Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: Enjoy legendary lodging, classic golf

By Georg von Suder, Contributor

OJAI, Calif. -- As a sanctuary of beauty and tranquility, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa has been the destination of choice for generations of travelers seeking friendly, personal service in an atmosphere of relaxed elegance. Located just 73 miles northwest of Los Angeles, it is nestled in a pastoral valley surrounded by the spectacular Topa Topa Mountains. The legendary resort is known for its classic course that is revered by golf aficionados.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa sits just 73 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Ojai Valley Inn & SpaOjai Valley golf course - 16th holeGolf at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
If you go

The 18-hole, 70-par championship golf course at Ojai Valley is open to guests of the Inn as well as for public play. It has been the site of seven Senior PGA Tour events and the EMS2 Golf Skills Challenge seen on NBC Sports. The course was designed by renowned golf architect George C. Thomas, Jr. and Billy Bell, and updated in 1988 by noted golf course designer Jay Morrish. History came alive recently as two holes have been rediscovered and faithfully restored.

The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is a Golf Magazine silver medalist and has been ranked by The Golfer as one of the "Top 100 Golf Resorts in the World." Also, Conde Nast Traveler has rated the Inn as one of the premier California Golf Resorts and one of the "Top 25 Resorts in the U. S." The resort encourages day players, offers a popular Academy of Golf, and has golf packages available, along with lessons and sessions with the pros.

Unwind after golf at Spa Ojai

The 31,000-square-foot Spa Ojai is the perfect way to unwind after a round of golf. Enjoy a massage, steam, sauna, jacuzzi, cardiovascular workout, relaxation therapies, and a variety of unique treatments. The spa's dramatic design reflects the Spanish Revival style of the Inn's original architecture.

Wealthy Ohio glass manufacturer Edward Drummond Libbey built the 206-room resort in 1923. The recent multimillion-dollar renovation enhances the casually elegant luxury while preserving the intimate charm of California's "best kept secret." The Inn offers it all: golf, tennis, horseback riding, swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, Pacific Provincial and al fresco cuisine, and superb accommodations.

For two decades, the Inn attracted the rich and famous from around the world and stars from nearby Hollywood, who flocked to the sunny and temperate valley to take in the breathtaking scenery and to escape the stress of the city. In 1937, Frank Capra was so enthralled with the setting that he decided to feature the Inn with its sweeping mountain vistas of the valley as a backdrop for the mythical Shangri-La in his film "Lost Horizons."

In the post war 1940's, the flamboyant Don B. Burger spearheaded the revitalization of the Inn with investors the like of Irene Dunne, Tom Lewis, and Loretta Young. Upon taking the reins, Burger immediately announced that the reigning Masters Champion Jimmy Demaret would be the Inn's new touring professional.

As the reputation of the Inn began to once again blossom, exhibition marches were held, which featured professionals such as Ben Hogan and George Fazio who were paired with figures from the big screen such as Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope.

The 1950's ushered in the glamour era for the Inn, which established its status as a major resort golf facility. Hollywood's rich and famous crowded the resort, including Clark Gable, Anthony Quinn, Joan Crawford, George Goebel, and Jayne Wyman. Loretta Young and Tom Lewis became valley residents, while Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, and Joe DiMaggio indulged in the Inn's privacy.

In 1952, the Inn was once again featured in the MGM film "Pat and Mike" directed by George Cukor. The film chronicled the career of Babe Didrickson Zaharias played by Katherine Hepburn. Her co-star was Spencer Tracy. The film featured play on what are now the first and seventh holes.

In 1961, Ojai C. C. hired the flamboyant Doug Sanders as its touring pro. Sanders won five PGA tournaments that year.

Jay Morrish rebuilt the course in 1987 to modern championship specifications, taking great care to preserve the integrity of Thomas' design. With spectacular results, the course has been the subject of much praise. One major publication describes the course as " a sensual feast of sweeping fairways, multilevel greens, and cunning sandtraps with the Thomas trademark 'tongues' all winding amidst some of California's most beautiful oaks, pines, and eucalyptus."

