Friendly Hills Country Club in the hills above Whittier has been recognized as one of the finest tests of golf in the San Gabriel Valley from the day it opened in 1968.
And newcomers who will play the intriguing layout this year as it celebrates its 50th anniversary will be faced with virtually the same challenges that golf course architect Jimmy Hines gave those golfers who played it on opening day.
Hines’ masterpiece, virtually unchanged, features dramatic elevation changes, creative switchbacks, huge sloping greens and bunkering shapes that include design features that were ahead of their time.
“Jimmy played in several Masters, and was also on the Ryder Cup team, and not a lot of people know that,” Jay Prestella, head pro at Friendly Hills, told Fore Magazine. “And I think his architecture is influenced a little bit by Augusta National. You can see it in the type of greens he put in here.”
About the only noticeable change to the course from that first day was the expansion of the unique island tee on the first hole, although there have been a few other minor tweaks here and there that only regulars at the course might notice.
However, on the drawing board is a full bunker renovation being overseen by architect Casey O’Callaghan.
The biggest changes from the club’s beginning were construction of the classic Contemporary California clubhouse in 1974 and the near doubling of that structure in 1987. The original 1968 clubhouse remains in use, housing club offices.
Hines’ classic course plays to a par of 70 over 6,412 yards from the back tees, with a 136 slope and 71.5 rating. For recreational golfers, it’s very playable at 6,112 from the white tees and 5,645 from the reds.
“It’s the longest 6,400 yards you’ll ever play,” Prestella said.
The course grabs the golfer’s attention from the start with that island first tee and the opening hole is one of two par-5s on the course, measuring 567 yards uphill from the tips.
The bunkers on the right can be in play off the tee, but beware of the creek on the left. Use one more club on the approach to the elevated green and try to stay below the hole.
The par-4 4th, rated No. 1 on the card, plays 458 yards from the blues downhill to a well-bunkered green, often into the wind, but this hole is a treat on clear days with Catalina Island visible in the distance.
No. 8 is a picturesque downhill par-3 at 173 yards from the back to a green surrounded by trees and six bunkers. One less club usually is the play, although check the wind before deciding and you might wind up with a birdie opportunity.
The 15th hole is the shortest of the two par-5s, playing 499 yards from the blues, but the tee shot is fairly tight with trees on the right, and water comes into play on the second shot on the right and front of the green. The prudent play is to lay up on the second shot and play for birdie with an accurate approach to a two-tiered green that slopes severely from back to front.
The 393-yard 18th hole provides a dramatic finish, with a bunker down the left side of a fairway that slopes from the right toward a lake further down on the left. Go too far to the right and a tall tree stands in the path to a green protected by water on the left and behind.
Time has not changed the golf experience on this gorgeous property once owned by Pio Pico, California governor in the mid-1800’s, and Friendly Hills Country Club is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California from the 57, 91, 605, 60 and 5 freeways.
And it’s just as friendly as it was 50 years ago.