View To A Thrill: Roosevelt GC
As devoted denizens of the eminently affordable golf courses in the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks system, many of us have been continually surprised and delighted by the ongoing improvements and nonpareil conditioning standards of late. Chipping and putting practice areas have expanded, driving ranges are revamped and even the greens are rolling smoother and truer than ever.
What’s wrong with this picture? No complaints! The ambition and scope of the city’s golf operations are especially evident nowadays at Griffith Park, where the venerable names of George C. Thomas and Willie Watson grace the roster of architects responsible for those nearly century-old pair of 18-hole tracks. The Harding and Wilson courses can only be faulted for their popularity — don’t expect a fast round there — but both are well worth a day away from the office.
Almost forgotten in the praise lavished upon those two layouts is Roosevelt GC, a humble, nine-hole executive course which may have the best topographical bones of them all. The original course by that name was located where the stables of the Los Angeles Zoo now reside, a makeshift routing using nine holes left over from the original Griffith Park GC. Billy Bell completed a redesign in 1937 (re-dubbed Roosevelt Memorial) grassing over the oil and sand greens. And then in 1964, the whole kit and caboodle was moved to its present location below the Griffith Park Observatory.
NOW GOLFERS ARE BETTER ABLE TO SEE THE DISTANT DOWNTOWN SKYLINE AND THE ICONIC GRIFFITH PARK OBSERVATORY.
Recently, the golf division received a golden opportunity from the city’s Department of Water & Power: an offer to update Roosevelt’s antiquated irrigation system (a $2 million–plus undertaking overseen by Evergreen Environment Inc.), exchanging its freshwater system with one using recycled water — a cost-saving and eco-friendly move that will save 39 million gallons of water every year.
While they were tearing the course down to its literal roots, LA City Golf offered additional funds to do some critical updates on the course. Enter golf architect Forrest Richardson, whose consultancy helped usher in some welcome changes. The newer and improved Roosevelt opened for play in mid-June.
FUN FOR ALL
“I believe they had been talking about changing the irrigation for over a decade,” Richardson says. “The city finally got approval for that and I was asked to come in and address the features of the course, not re-designing so much as adding some flexibility to the yardage, resurfacing some tees, reconfiguring the bunkering and doing a little work on and around the greens.”
As part of that overall effort, Richardson said, “we gave them a shopping list of suggestions, beginning with the major category of tree work. The golf division head, Laura Bauernfeind, is an arborist and forester by training and was wonderful to work with in terms of the balancing act between the value of trees and the value of good turf health, views and also the strategy of the game.”
The tree removal work opened views, allowed more light and air circulation and eliminated certain invasive species. As for the indoors, the best dehumidifier in the market had to be installed to allow better air circulation. Now golfers are better able to see the distant downtown skyline (on a clear day) and the iconic Griffith Park Observatory.
Another primary concern the city had during the restoration project was making Roosevelt friendlier to a wider range of golfers than had previously called it home. A grow-the-game mantra is responsible for adding “family” tees that will amount to a total length 800 yards shorter than its current 2,496 from the tips. (Par will remain 33 for the nine holes, with six par 4s and three par 3s. Youth golfers from the park’s Tregnan Golf Academy are happy beneficiaries of said changes.
“I think that the city has its heart in the right place,” said Richardson. “They realize that golf is a customer service business and they need to provide the amenities and the quality, but also the opportunity to bring new players into the game. And that’s a big part of the Roosevelt effort — here you have this nine hole course, centrally located in the city and yet somewhat difficult for people who don’t hit the ball very far … and also for people who are brand-new to the game.”
“Now beginning golfers — or kids playing with their parents — can play the appropriate tees and have fun. Similarly, a bunch of scratch players can still have a challenging experience. We felt compelled to preserve the original routing while making the new tees, which we tucked over to the side near the tree-line. It’s a trick having a 380-yard par-4 and a 180-yard par-4 on the same course, but I think they came out well.”
All eleven bunkers were removed during the process, and five new bunkers were built, including a cigar-shaped cross-bunker on the right side of No. 4.
“We were thinking more about what the routing wanted by way of strategy and how it could be safer in some instances,” Richardson says. “But the original design and its green locations were well thought out and didn’t need to be tampered with.”
Asked if he could impart any local knowledge when it came to strategy (as in: Do all putts break away from the observatory?), Richardson chuckled. “I don’t much go in for those kinds of analyses, but I guess that if you studied the land, it might actually be true. Roosevelt is downhill from the observatory, so that might not be a bad way to go.”
In addition to a new golf experience, players will enjoy the new food and beverage program at Franklin’s Café and Market. From stem to stern, at Roosevelt GC, the legacy lives on!