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230136-292304-thumbnail.jpg
No. 11 at Rustic Canyon (click on image to enlarge)
For up-to-date reviews on course conditions and operations, check out greenskeeper.org's Rustic Canyon page.

 

Also...

  • This link will take you to Golf Digest's 4 1/2 star "Best Places You Can Play" review, including a top 10 in America designation for value.
  • The 2003 "Best New Affordable" award from Golf Digest is located here, with Ron Whitten's focus on Rustic Canyon is linked here
  • And Whitten's "Course Critic" review of Rustic Canyon's "cult status" can be read here


Below are course reviews from Bradley Klein in Golfweek and Steve Saylor for UPI.

Rare Combo: Quality, affordability
By Bradley Klein
Golfweek, February 1, 2003

On a Saturday morning in the fall, superintendent Jeff Hicks arrived at 5 a.m. to open the gates to Rustic Canyon Golf Course, only to find a line of eight cars awaiting entry. “We’re all booked up,” he told one driver. “We know,” said the would-be golfer. “We’re here to book times for next Saturday.”

If the golf industry build more courses like Rustic Canyon, the game wouldn’t be in an economic slide. Throughout the Los Angeles area, high-end layouts with triple-digit green fees are discounting and having trouble filling their tee sheets. Not Rustic Canyon. Here is a golf course that meets real market demand – thoughtfully and inexpensively.

Opened in April 2002, Rustic Canyon is a low-profile layout with a classical design sensibility and plenty of optional shot-making opportunities. The par-72 layout stretches to 6,906 yards (73.1 rating/130 slope), and sits 800 feet above sea level in the canyons above Simi Valley, 45 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Designer Gil Hanse and his associate, Jim Wagner, teamed with L.A.-based golf writer/architecture historian Geoff Shackelford and his associates to design and build a retro-style layout.

They moved only 17,000 cubic yards of earth in the process of routing this easily walkable layout around and through a dry wash and barrancas. Despite 240 feet of elevation change on site and sizable environmentally sensitive areas that had to be avoided, they’ve succeeded spectacularly. You can tell they had fun shaping this layout, especially with some intensely contoured greens that sit in the middle of vast chipping areas that surround the putting surfaces. You also have to love their scruffy, rough-hewn bunker faces.

Kudos to developer Craig Price and his firm, Highlands Golf, which owns and manages the property. You can almost (but not quite) forgive them for the cluttered look of the clubhouse and practice range. The paved cart paths also are clumsy. At least they’ve held the line on budget -- $3.1 million to build the course – and kept green fees easily affordable.

Rater’s Notebook
1.    Ease and intimacy of routing: 7     Big clockwise front nine through low-lying ground is followed by dramatic counterclockwise back nine that climbs into canyon areas. Feels like one of those charming Scottish courses that starts in town and works its way out in the wilds before returning.

2.    Quality of feature shaping: 8      You can’t achieve this stuff with a big bulldozer. It’s all handwork, small equipment and lots of imagination. Modern golfers accustomed to soft flow and containment golf will find themselves having to adjust to ground game roll on a very different scale.

3.    Natural setting and overall land plan: 6    First few holes scrape up against entrance road, and then after a brush with some housing the course heads relentlessly into the wild. The whole effect is ruined by the caged-in practice range (with artificial turf landing field) and a stark clubhouse/cart barn complex that overwhelms the 18th hole.

4.    Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: 9   All but one hole (short par-3 eighth) has a putting area surface perched within a vast surround of chipping area that facilitates ground run-up and amazing options on recovery. The bentgrass greens, 5,500 square feet in size, are intensely contoured, but they work because of mowed-down surrounds that average 15,000 square feet.

5.    Variety and memorability of par 3s:  8   Gil Hanse evokes classical elements without ever getting carried away trying to copy famous holes. There’s a phenomenal long par-3 sixth across a wash that incorporates elements of both the Redan and the Biarritz, and he has a great little drop-shot, par-3 eighth to a domed green that falls away everywhere. He also pulls off one of the toughest feats in design, building an interesting uphill par-3 (No. 15). Only real letdown is the dull fourth hole (161 yards) to a wide open target.

6.    Variety and memorability of par 4s: 7   Good variety of long and short par 4s, though it would be nice to have more than one substantial par 4 on the front nine. Routing constraints limited options here, with the mandatory lay-up seventh hole very disappointing. But that’s the only clear letdown, and the back nine excels with some dramatic, long, sweeping par 4s.

7.    Variety and memorability of par 5s: 5    Five par 5s including a generous opening hole. The was on the fifth hole is a dominant diagonal hazard that doesn’t show up well at all because of environmental  constraints. The real showpiece is the long 13th, where the putting surfaces wrap entirely around a massive bunker; it’s very reminiscent of No. 6 at Riviera, where George Thomas (subject of a Shackelford design biography) put a bunker in the middle of the putting surface.

8.    Basic conditioning: 6    Main playing areas, including ryegrass fairways, are firm, fast and in good shape. Fine fescue/ryegrass roughs are very playable. Some peripheral areas look a bit run down, especially by the entrance road, and while it might not convey the best of first impressions it’s really part of the facility’s sepia-toned look.

