comes back downhill and is definitely second-best par-3 here. It’s only 132 yards (blue and black together), but pretty treacherous as the green falls off in every direction and there’s not much room for error behind or left of the green. One firm bounce and your ball is in the street. You can probably guess where my ball ended up after what I thought was a decent shot!

Lastly, you have the 12th, which is similar to the 6th but not quite as long (182 black, 174 blue). This one also plays straight uphill and is very tight from tee to the green. Again, there is a big tree along the left side. I was actually able to hit over this one, but it still did not end up well. The green is perched atop a steep anthill. Anything short will collect (if you are lucky) about 15-20 feet below the green surface, leaving you with a blind pitch shot up. Along the right is the cart path and not much room for error if you push it at all that way. I cleared the tree, but ended up on the cart path after just falling short of reaching the green.

Basically these par-3s sum up the whole course. You must be able to play your angles and hit your targets. If not, there is very little room for error on this course. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons to the closest neighbors of Woodland Hills, which are Braemar  CC and Calabasas CC. All have similar styles, which at times are fun but at other times are very frustrating if your game is off just a little bit.

The course conditions were good overall for winter. For the most part, it was pretty green out there and it looked nice in the late afternoon sun/shadows as you’ll see in the pictures. A really clear day afforded some really great views on the elevated tees and greens of the back nine. The tee boxes were overseeded and excellent. The fairways were a mix of grasses (back nine was primarily kikuyu and front seemed to have a few grass types in play). There were a few really tight/firm spots, but I mostly had really good fairway lies. The rough was reasonably lush in the areas that mattered and then there were some sandy turf-reduced areas and waste bunkers once you got out toward the edges and under trees.

The greens were firm and rolling very smooth at medium-fast speeds. I do not think they would want these greens running any faster for casual play because anything downhill was very difficult to stop and there are a lot of steep slopes here! Basically, whatever read or speed your eyes show you, double it. I think I was in just about every bunker on the front nine. They were well-raked and I encountered a good sand base under all but one of my shots, though the sand type/texture varied from bunker to bunker. You really have to pay attention to your bunker lies.

Just like Braemar or Calabasas, there were definitely things I liked about Woodland Hills such as the setting and target nature of the design. At the same time, it is one of those quirky older courses that is perhaps a bit too funky at times. That’s the general consensus I’ve heard from a lot of friends who have played it. I probably liked it more than I should have considering how much it beat me up and how poorly the course is laid out for my particular game. With that in mind, it is certainly not a course I would want to play every day unless my plan was to totally change my game. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to do, but it sounds way too exhausting!

Some pictures from Woodland Hills Country Club (2/9/18):

(Click on any picture to pull up a gallery slideshow for better detail.)



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