From Lost Canyons G.C. to Rustic Canyon: Simi Valley, California offers peaks and valleys for golfers
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Golfers can literally take their game to new highs and even enjoy the lows playing in and around scenic Simi Valley, about an hour's drive north of Los Angeles.
The arid, jagged mountain peaks seen from the freeway belie the lush, green fairways and pristine greens beckoning just minutes off the main thoroughfare, Highway 118 aka Ronald Reagan Freeway (the former President's library is nearby for those looking for non-golf outings).
It's also not the only Hollywood connection. The movie "Poltergeist" was shot here along with noted TV shows "Gunsmoke," "MASH" and "Little House on the Prairie." The sleepy suburban area gained notoriety in the 1990s as host to O.J. Simpson's murder trial.
The appropriately dubbed Lost Canyons Golf Club takes golfers on an afternoon escape in an area where hikers could easily lose their way, or duffers could knock a dozen golf balls out of play.
"It gives you a feeling like you're not in L.A. but more like in Montana or somewhere," suggested Jay Colliatie, the course's general manager and director of golf. He points to the big sky, barren landscape and nearly silent course that allow golfers to get lost in thought after battling their way out through traffic.
Sky is challenging
The Pete Dye/Fred Couples Sky Course at Lost Canyons is, in a word, challenging. It features dramatic elevation changes, fast fairways that slide shots steeply to the downhill side and steep-sided greens.
"Always go for the center of the green; I don't care where the pin is," advised Colliatie, "It's not going to be easy. If you don't stick on the green, your work is just getting started."
The pro calls out two picturesque par 3s as the signature holes: No. 2, which calls for a well placed landing to avoid steep bunkers, and 17, which offers a tremendously large green that can leave a 150-foot birdie putt that looks like it's hanging on to the edge of the earth.
The course calls for well placed targets as bombs off the tee can disappear on sloped, steep fairways. Several greens, including no. 7, call for precision flops to clear bunker clusters.
Colliatie advises bagging the bravado and playing from the correct set of Sky's five tees. Other insider tips from the pro shop: "The greens don't break as much as they slide," and on 11, "Stay left. You may think Dye wants you to cut the corner, but if you do, you've got no chance."
A 10-handicap local playing here for the first time noted, "It's the toughest course around. Great views, but you've got to have your swing in form, and put your tee shot in the middle of the fairway. There are not many birdie chances."
There is no doubt it's a difficult course, but as you literally tee off from a mountain side towards the 18th green, you get to rip one that rolls down towards your target back on terra firma and should set up for a possible birdie finish.
The course will be lost itself soon, part of a complete overhaul including new construction of a housing development and a brand-new, 18-hole track designed by Gil Hanse. The Shadow Course is already closed and Colliatie is not sure when he'll make last call for rounds, though likely near year's end. In other words, don't put off a visit, or you may end up in the words of Jackson Brown, "late for the Sky."
Go west for Rustic Canyon Golf Course
A short drive due west to Moorpark lands you on an acclaimed Hanse Golf Design layout, Rustic Canyon Golf Course. Golf Digest named it no. 1 most affordable course in 2002, and it's remained atop the value leaderboard ever since. Green fees are still just $43 mid-week plus $15 for a cart, and it's a journey worth taking to play here.
This course also offers road warriors a serene round. It's fairly wide open and relatively flat, built on a natural riverbed. The flood plain drains nicely from the occasional rainfall and offers surprises such as semi-hidden, narrow gulches including one that cuts across the par-5 opening hole's fetching fairway.
And there's no. 5, where players cross back over that same dry riverbed. The green offers little respite if your shot doesn't sit on the top level. There's a brutal slope that sends balls cascading onto a moon-like crater or potentially into a trap door, hidden bunker.
Neophyte golfers may literally find themselves in deep trouble if they don't use the yardage book and seek advice before teeing off.
One tip to save strokes around the green -- about three quarters of all putts break towards the fence that lines the entrance way to the course. It's an easy landmark to spot from most holes and important to know on greens that are "super quick and have stimped 26 downhill before" (an unusually high number on the stimpmeter), according to Donald Pawloski, assistant golf pro at the course.
Pawloski emphasizes the importance of staying below the hole whenever possible, especially on 13: "It's a small shelf, an easy two-putt uphill, but impossible downhill."
The tee at the par-4 16th offers the best vantage point on the course, and the chance to drive a long shot downhill towards the green. The gentle sloping fairway leaves you on level with the pin for the approach, but best to run it on or leave it short than slide down the steep backside of the swift green.
The par 3s are short but distinctive. No. 4 offers its own Maginot Line of elevated, steep bunkers awaiting low-flying tee shots or those that fall short of the green some 165 yards from the tips.
On a windy afternoon, more than one golfer was seen trying to outflank the defenses by aiming left to a patch of fairway with an open pitch uphill to the flag. The pin location on that recent visit was in the "valley" of the green, forcing some long, downhill putts that could run right off the manicured felt to "chip back on" territory.
No. 15 plays longer than its sub 150-yard distance -- straight up the hillside to a sloped green. Scott Rosenbaum, of Tucson, Ariz., aced it in a stiff crosswind thanks to a generous bounce and fortuitous roll. "That hole was easy," he said self-deprecatingly, noting the short distance had more to do with sinking his second career hole in one than a skillful shot. After that, it wasn't a surprise that he enjoyed the course overall: "I like the links approach. I like the challenges."
Rosenbaum's friend -- La Crescenta resident Steve Barton -- also praised the course, especially its "rustic design."
"It's modern but has an old-time feel to it with the natural surroundings," said the 10-handicapper.
April 29, 2014