Lights, cameras, championship golf.
As the United States Open comes to the Los Angeles Country Club on Thursday, it will be the first time in 75 years that the championship has been played in the shadow of Hollywood.
The last time the event came to Los Angeles, in 1948, it was unforgettable. Ben Hogan won at the Riviera Country Club and set a U.S. Open scoring record that stood until 2000 when Tiger Woods broke it.
While Los Angeles has not hosted a U.S. Open since 1948, the championship has often been contested in California. Pebble Beach Golf Links in Northern California is now part of the regular U.S. Open rotation — it’s also where Woods broke Hogan’s scoring record in relation to par — and Torrey Pines in San Diego hosted in 2021. The Olympic Club in San Francisco has held five U.S. Opens.
But the private and exclusive Los Angeles Country Club, or L.A.C.C. as it’s commonly known, has long been on the United States Golf Association’s short list of venues it wanted to host a U.S. Open. It’s a classic design, by George C. Thomas Jr., who was part of an influential group of early 20th-century architects. It has challenging and uneven terrain. And it sits in Beverly Hills, with views of the Los Angeles skyline.
Until a decade ago, club leadership had demurred about hosting a championship. But in 2017, the club held the Walker Cup, a biannual match pitting the top amateur players in the United States against their counterparts from Great Britain and Ireland, and that experience changed the membership’s view of opening up its private course.
John Bodenhamer, the U.S.G.A.’s chief championship officer, said there wouldn’t be this U.S. Open without that successful Walker Cup. In 2010, as the course was being restored by Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford, Richard Shortz, then the club president, inquired about hosting a Walker Cup, which the association approved. The players at that tournament loved the course, and that led Shortz, who is an older brother of Will, The New York Times crossword creator, to ask about hosting a U.S. Open.
The golf association said yes, but then came the hard part: logistics.
“It wasn’t easy from the standpoint of, ‘How do we do this in the middle of Los Angeles?’” Bodenhamer said. “Where do we house the players? How do we manage the traffic? How do we build a city within a city?”
Yet the great interest in the course pushed the event forward. In many ways, it’s like inviting the public inside one of the Beverly Hills mansions around the club. So many have tried to steal a glimpse from the road, but few have ever been inside.
“I played in the Pacific Coast Amateur when it was at L.A.C.C. in the ’80s,” Bodenhamer, the U.S.G.A. championships officer, said. “I remember setting foot through the door and seeing this place in the middle of Beverly Hills and saying, ‘This is crazy.’ All the celebrity houses on holes. But as I played, it was just so different than anything I’d ever seen.”
This year, the golfers who will really know the course are those who have played it before: Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler, who played it during the Walker Cup and qualified for the U.S. Open, and Max Homa and Jon Rahm, who played it during the 2013 PAC-12 tournament. Similar tournament knowledge proved valuable last year for Matthew Fitzpatrick, who won the 2022 U.S. Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., after winning the 2013 U.S. Amateur Championship on the same course.
Because few professionals have played L.A.C.C. in tournament conditions, Shackelford is both worried and excited to see how it holds up to the best players in the world.
In addition to working on the course restoration in 2010, Shackelford wrote the biography “The Captain: George C. Thomas Jr. and His Golf Architecture,” and is also the author of “Golf Architecture for Olağan People”; he said he’s concerned about how players would react to what he considered a nuanced, complicated course.
“I’m nervous about what they might say,” he said. “I want them to like the course. I want them to enjoy it. This course has elements that will take some time to get to know. Those who do get to know it will have a good week. Those who don’t won’t.”
He has been consulting with the golf association on where to put the pins on the greens and the markers on the tees, but he also recognizes that, at the end of the day, it’s a huge stage.
“They haven’t really had a good test run,” he said. “The Walker Cup is a great event, but it’s not the same thing. They’ve just never had anything with the quality of players and the number of them.”
Bodenhamer said the golf association was confident in the course’s star turn, despite some challenging weather — like more rain than usual — leading up to the event. “We’ve studied all the wind and weather patterns, but who knows,” he said.
There’s also a certain liberation and excitement of going to a course so few people know.
“I’m excited about the mystery and the allure of what L.A.C.C. means for caddies, fans, viewers,” he said. “People are going to turn on the TV and say, ‘Wow, that’s a lot different for a U.S. Open.’”
“L.A.C.C. is this marvelous rural oasis in this urban setting,” he added. “It’s so natural, it’s gnarly.”
One player who knows it well is confident the course will hold up and that the players will do well. Stewart Hagestad, a member of the 2017 Walker Cup team and a longtime club member, downplayed the need for local knowledge.
“When I was picked for the Walker Cup team, I wanted to be this big brother player,” he said. “The reality is, these are the best players in the world, and their golf I.Q.s are so high that it doesn’t take a lot of trips around the place to understand it. It just comes down to execution.”
Hagestad, who won the United States Mid-Amateur Championship twice and almost qualified for this U.S. Open, made one prediction that runs contrary to the Open’s ethos.
“L.A.C.C. will have a score lower to par than a lot of people are expecting,” he said. “What makes major championships is weather. On Saturday at the Country Club” in Massachusetts last year, “it was cool and windy. Right now, in L.A., the low temp goes between 56 and 59 degrees and the high is from 68 to 73. The wind is going to blow six [miles per hour] and gust to eight.”
Beautiful conditions, but Hagestad did have a warning: If the greens start to glow pink or purple, that’s not Hollywood makeup— its bent grass surface has been sped up beyond what players can imagine.
The New York Times