A George C. Thomas Jr. classic you can play in SoCal: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

By Jason DeeganFebruary 10, 2014, 6:10 pm

The Riviera Country Club stands as architect George C. Thomas Jr.’s lasting tribute to tournament golf.

Riviera, a historic club dating to 1926 in Pacific Palisades, Calif., has hosted the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, U.S. Senior Open and its annual date with the PGA Tour, the Northern Trust Open. Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson have all won at Riviera.

Up the road sits another Thomas Jr. gem at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, only this one better suited for duffers than sweet-swinging pros. It’s not as long as Riviera. Not as celebrated. Not as tough. But to many golfers, it’s still as charming and beautiful as the game gets.

Thomas and William P. Bell designed the Ojai Country Club in 1923 in a lush valley of the Topa Topa Mountains. Its proximity to Hollywood – about 80 miles north of Los Angeles - has drawn celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Will Smith, Kevin Costner and Michael Douglas to play its fairways. Ojai’s tournament history can’t be overlooked, either. Legends Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Weiskopf, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ben Crenshaw and others have teed it up at seven Senior PGA Tour events and two EMC2 Golf Skills Challenges at Ojai. Jimmy Demaret and Doug Sanders have been resident pros.

At 6,292 yards from the tips, Ojai’s tournament days expired in the 1990s, but its greatness is best defined by who enjoys it today.

"By far the most challenging, the best maintained and the most fun of any course I have played and I have played lots," wrote Paul4545, a golfer from Van Nuys, Calif., who shared his experience in a review on GolfAdvisor. "The fairways were pure, the greens rolled true and were in incredible shape and the tee boxes were outstanding."

Modern evolution, restoration at Ojai Valley

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Ojai’s history tells a unique tale. Architect Jay Morrish renovated and strengthened the course’s challenge in 1988.

A decade later, current Ojai Director of Golf Mark Greenslit used some detective work to uncover the true evolution of the par-70 layout. Tired of errant shots bombarding the clubhouse, which sits next to the former No. 6 green, Greenslit and then-superintendent Sam Williamson began digging through old records. They discovered several holes had disappeared after World War II when the U.S. Army transformed Ojai into a training camp, stationing about 1,000 troops there from 1942-44. After the Navy used the facility from 1944-45, private ownership moved in, but several original holes on the edge of the property were forgotten.

These "lost holes" returned in 1999 after an eight-month renovation, taking the pesky sixth green out of play. The nines have been reversed since then, letting these highlight holes end the round in style. Eleven traps now frame the great view from “new” no. 16, a downhill par 3 that plays 203 yards. The tee shot from the 403-yard 17th hole flies over a cavernous ravine before the fairway bends to the right at a green guarded by sand and some overhanging trees.

During an interview just after those holes opened, Greenslit said that even though the former 5th and 6th holes were good golf holes, the new ones are even better. "Once we figured out it was just like a puzzle, the pieces fell together. It's not like we forced it. This is the way it once was."

Several other holes feature the panoramic scenery of the mountains. This sublime setting, and the comforts of the resort, provides an escape from the hectic LA life.

Guests of the Inn stay in rooms renovated in March 2013 with all the modern comforts. Most of them offer terraces. In others, fireplaces can spark up the romance. The resort’s spa and restaurants are well-regarded.

"Ojai is a unique place," Greenslit said. "Even though it is only 60 minutes from West L.A., it is unique with the mountains. It seems like a different world from anywhere else in Southern California."

Tee times this week at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa range between $59-89 on GolfNow

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.