Rustic Canyon

6,628 yards, 128 slope from the Blues
Course:  Just about 30 minutes outside downtown Los Angeles in Moorpark, CA Ventura County, sits Rustic Canyon, a daily fee course designed by Gil Hanse.  Hanse is currently designing the Rio course for the Olympics and among others, also designed Inniscrone, a course I recently came to love after a long and tumultuous 6 or 7 rounds and a few years.  It should also be noted that Geoff Shackleford and Jim Wagner contributed significantly to the design.  Shackleford has written a great book on course design and I learned a lot from that book.  Shackleford talks a lot about the design of RC in the book, so it was interesting to actually take a gander at what I read about.  RC is an interesting course for a numbers of reasons, but can really be an example of developing an outstanding public track while keeping local residents, environmentalists and golfers every where extremely happy.  The course is indeed set in a canyon and is the natural habitat and breeding grounds for coyotes, woodland creatures, etc.  Many course developers shied away from the area because of the numerous regulations that would limit the design of the course, but Hanse and his team envisioned a minimalist design where the course was basically placed in the surroundings instead of built or constructed.  This means very little land was moved and instead, the course enhances the natural surroundings more than creating a new or different site.  It also means that many of the hazards consist of utilizing the surroundings instead of putting in water hazards or bunker complexes.  The minimalist approach to course design is nothing new and is actually what reinvigorated the design industry recently, but the amazing thing about RC is that green fees are staggeringly low; the course strives to be accessible to virtually anyone and is touted as the best value golf in the country.  I couldn’t agree more.  Going along with this theme is keeping the area open to hikers, horseback riders, etc.  I saw a bunch of both during my round.  Essentially, RC can be seen as one of the ultimate courses that melds into the environment, is unobtrusive to the local community all while providing top notch quality golf to the public.
In fact, Rustic Canyon is ranked 91st on Golf Magazine’s 2012 top 100 public courses.  The fairways meander in the canyon, along with on and around the canyon walls and features a some what open layout.  There really aren’t any trees and wind can be a major factor on a number of holes (the Fifteenth immediately comes to mind).  The greens are quite large, are extremely quick and are tough to read.  Most if not all of the greens have an apron, or false front, which is a short grass area in front of the green that spans any where from 20 – 50 yards.  This unique feature of the course provides an array of short game options once you get close to the green, yet is challenging in its own right, as some of these aprons are below severe slopes or in other areas that doesn’t necessarily make for an easy bump and run to the hole.  Most significantly, the aprons and other aspects of the course create illusions, which make you second guess many shots even though the yardage books and cart based GPS system are telling you what to do.  Just like Inniscrone, it was definitely a course I wanted to replay immediately, convinced my newfound knowledge would help shave a ton of strokes off my score.  Local knowledge is rewarded, the layout is challenging by commanding a variety of shots and presenting a number of thought provoking options and you’re hallucinating all over the place.  Yep, I had a great time.
I was visiting family in LA and our plans to go to La Quinta fell through, so I forced my Dad and Brother in law to make the trek to Moorpark for an early weekday a.m. tee time.  Aside from a long road that runs alongside the Second and Third hole, the entrance and clubhouse are very unassuming.  I hate saying this, but the entire clubhouse area had a very, well, I mean, rustic feel.  The putting green and Eighteenth hole/green dominated most of the area and beyond that, just the canyon and the course.  There were other touches as well that kind of felt Frontierland-ish to me, like the trash cans fashioned like barrels, but it’s the right thing to do to get the entire feel here.  There was no starter, marshall or any other type of course employees milling about other than the guy in the pro shop.  There were GPS in the carts though.  You simply go up to the tee when your starting time is and swing away.  The East coast weather, back injuries and work have kept me from playing all that much lately and my game acted accordingly, but I was on vacation and figured I’d get lucky a bunch of times.
The First is a 512 yard par 5.  The fairway for the opening tee shot is rather wide, allowing a generous landing area.  There is OB on the right, one of many fenced off environmentally protected areas, which runs up a good deal of the right side of the fairway.  The fairway gradually descends until it ends at a narrow and steep bunker gorge that runs along across the entire fairway.  You can’t see this from second shot territory.  Then there are greenside bunkers and deep rough directly in front of the green, or green apron.  It’s a nice opening hole, but there are enough hazards to make sure you don’t get away with anything.
Opening tee shot at the First
Second shot territory.  Most of the hazards protecting the green are not visible from here.
The Second is a 443 yard par 4.  There are trees and OB along the left side while the right side is pretty much wide open.  The risk reward element here is that there is a large bunker on the right side of the green, so deciding to tee off and go up the right side of the hole means the bunker will block your view of the green and obviously make you carry the bunker.  If you decide to cozy up to the left side and stay in bounds, your approach and view of the green is much better.  This green taught my entire group just how challenging putting would be.  Subtle undulations and lighting quickness made us scratch our heads a lot.
The Second tee area
A closer look from the Second tee area
The much easier approach and view of the green from the left side of the Second
The Third is a shorter par 4 at 308 yards.  More choices here with a great short par 4 that starts with the tee shot.  Again, right is safer, but you have a longer approach and you bring in a bunch of bunkers on that right side into play.  Left is riskier because it’s a longer shot and you have carry trouble to get there, but you’re rewarded with a shorter pitch shot to the green and really don’t have to contend with any of the scary bunkers.  It was this hole that I realized the aprons or large greens weren’t doing me any favors.  It usually meant my putts double, triple, quadruple, etc. broke to the hole, making reading my line an act of futility.
Walking up the fairway of the Third.  The hazards splitting the fairway are straight ahead.
Looking back at the fairway and tee area of the Third.  Loved how the clouds were looking in the background.
A closer look at the scary bunker bisecting the fairway.  Scary.
The Fourth is the first par 3 at 152 yards.  There are large bunker areas to the left and short right of the green, but the green is so big that getting it on wasn’t that tough.  No, the big challenge came with the putting, as the pin placement and slopes made for extremely difficult putting.  Practice putting on the greens before your round.  A lot.
The Fourth
The green at the Fourth.  Looks harmless enough from here…
The Fifth stretches out again to a 545 yard par 5.  It is the number 1 handicapped hole, which is well deserved, by the way.  It’s at this point during the round the routing got my attention and I looked at the scorecard.  Only 3 par 4’s on the front 9, because there are 3 par 3’s and 3 par 5’s as well.  Personally, I find par 4’s tougher to score on than 3’s and 5’s, so I was ok with this.  But with two 5’s in the first 5 holes, you don’t have a whole lot of time to get in a rhythm.  At any rate, you tee off to a generous fairway that sits at a 1:00 angle to the tee.  There are waste areas to the left and right of the fairway.  The hole is generally a dog leg left, but there is a wash, or dry river bed, that complicates matters on your second shot.  The further left you go on your tee shot, the shorter it will be to carry the wash, but your view of the green is non existent, whereas going up the right side means more distance but a clearer view.  The wash is pretty significant, so plan accordingly.  The green is no picnic either, as the entire left side of it slopes down to a short grass bail out area.  The bail out area is tough to play and the slope makes any putt towards it dangerous, as there is a risk that your ball will going down the slope if your putt is too strong.  A great hole that pretty much personifies what Rustic is all about.
Tee shot at the Fifth
Second shot territory.  The wash is to the left while the green is straight ahead.
The Fifth green with the dreaded slope.  The photo doesn’t capture just how steep the slope is.
The Sixth is a 200 yard par 3.  In all honesty, we played from the Whites, where this hole played 128 yards, so this hole was much different for us.  The Blues are set back behind a waste area that you must carry whereas the Whites just have a little jut to deal with between the tee and green.  The backdrop of the hole is the canyon wall, which provides a nice view from the tee area.  The green is quite large with substantial undulations, but anything too far left, right or long will be dead.
The Sixth
A closer look at the green complex at the Sixth
The Seventh is a 338 yard par 4.  Your tee shot must carry a waste area to the fairway that is about a 2:00 angle from the tee, but runs diagonally at 11:00 towards the green.  Left is deader than dead, but there is an alternative route to the green if your tee shot to the left is short.  You’re left with a blocked view of the green that must carry a lot of brush, but it is an option for those not confident in their tee shot.  Anything dead straight to even short right is fine, so I’d probably go that route every time.  The green is somewhat raised and is protected by some severe sunken bunkers.  Pin placement was a killer for us, as the hole was on a ridge that ran on the lower side of the front of the green.  A short yet tough par 4.
The tee shot at the Seventh
The Seventh green
The Eighth gives you the shortest par 3 on the course, at 117 yards.  There is a waste area between the tee and the green until you get to the front of the green, where deep rough and scattered bunkers protect any short shots.  The green is wide but some what shallow, so you really need a pretty accurate tee shot here to avoid falling off the green.  Wind factors in here too, so really pay attention to what the wind is doing, as you could need a few club ups to reach the green.  I learned that lesson the hard way, as I hit my ball at the pin, it never strayed and I thought it would be very good….until it fell like a rock in the front hillside of the green.  Glory once again snatched from the jaws of defeat.
The Eighth
The Ninth is a 518 yard par 5, leading back to the clubhouse.  The Ninth is a great example of the minimalist approach here, as you can tell much of the natural contours of the fairway and green were left alone, literally placing grass over the canyon floor.  It’s a straightaway hole, so knock it straight and long.  This is one hole where the whole illusion thing got to me.  I hit my approach to what I thought was the green, thinking I had maybe a 10 foot putt left.  Once I got to my ball, it apparently rolled down a slope off the front of the green onto the apron, leaving me with a 50 yard shot to the pin. The green generally runs back to front, so it was a tough shot.  From then on, my rule was to play everything long.  It seemed to work.  There is a bunker on the front right of the green you should pay attention to.  Otherwise, long and straight is the mantra for this one.
Tee shot at the Ninth
Approach shot at the Ninth
A closer look at the Ninth green and the bunker in front of the apron
The unique routing stuck out for me on the front 9 and I liked the way it came together.  Lots of decisions and risk reward options along with a stern test of putting.
Ranking the front 9, I would go 5, 3, 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 6, 9.
The front 9 was a struggle for me.  I had some mis hits, but even good shots were not turning out well and putting was substandard.  Part of it was definitely the course, as it demanded you deliver on some shots, or else.  Back issues and the weather back East prevented me from playing all that much the last month and a half, but all of that was cured when my brother in law smartly ducked in the grill room to get us some swing oil.  It worked like a charm and with that, we took on the back 9.
The Tenth is a 546 yard par 5.  Yep, back to back par 5’s and the fourth of the round.  There is a carry for your second shot over some bunkers, but the fairway is straight away to a rectangular green where a row of bunkers are set along its right side.  The green is known as the lap pool, as it’s shaped like half a punch bowl, with the front being open ended.  A nice hole I wish I took more photos of, but I was starting to play better.
Proceeding to the tee at the Tenth.
Looking back towards the tee of the Tenth from the carry area
The Eleventh is a 430 yard par 4.  The fairway is narrow, compared to the others here, and a some what longer approach shot is tough due to the narrow and long green that slopes from back to front and trouble along the sides.  And the back of the green cuts off almost immediately to a slope with deep rough, which leads to desert wasteland.  One of the tougher approach shots on the back 9.
Tee shot at the Eleventh
The Eleventh fairway.  It’s narrow, but the rough isn’t that bad
Approach shot at the Eleventh.  Accuracy is essential for survival.
Looking back at the Eleventh fairway from the green.  Notice how the rough gets real deep around the green as opposed to the light stuff off fairway
The Twelfth is a 325 yard par 4.  It’s a dog leg left, but you’re able to get as close to the turn as you can for a shorter approach shot.  There is a large bunker at the inside of the dog leg along with a larger bush, to keep you from trying to cut too much of the dog leg off.  The green mounds all over the place, so it is the main defense for this hole.  More illusion tricks here, as you can;t really see the green from the tee, so you follow the fairway to realize the hole turns left and tee off with that scant knowledge.
Tee shot at the Twelfth.  
Approach shot territory at the Twelfth.  The inside of the dog leg is adequately protected.
The Thirteenth is a 546 yard par 5.  The canyon wall runs along the right side of the hole while a wide fairway dog legs slightly left.  There are some very strategically placed bunkers throughout the hole which come into play on every shot.  There’s a principal’s nose some what in the center of the fairway for the well struck tee shots that makes you decide whether you want to proceed down the left or right side of the fairway.  Pin placement is vital, as the green is enormous, so the pin affects how you approach the entire hole.  The green is shaped like a boomerang and literally boomerangs around a bunker that is more or less in the center of the green.  I liked this hole for many reasons.  It was a very clean, sharp with very distinct features.  Some have compared this hole to the Tenth at the legendary Riviera course, as that hole also runs through a canyon and features a boomerang green with a bunker sitting in the green.  Riviera is surely on my bucket list and if its Tenth is anything like this hole, I gotta figure out how to get out there.
Tee shot at the Thirteenth
Tee shot landing area to the right of the Principal bunker.  Bunkers strategically placed to make you plan your shots carefully
Approach shot territory of the Thirteenth.  The bunker in the middle of the green juts out and is visible from out here
The Thirteenth green.  Stupid finger getting in the way.  A very nice looking green regardless
The Fourteenth is on the other side of the canyon and is a 446 yard par 4.  Probably the most blatant dog leg on the course.  An elevated tee box puts the entire hole into view, which looks pretty clear of any hazards.  That is true for the most part, but the fairway slopes severely from right to left, the wind is known to scream across and along the fairway and the green is a tad faster than usual.  There is a deep ridge bunker short and right of the green, and it is hidden from some areas on the fairway depending on where your tee shot ends up.  
The Fourteenth tee
Approach shot at the Fourteenth
The Fifteenth is a 138 yard par 3 that is deceptively much longer than its shown yardage.  The hole runs back up the canyon wall and is much steeper than it appears from the tee area.  The wind comes over the canyon wall and is a hefty head wind, which makes your ball drop like a rock.  The green also slopes from back to front, AND there’s a 20 yard apron in front of the green that makes any ball on the front of the green roll that much further back to the tee area.  There are also bunkers on the back side of the green, just to make sure you don’t try to overpower the hole.  The natural defenses to this short par 3 is a great example of Hanse using the landscape to work for the hole.  In time, I could see the wind smoothing out the green and ridges, making it even more imperative to hit a healthy shot that can stop on a dime.
