Humphrey Bogart and some of his Hollywood cronies commissioned the great George C. Thomas Jr.–who designed Riviera, Bel-Air and Los Angeles North among other notable layouts–to create a golfing treasure in the Topatopa Mountains above the beach community of Ventura in 1923.
The course at Ojai Valley Inn and Spa has withstood the test of time, with a little help.
Another noted designer, Billy Bell, assisted Thomas, who said his goal in designing this course was “that the average golfer could enjoy his round without too great a penalty, and that a test must be afforded requiring the low-handicap man to play fine golf in order to secure pars.”
This classic course, which measures 6,292 yards and plays to a par of 70 with a rating of 71.0 and a slope of 132, was retooled in 1988 by noted modern designer Jay Morrish–who paid particular attention to the greens.
Mark Greenslit has been director of golf at Ojai since 1995.
Ojai hosted the Senior PGA Tour, now the Champions Tour, for seven years during the 1980s and 1990s, in addition to hosting the EMC Skills Challenge and the Michael Douglas and Friends Celebrity Tournament, two made-for-television events.
Doug Sanders and three-time Masters champion Jimmy Demaret once represented Ojai on the PGA Tour.
Winners of the FHP Health Care Classic, which was played at Ojai from 1991 to 1996, included Walter Morgan, Bruce Devlin, Jay Sigel, Al Geiberger, Bruce Crampton and Chi Chi Rodriguez.
In 1999, two holes of Thomas’ original layout that were dormant for more than 50 years were restored. The U.S. Army took over the hotel during World War II to house officers returning from overseas, and Quonset huts were placed on the back nine. When the course was handed back after the war, two of the holes had been replaced.
One of the new-old holes is a 203-yard downhill par-3 to a green guarded in front by a massive bunker complex, a gaping arroyo on the left and out of bounds right — but the green area is like a giant catcher’s glove, funneling balls toward the hole. It is a replica of a hole Thomas grew up playing at famed Pine Valley.
Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, a golf historian and a fan of George C. Thomas courses, has called the tee shot on this hole “one of the great shots in golf.”
Next is a gorgeous par-4, 403 yards uphill with a panoramic view of the mountains.
Several years ago, Ojai finished a multimillion-dollar renovation of the inn that includes a new clubhouse. The course has been reconfigured, with the two “lost” holes leading to the No. 1 handicap hole, a 442-yard uphill par-4 that now is No. 18, giving Ojai one of the most beautiful and challenging finishes anywhere.
The picturesque par-4, 358-yard second hole requires two shots over barrancas and was selected as one of the “500 Greatest Golf Holes” by Golf magazine.
The two-story, 1,645-square-foot pro shop is designed in the Spanish Colonial style of architecture with a red tile roof and white plaster walls, arches and terra cotta floor tiles.
The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa has been rated among the top hotel spas in the United States by USA Today, Golf magazine, Travel and Leisure magazine, Golf for Women magazine, Golf Illustrated magazine, Conde Nast Traveller, National Geographic Traveler magazine, Spa Finder magazine and Town & Country magazine.
The resort was first awarded the coveted Five Diamond Award for excellence in the hospitality industry and has achieved this distinguished accolade annually since 2006.
Ojai once was a hideaway for Hollywood stars such as Bogart, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth, Hoagy Carmichael, Judy Garland, Paul Newman, Lana Turner and Loretta Young.
During your stay, be sure to browse the shops in the quaint village of Ojai.
ON THE WEB: www.ojairesort.com.
–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre