Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: An ideal southern California getaway near L.A.

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

OJAI, Calif. -- Over the years, the golf course at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa has changed quite a bit, from the renovation by Jay Morrish in 1988 to the addition of two "lost holes," but the playing experience has remained the same.

Ojai Valley Inn
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: an ideal weekend getaway from the hectic, fast-paced lifestyles of L.A.
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Ojai Valley Inn

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Opened in 1923, Ojai Valley Inn Golf Course is one of California's first great courses. Over the decades that the course has been open, it has hosted a number of professional players and celebrities ranging from Arnold Palmer to Will Smith.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 70 | 6252 yards | Book online | ... details »

Golfers from all over southern California and beyond continue to flock to the course to enjoy its flowing fairways and challenging greens and to escape life in the secluded surroundings of the resort.

The resort and the course are located about 75 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles on 220 acres of lush valley in the Topa Topa Mountains, making it an ideal weekend getaway from the hectic, fast-paced lifestyles of L.A., the nation's second-largest city. The resort has captured the small-town, intimate feel of the nearby Spanish-style village of Ojai to make guests feel like they've moved worlds away.

It is also just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 30 miles southeast of Santa Barbara, giving visitors a chance to explore other exciting tourist attractions.

"Ojai is a unique place," resort director of golf Mark Greenslit said. "Even though it is only 60 minutes from West L.A., it is unique with the mountains. It seems like a different world from anywhere else in southern California. Arnold Palmer once said we are the best kept secret in the U.S. If you know about us, you're lucky."

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa's golf course

Most golf enthusiasts have already heard about Ojai. Golf Magazine has rated the resort a silver medalist winner in recent years and The Golfer magazine named it one of the world's top 100 golf resorts in 1999.

The course has hosted the seven Senior PGA Tour events, including the GTE West Classic five times, most recently in 1994. From 1992-98, Ojai hosted the EMC Golf Skills Challenge, where a collection of pros compete in events like longest drive, best sand shot and longest putt to determine a winner. Some of the PGA's best players, like Brad Faxon (1995-96), Nick Price (1998) and Gary Player (1994), have all tested their games and won against the toughest shots Ojai has to offer.

With no water hazards and a fairly short layout (6,305 yards from the tips), the par-70 golf course relies on its dramatic elevation changes, strategically placed bunkers and trees and large, fast greens to keep the scores honest. The wide fairways meander up and down the valley floor, providing majestic views of the towering mountains at every turn.

George C. Thomas Jr. and Billy Bell originally designed the course in 1923, but Morrish's facelift in 1988 made it considerably tougher without altering what was thought to be the original layout. But after getting fed up with errant shots bombarding the clubhouse, which sits next to the former no. 6 green, Greenslit used some detective work to alter the course once again.

Digging through old records, he and Superintendent Sam Williamson discovered several holes that disappeared after World War II. This tale provides an interesting look into the resort's history. After years as a golf resort, the U.S. Army turned Ojai into a training camp during the war, stationing about 1,000 troops here from 1942-44. After the Navy used the facility from 1944-45, private ownership moved in, but it didn't restore Thomas' original third and fourth holes on the edge of the property.

After some planning, resort officials revived those holes during an eight-month construction project, opening the new (yet old) no. 7 and no. 8 holes in December of 1999. The revitalized no. 7, a 203-yard par 3, and no. 8 hole, a testy, 403-yard par 4, have received rave reviews as two of the best holes on the course.

No. 7 is a slight downhill shot over 11 sand traps in front of the huge green. The tee shot from the eighth hole requires a 130-yard carry over a cavernous ravine. Then the hole bends to the right at the green, which is guarded by several sand traps and some overhanging trees.

After juggling the order of the holes and the removal of no. 5, a 177-yard par 3, and no. 6, a 359-yard par 4, from play, the course has returned to its glorious past. Now, the troublesome former sixth green is useful as an extra putting green.

"Even though the (the former no. 5 and no. 6 holes) were good golf holes, the (new ones) are better than what we had," Greenslit said. "Once we figured out it was just like a puzzle, the pieces fell together. It's not like we forced it. This is the way it once was."

Several other holes keep golfers coming back. The panoramic scenery from the elevated 14th tee can leave you breathless. You'll be lucky to save par on this monstrous 440-yard par 4. Some consider no. 16, a 392-yard par 4 that doglegs hard right, to be one of the best holes in the state. It demands a long tee shot up the left side of the fairway and a target-like iron over a creek to an elevated, two-tiered green.

"This is a very traditional golf course," Greenslit said. "You'll use every shot in your bag."

You don't have to stay at the resort to play the golf course, but you could be glad you did. The Inn's 206 guest rooms are spread among several buildings around the course, many with terraces and views of the peaceful countryside. Two restaurants, the Maravilla and the more casual Oak Cafe feature Pacific Provincial Cuisine and fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the Inn's own gardens and orchards. Fine dining and shopping is also available in the village.

Like many of the nation's other premier golf resorts, Ojai has made a commitment to another relaxation luxury -- a world-class spa -- by opening up a 31,000-square-foot facility in 1997. Guests can soothe their troubles away with a deep-cleansing mud body wrap, a healing hands facial, a sports massage or an herbal bath. And there's a multitude of whirlpools, steam rooms and saunas to enjoy.

Searching for something besides golfing and relaxation? Horseback riding, bird watching, three outdoor swimming pools, two outdoor whirlpools and eight tennis courts can also tickle your fancy. In fact, Tennis Magazine rated Ojai one of the 50 greatest tennis resorts in the country. Off-the-property excursions include jeep tours, wine tours, ocean and lake fishing and surfing and kayak lessons on California's Gold Coast.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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