The Senior PGA tour came to the Ojai Valley Inn in 1989. Players who have played there read like a golf hall of fame: Chi-Chi Rodriguez, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Trevino, and many others.

Golf at Ojai Valley

Even though the facilities are exemplary and numerous, the prominent feature is still the 6,235-yard pristine golf course. The length greatly belies the diversity and challenge that it offers. The course features strategic bunkers, undulating greens, and contoured fairways as well as many mature trees, which make the tract very tight. Also featured are two par-3 holes over 200 yards and several par 4s over 400 yards.

Libbey mandated Thomas to build a golf course with two considerations in mind: "that the average golfer could enjoy his round without too great a penalty, and that a test must be afforded requiring the low handicap player to play fine golf in order to secure pars." The varied natural terrain fit perfectly with Thomas' objectives.

The rolling hills requires a golfer to employ an entire repertoire of shots under a variety of conditions, and the ample acreage allows the course setter to alter the tee positions easily to make the course play longer or shorter.

The championship challenge begins with a 402-yard par 4. The tee shot sets up for a draw to the left center of the fairway. The bunker you will see on the right is out of range and can be used as a reference point for your tee-shot. Hole no. 2 is a very long 227-yard par 3. Into the wind, it is a true monster. This is a hole that plays to the largest green on the course, but you have to get it there. Fortunately, the wind is usually in your favor in the afternoon.

No. 3 is a short 487-yard par 5 that is reachable in two. Your approach is played into a very undulating two-tiered green with a deep bunker in the front and deep rough to the right. Four is a tough 405-yard par 4 that require a strong drive to the bottom of the hill that will leave you with a middle iron to the green. The green is divided by a large swale that runs front to back. If you choose to play over the front right bunker, make sure you add 8 - 10 yards to your shot. Tough hole.

Another of those long par 3s is encountered at no. 5. Wind is a deciding factor in club selection on this 203 yarder. You want to favor the left side of the green on your approach.

The sixth hole at 562 yards is the beast that requires three shots to the green. Favor the right side of the fairway on your tee-shot. The second wood should be to the center of the fairway. The green is well guarded by three bunkers and a steep slope off the back. It's the number one handicap hole for women. Moving through 7 and 8, we pick up the toughest hole on the course.

The 442-yard no. 9 is a golfer's dream or nightmare. It requires a long and straight tee shot to the center of the fairway to reach the elevated green in two shots. The second shot is all carry with two large bunkers waiting to grab an errant shot. It took my 3 iron to reach within 10 feet after a 260-yard drive.

The backside starts with a challenging 412-yard par 4. The tee shot should be played down the right side of this dogleg. Your approach shot is uphill with a mid-iron to this sloping back to front green.

Numbers 11, 12, and 13 are reasonably easy holes. And then, we come upon the 440-yard, par-4 14th. The tee shot is the most spectacular on the golf course. Huge elevation change allows you to "hang it out." A solid tee shot will leave you with a long to mid-iron to a narrow left to right sloping green.

After an easy no. 15, the 392-yard, par-4, number 2 handicap hole looms before you. This hole was voted by Los Angeles Magazine as one of the "best golf holes in the West." A big tee shot down the left side of this sloping left to right fairway sets you up with a mid-iron to this uphill shallow green. Below a front pin will find your ball rolling off the green.

Number 17 is another short par 3 leading to a nice 517-yard, par-5 finishing hole. After an uphill tee shot, a well-placed fairway wood or long iron will put you in short-iron position to the two-tiered back to front sloping green.

The Ojai Valley Inn and its wonderful scenic course have persevered over time. It remains ready to challenge the golfer, and offers a relaxing and revitalizing vacation.

Georg von Suder, Contributor

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