9.    Landscape and tree management: 7   Excellent for a few native coastal oaks, there are no trees, certainly not in play. Native scrub is gorgeous, but the clubhouse looks like a lesson in how not to do it. They managed to avoid any trees.

10.     “Walk in the park test:” 7    The course starts very modestly as it heads toward a residential area, but from the fifth tee in it’s a wonderful stroll – except for the very long hike from the 17th green to the 18th tee.

Overall vote: 6.5   Overall vote is additive, rather a total effect. My rating of 6.5 (geometric scale) makes Rustic Canyon a strong contender for top-100 Modern status on Golfweek’s America’s Best list.

_______

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Are cheaper courses golf's future?
United Press International -- December 15, 2003

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif., Dec 15, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The Sherwood Country Club, where Davis Love held off a charging Tiger Woods to win $1.2 million at the Target World Challenge on Sunday, exemplifies the long-running trend toward ever more expensive golf courses.

A few miles to the north in Moorpark, however, Rustic Canyon Golf Course represents the embryonic movement toward golf courses that cost less yet still intrigue.

In 1989, financier David H. Murdock, now owner of the Dole Food Company, hired Jack Nicklaus and his golf course architecture firm Nicklaus Design to build a course that would attract Southern California's elite. Nicklaus met the challenge by crafting narrow fairways that run between giant oaks (many of which Nicklaus transplanted to ideal locations) and past artificial cascades plunging into rock-lined lakes. The spectacular result has succeeded in luring celebrities, such as hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who built a 17,000-square-foot home overlooking the course.

Yet, building waterfalls and moving mature trees, which seemed outlandishly posh when Sherwood was built, have since become ho-hum as the top golf architects have become accustomed to budgets that would impress even Hollywood movie directors. For example, Rees Jones Inc. spent close to $60 million on Cascata, which is reserved for guests of the Park Place Las Vegas properties. The weekend greens fee is $500.

The number of rounds played nationally has fallen about 8 percent in this decade, raising the question of whether golf has gotten too costly.

In contrast to Sherwood, nearby Rustic Canyon won Golf Digest magazine's "Best New Affordable Public Course for 2002" award even though it's located in Ventura County, where the median selling price for single family homes is more than $400,000.

While Sherwood is so tree-lined that it lives up to its name (the land was the location for Douglas Fairbanks' 1922 movie "Robin Hood"), Rustic Canyon gets by with only a handful of trees and no lakes.

Because Rustic Canyon is built in a U-shaped canyon upon a 1,000-foot-deep deposit of sand and gravel, water sinks in immediately, making ponds impractical. Joe Perches, a business executive who has braved the long drive from his home in Santa Monica to play Rustic Canyon 20 times this year, doesn't miss the lakes. He told United Press International, "The land and architecture make the course -- not water, especially not artificially placed water."
Architect Gil Hanse and his co-designer Geoff Shackelford carefully laid out 18 wide fairways over the pre-existing lumps and bumps they found in the sandy soil. The undulating links resembles Scotland's fabled home of golf, St. Andrews, which is built on similarly crumpled sand dunes. Both courses reward players for striking well-judged ground-hugging shots rather than the aerial game favored by expensive U.S. "target golf" courses. |

Hanse and Shackelford moved 17,000 cubic yards of dirt. In contrast, at the nearby Moorpark Country Club, architect and PGA Tour pro Peter Jacobsen shoved around 5 million cubic yards to build a course traversing mountain ridges and V-shaped arroyos.

The total budget for Rustic Canyon came in at about $3.5 million. While most public courses in area have been offering discounts, and several private clubs are advertising for new members, Rustic Canyon has been raising its greens fees. At $50 on weekend mornings, however, Rustic Canyon is still a bargain for the region.

Shackelford, a golf architecture historian who is writing a book called "The Future of Golf," walked the site countless times searching out subtle natural ripples and depressions. He said to UPI, "A sandy site helps, but much of the low construction budget is attributable to design restraint. That means leaving the land alone, using ground features, and allowing the native shrubbery to make for an aesthetically pleasing course instead of injecting expensive man-made features like lakes. By going with the flow of the land instead of fighting it, we did not need an expensive contractor to do feature work."

Wrangles with environmentalists often add a decade to the time it takes developers to construct a course in California, but, Shackelford reported, Rustic Canyon enjoyed "a relatively pain free approval process, as environmentally the course was having very little negative impact."

Shackelford argued, "Rustic Canyon can be replicated, but you need more developers and municipalities wanting to do such a course and architects who will show some restraint and creativity."

Does Rustic Canyon represent the future? Perches noted: "I think that a defining characteristic of the players that 'get' Rustic Canyon is a willingness and perhaps a desire to spend four hours walking. But, I find most people prefer golf carts to walking."

Oddly enough, this inexpensive course appeals more to the elite player familiar with the economical Scottish mode of play than to the average U.S. golfer, who likes his golf lavish.