By Randy Youngman
Historically one of the oldest, most exclusive and publicity-shy clubs in the United States, Los Angeles Country Club will soon swing open its private gates to the public—and to a national TV audience—when the 123rd U.S. Open Championship is contested on LACC’s North Course over Father’s Day weekend this June.
Though the 36-hole club is located in the heart of Los Angeles, with views of the towering office buildings that comprise the nearby Beverly Hills skyline, the 325-acre golf property is hidden from traffic along busy Wilshire Boulevard and easy to drive past without knowing it. The entrance is understated and unobtrusive, with no signs trumpeting your arrival—only a tall white pillar acting as a lone sentry near the access road and a small, two-legged sign bearing the numerical street address: 10101.
This is by design. Los Angeles Country Club, established in 1897 and relocated twice before reopening at its current location in 1911, has protected its privacy over the years, carefully screening and choosing its members in pursuit of maintaining a low profile.
For decades, Hollywood celebrities have been flocking to join nearby private clubs such as Riviera Country Club, Bel-Air Country Club and Lakeside Golf Club, but LACC initially had a reputation for steering away from well-known figures in the entertainment industry
Among the very few famous LACC members over the years included former President Ronald Reagan, former Dodgers owners Walter and Peter O’Malley, broadcaster Keith Jackson, former football stars Gene Washington and Pat Haden and World Golf Hall of Famer Fred Couples.
For many years, the U.S. Golf Association also had pursued LACC as a venue for its national championship, or another high-profile event, but the overtures were unsuccessful until the culture of the club began changing in recent years, in part because of an influx of younger members and, particularly, to showcase the course after the spectacular 2010 North Course restoration by architect Gil Hanse.
“There has been an increasing feeling by the members dating back 20 years or so that the club wanted to become more involved with the community and the SCGA,” said Richard Shortz, a longtime LACC member, past club president and current co-chair of the club’s U.S. Open Committee.
The first high-profile, post-renovation USGA event approved by the club, by vote of the LACC Board in 2009, was the 2017 Walker Cup Matches, a prestigious biennial event of the top amateurs from the U.S. competing against an amateur team from Great Britain & Ireland. It was the first USGA-sanctioned event at LACC since the 1954 U.S. Junior Championship, providing many in the public their first glimpse behind the hedges to see what makes the critically acclaimed George C. Thomas design (No. 10 on Golf magazine’s 2022-23 list of the “Top 100 Courses in the U.S.”) so special.
“Historically,” then-club President Paul Major said in 2017 before the Walker Cup, “it wasn’t something we had been open to. But membership was overwhelmingly in favor of it. There’s a lot of pride in the property.”
The Walker Cup (a 19-7 U.S. romp led by Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa) proved an unqualified success and, as Shortz noted, “was certainly a springboard for future events with the USGA.”
The opportunity to host this year’s U.S. Open evolved from those USGA discussions during Walker Cup planning meetings a decade ago, but the scale of the Open required a vote of the 1,500 members in 2014. Shortz was president of the club then, and he remembers the genesis of those U.S. Open negotiations came during a round of golf in 2013, when he and the LACC general manager teed it up on the North Course with USGA executives Tom O’Toole and Glen Nager.
“After the round, Tom and I met quietly in our locker room and discussed hosting a future (U.S.) Open,” Shortz recalled in March. “That was the start of 18 months of discussions with Tom and (then-USGA executive director) Mike Davis that resulted in an agreement to host the 2023 Championship. . . We are glad we made the decision to go forward.”
This will be the first U.S. Open in Los Angeles in 75 years, since Ben Hogan won the title at Riviera Country Club in 1958. It will also be the first professional tour event at LACC since the 1940 Los Angeles Open.
LA Country Club also was the site of the inaugural Los Angeles Open in 1926, shortly before George C. Thomas and William P. Bell oversaw major renovations in 1927-28. In addition, LACC hosted the 1930 U.S. Women’s Open and three more LA Opens in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Until now, the closest LACC came to hosting a U.S. Open was when then-club President Charles Older led a campaign to bring the 1986 Open to the North Course, but the board reportedly voted it down, 5-4
That was then. Now, as Shortz said, members are embracing the exposure as the club prepares for its week in the national spotlight.
“The excitement for the 2023 Championship became palpable at the club as soon as the (2022 U.S. Open) Championship at The Country Club was completed (last summer),” Shortz said. And the USGA obviously is excited about the venue, too, as attested by the announcement this past October that the 2032 U.S. Women’s Open and 2039 U.S. Open also are coming to LACC. Members voted “overwhelmingly in favor” of both events, Shortz added.
More evidence that LA Country Club is becoming “more community-oriented,” Shortz says, are the initiatives in which the club is partnering with the Southern California Golf Association and USGA.
LACC made a significant contribution to the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation after the Walker Cup and has been hosting play days for 36 juniors from their award-winning programs since then.
Shortz says LACC, the USGA and SCGA also have “embarked upon a major fundraising campaign benefiting the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation, which will have a lasting impact on junior golfers in Southern California by creating opportunities in underrepresented areas of Los Angeles and SoCal designed to make golf more inclusive, diverse, accessible and affordable.”
Toward that end, Shortz says LACC is working with the County of Los Angeles to explore ways to expand SCGA programming at the 9-hole Maggie Hathaway course in south LA “and restore the course to allow greater golf course utilization by juniors with a new community center for learning.”
“These programs and others are a direct result of bringing the Open Championship to Los Angeles and provides an opportunity for our organizations to impact generations of young people in the world of golf,” Shortz said.
Turns out, one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the country is helping the sport become more inclusive through hosting the U.S. Open Championship.
It soon will be time for Los Angeles Country Club to open its private gates for all to enjoy