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


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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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm