Rustic Canyon Golfweek Review

11rusticgreenside.jpgBradley Klein reviews Rustic Canyon in the February 1, 2003 Golfweek under the headline, " Rare Combo: Quality, affordability."

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.

13abovemarch.jpg 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.