Coming Attractions: Prepping For The 2023 Open At LACC
As Torrey Pines South prepares for the U.S. Open Golf Championship in June, another iconic Southern California golf club is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to open its private gates to the golf world.
That would be the storied The Los Angeles Country Club, whose members are already planning for the 2023 U.S. Open, which will be contested on the club’s historic North Course, site of the inaugural Los Angeles Open nearly a century ago.
It is noteworthy in itself that the U.S. Open is coming to LACC, because the club had turned down several previous overtures from the USGA over the years, including a bid that reportedly fell one vote short of being approved by the club’s board of directors as the venue for the 1986 U.S. Open.
One of the oldest clubs in Southern California, LACC historically has also been one of the most exclusive and most publicity- shy clubs in this slice of paradise.
How exclusive? There are published reports that it once turned down a membership application from a golf fanatic named Bing Crosby, even though his home on Mapleton Drive backed up to the 14th fairway on the North Course. Another anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, is that comedian and avid golfer Groucho Marx was also turned away, after which he supposedly quipped, “I would not want to join any club that would have me as its member.”
And, of course, Hugh Hefner had little chance of becoming an LACC member, given the loud pool parties at his notorious Playboy Mansion that caused frequent commotion behind the tall foliage bordering the North Course’s 13th green. (Since Hef’s death in 2017, the mansion has undergone a massive renovation under a new billionaire owner.)
It is difficult to keep a low profile when you have a 36-hole, 325-acre golf property in the middle of Beverly Hills — on land once valued at $3 billion — but LACC has carefully screened and chosen its members over the years in pursuit of that goal. Even the entrance to the club is understated — you could easily drive right by while looking for it. There are no signs trumpeting your arrival, only a tall white pillar that acts as a lone sentry near the access road off Wilshire Boulevard, along with a small, white plaque bearing the numerical street address.
For decades, Hollywood celebrities have flocked to join nearby private clubs such as Riviera CC, Bel-Air CC and Lakeside GC, but the glitterati were not welcome at The Los Angeles CC.
In recent years, however, the culture of the club has slowly changed, and this has allowed local golf fans to watch events at LACC and finally get a glimpse behind the hedges to see what makes the critically acclaimed George C. Thomas design (No. 19 on Golf Digest’s 2019-20 list of “America’s Greatest Golf Courses”) so special.
One major change was architect Gil Hanse’s 2010 restoration of the North Course. The results were so spectacular that the LACC membership subsequently voted to show off the renovated course to the world with several high-profile events.
In 2013, the Pac-12 Men’s Golf Championship was played on the North, with Cal’s Max Homa shooting a courserecord 61 in the first round, which paved the way to his victory in the individual competition and helped lead Cal to the team title. (It would be Homa’s biggest win in L.A. until his victory in the 2021 Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club this past February.)
Then, in September 2017, the LACC gates swung open to the public, and a national TV audience, for the first time in more than six decades, when the North Course hosted the 46th Walker Cup, a prestigious biennial event that pits top amateurs from the U.S. against their amateur compatriots from Great Britain & Ireland. The Walker Cup was the first USGA-sanctioned event at LACC since the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, and it was an unqualified success. Spider Miller’s U.S. team rolled to a 19-7 victory over GB&I, with USC alumnus Stewart Hagestad, a junior club member at LACC, fittingly providing the clinching point.
“It’s a big deal to open up our club (to the public), and it’s something we haven’t done very (often),” then-LACC club president Paul Major said during a 2017 interview. “But membership has been very enthusiastic about these (USGA) events. There’s a lot of pride in the property, and the way the course renovation came out — even better than the high expectations we had — is a big part of it.”
The LACC board of directors voted in 2009 to allow the club to host the 2017 Walker Cup. And it was discussions with the USGA that evolved from subsequent Walker Cup planning meetings that ultimately led to 1,500 LACC members voting in 2015 to approve the 2023 U.S. Open on the North Course.
“The USGA had asked in the past, on a number of occasions, if the membership had an interest in hosting the U.S. Open,” Major said in 2017. “We didn’t know what the membership would think. Historically, it wasn’t something that we and they had been open to. But membership was very enthusiastic about hosting the national championship on our golf course — overwhelmingly so. It’s a once-in-a-generation experience.”
And now, two years from the biggest event ever contested on the grounds, the countdown to the 2023 U.S. Open continues. Michael Beam, LACC’s general manager and chief operating officer, politely declined comment for this story, saying the focus now should be on the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. But committees have been formed and logistical planning is underway at LACC. Momentum, as they say, is building toward the first U.S. Open to be played in Los Angeles since the 1948 Open won by Ben Hogan at Riviera Country Club.