The Fifteenth.  Horse trails behind the green and a hole that basically melds into its natural surroundings.  Or a bad photo.  You decide.
A closer look at the Fifteenth green
The Sixteenth is a 466 yard par 4.  The hole descends the canyon wall as a dog leg left.  You may have noticed, or at least I did, we’re dealing with a lot of lefts and very little, if any, rights.  I believe that’s due to the holes running counter clockwise from and back to the clubhouse.  At any rate, there’s an illusion alert on this one as well, as it appears as if the dog leg is hiding a large part of the left side of the fairway on the other side of the ridge.  Well, it is not.  As such, I thought my tee shot carrying the dog leg on the inside would find the fairway on the other side and roll down just short of the green, for a short chip to the pin.  It did not.  In fact, my tee shot went OB left, as there is NO room on the left.  So really, what you see is what you get.  The fairway seamlessly transitions into the green, and then seamlessly transitions into a drop off into deep rough on the back side.  Alas, I patted myself on my back for a little bump and run towards the pin a little too soon, as the ball kept going, eventually running off the back side of the green and leaving me with a severe uphill pitch shot out of deep rough. This hole certainly had my number.
The Sixteenth fairway.  Don’t be fooled by the ridge on the left; there is no fairway on the other side.
The Sixteenth green.
A closer look
A look back up the Sixteenth fairway
The Seventeenth is the last par 3 of the round, at 161 yards.  This is the Eighteenth handicapped hole and it came at a nice time for me in the round.  Probably the best chance at the old hole in one and you should be warmed up enough to give it a go.  I hit my shot pin high, but above the pin on the fringe.  Your tee shot must carry a little bit of wasteland and just be aware that the green slopes towards the canyon wall.  
The Seventeenth
The Eighteenth is a 437 yard par 4.  The hole proceeds to the clubhouse in the same direction as you left on the First hole, feeling like you’ve come full circle.  The hole is little downhill, not much, but straight.  Keep your ball straight, as there is massive trouble off both sides of the fairway up to the green in form of bunkers and nasty rough.  The practice green is just of the back side of the green, so if you hit your approach too far, you could technically have a 100 yard putt from the practice green area.  The green felt a little tamer than some of the others, which set up a nice ending to a terrific course.
The Eighteenth.  You can see trouble lurking on both sides, so keep it straight!
The Eighteenth green looking back at the fairway.
The back 9 has a few more par 4’s than the front and the par 3’s may not have been as strong as on the front.  Regardless, there wasn’t a hole I thoroughly enjoyed playing, even the Sixteenth when it beat me about the head and laughed about it.  Ranking the back, I’d go 13, 12, 10, 14, 16, 18, 11, 15, 17.
Generally, Rustic Canyon is a very strategic course that uses its natural surroundings to provide challenge and options on nearly every hole.  The minimalist design allows you to enjoy the scenery as it was before the course was ever here, as the canyon walls, canyon ground and the wash channel that runs through the canyon are all clearly visible and incorporated into the design.  Most significant is the value here.  Just look at the green fees of the other ranked public courses to understand how special it is that this place is priced like a municipal.  The strategy and challenge allows infinite replays that likely reveal a different course each time.  The surrounding hiking and horse trails allows others to enjoy the canyon, as well as the scenery of the course.  Local golfers are rewarded with a top caliber course they won’t get bored of for the price they would pay for a muni while non golfers are rewarded with an improved natural setting to enjoy.  A great relationship between the course and local community, which hopefully is an example for other courses to be built on a limited budget while endearing itself to its natural surroundings and inhabitants.
The putting green practice area and the range are maintained nicely, but there was no cart girl, at least the day I was there.  No matter, I can appreciate the no frills, as it’s all about the course here and that should be the focus of the round.  
For anyone that lives in the area, I am jealous.  But I will be back, as this just earned its way on my short list of So Cal courses to play when I’m visiting.  
Gripes:  Greens could be a tad slower, the hats really didn’t blow me away and I could see the lack of a ranger being a problem on some occasions.  
Bar/grill:  Nice open area with indoor and outdoor seating and a nice television with leather seats directly in front of it.  And Newcastle on tap.
Clubhouse:  Also a nice size with a healthy amount of equipment and clothing.  A tv is in play with leather chairs as well.  Can I just ask to turn off the lights and lock the door when I’m done napping?
Practice area:  Putting green and range.  Practice putting a lot before your round.
Getting there:  The 118 (Reagan) either East or West, depending on where you’re coming from.
Nearby:  Simi Valley and Moorpark.

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