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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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”