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California reality: A local's guide to public golf around Los Angeles

Los Angeles
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Yes, there is plenty of public golf beyond the exclusive private clubs in Tinseltown. Los Angeles resident golf writer David Weiss shares where he plays around his hometown when he's not playing on the road.

Los Angeles golf was a bit of an oxymoron until about 20 years ago, when a spate of decent daily fee courses took their place between the over-played and scruffy munis and the untouchable private clubs that mere mortals only dream of playing -- especially L.A. Country Club and Riviera Country Club, the latter playing host to the Northern Trust Open on the PGA Tour.

All that has changed, thank the golf gods, and nowadays one can choose between a good double-handful of modestly priced tracks in the San Fernando Valley and Orange County when the green urge strikes. And fortunately, in an area where mild weather and copious sunshine are the norm, decent conditions rule, and business is steady for the canniest of the local operators.

At the top of that list is Moorpark's 6,988-yard Rustic Canyon Golf Club, a Gil Hanse design that has made its humble way into the august roster of best places to play by the national golf magazines. Part of the allure is in the course's fee structure: Walkers can play the course for around $40 on weekdays, and weekends only jump up to the mid-60s or so.

Cost aside, Rustic Canyon is simply a delight to negotiate, with its expansive fairways (70 yards wide on No. 1, a par 5) and smooth-rolling green complexes. Still, when the wind picks up in the early afternoon, canny club choice becomes a veteran player's ally, and the ability to hood shots and hit low runners is highly prized. RC's sandy soil and closely shaven bent-grass fairways allow one to putt from as far as 30 yards out, taking the stress out of half-wedge shots and the like.

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Those in search of a little show-biz ambiance might want to test the slow-moving waters of Rancho Park Golf Course, a historic muni right across from 20th Century Fox studios. Rancho is one of the best city-run courses anywhere, albeit far too popular and stocked to the gills with well meaning amateurs.

A 1947 William P. Bell design (as are many of the area's best layouts), it was home to 18 Los Angeles Opens and features a plaque commemorating a 12 that Arnold Palmer carded in 1961 on the par-5 ninth hole (now the 18th). Arnie hit four drives out of bounds that fateful day.

A half-hour north of the city is Angeles National Golf Club, advertised as the 'only Nicklaus Design golf course in Los Angeles County.' The fact that the architect was Gary and not Jack himself matters little -- it is one of the best new 18 holes to have come along in decades.

The greens roll fast and true, the fairways are hard and narrow, and there are forced-carries galore. They have a great driving range and practice facility, and the setting in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest is unmarred by hideous housing. It ain't cheap, but when Angeles National is in shape, it's a great place to play.

Speaking of great greens, the 36-hole Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita (about 40 minutes outside of L.A. proper) is known high and wide for the quality of their putting surfaces. Also perched next to the Angeles National Forest, both Robinson Ranch's Valley Course and Mountain Course are carved out of 400 acres of sage and chaparral, and offer some of the best views of any course in the area.

Both tracks are eminently playable, unless you count the six finishers on the Valley Course, where designers Ted Robinson (Jr. and Sr!) fashioned a narrow labyrinth of holes dubbed 'Death Row.' Bring a canteen, and watch out for rattlers.

If you're one of the brave souls willing to ford the molasses-like traffic of the fabled 405 freeway, you might want to make your way down to the Resort at Pelican Hill, where 36 holes of inspired Tom Fazio golf await the player willing to handsomely pay the piper for an oceanside location and immaculate conditions.

General Manager Steve Friedlander runs a great operation, combining unparalleled customer service with one of the best pieces of golf real estate in California. In the mood for true pampering? Check in at the five-star resort and hang your golf cap for a few days. Then hope you win the lottery to compensate for the extravagance.