6,597 yards, 136 slope from the Blues

Course:  About an hour north of downtown Los Angeles at the base of the foothills that comprise Angeles National Forest lies Angeles National Golf Club, in Sunland, CA.  It’s the only public course designed by Jack Nicklaus in the LA area and opened in 2004.

As I was driving to the course, a wave of familiarity washed over me, as I realized my high school was only a few miles from the course and that our home cross country course was even closer.  It then dawned on me that I very likely ran through the area where the course now sits on more than one occasion.  Of course, this was almost a decade before the course came to be, having not been in the area for several years, it felt good to get back to the foothills as we called them.

Angeles National provides a nice upscale golf experience for the LA public course scene.  While the private courses in the LA area are remarkable, the public scene is an interesting one, as the demand clearly outweighs the supply, yet some courses are still having a hard time surviving for a number of reasons, including water shortages, keeping players away with baffling green fees and/or over ambitious development plans that simply did not pan out as intended.  Then there are a number of courses that are clearly overcrowded, even resorting to five-somes as a way to get more players out.  Green fees might be reasonable and many of the municipals are well designed classics, but 5+ hour rounds are the norm.  For those who want a nice public course with less crowds, there are a handful of courses and resort courses with green fees on the upper end of the scale, upwards of $200.  Some are worth it, some are not.  And value is a rare thing, as there are a number of 3 digit green fee courses that are simply terrible, but some how justify their green fees because people keep paying it.  While Rustic Canyon is the gold standard of public course value golf and is not all that far away from Angeles National, most public courses have not caught on and when trying to figure out where to play when I’m in southern California, it’s usually a matter of deciding between the lesser of evils between spending too much, overly long rounds or driving distance.

With that, I decided to give Angeles National a try.  While the green fee was on the higher side of what I usually pay, it was not in the egregious range.  I was interested in a playing a well designed course with respectable conditions without slogging through a 6-hour round.  While Rustic Canyon fits that bill, I wanted to see what else the LA landscape of public courses had to offer.  Based on my round here, Angeles National is certainly a solid option and its green fee is justified.  And who knows, you might see guys like Will Farrell and Don Cheadle hanging around, as apparently they have been known to frequent the course on occasion.  With its impressive Spanish mission style clubhouse, great service and terrific conditioning, Angeles National provides a country club atmosphere for the public golfing set.

Back of the clubhouse and putting green

As for the course, it’s a desert style design where native brush surrounds most holes, a lot of which are environmentally protected areas and considered OB.  The terrain rolls moderately and while fairways are sufficiently wide to accommodate most skill levels, the course is not very tolerant of shots hit too far offline laterally.  There are several lines that can be taken to each green, a lot of forced carries and the greens are firm and fast.  Bunkering varies depending on the hole, but is used creatively and sometimes is the prominent feature of a hole.  It’s a challenging and difficult course, but not in any ridiculous way.  You can certainly grind your way around the course if your A game didn’t show up but in no way shape or form will the course tolerate a lack of execution and those who tend to slice or hook need to adjust their stance or it will be a long day.  There are no homes whatsoever along the course and the scenery of the nearby foothills is incredible, especially when a few clouds linger in the valley, which seem to appear just high enough to touch from the fairways.

Fortunately for me, my game was in pretty good shape when I showed up for my round and after playing well on the course, I felt a nice sense of accomplishment.

The First is a 381 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  With the foothills in the background you start the round off straight away to the fairway, which is moderately wide with bunkers on the left that also shield a view of the green, which is set off on that side.  Right center is the play for an approach shot to the raised green of a fairly good size, although a bunker on the right guards the green on that side.  A fine starting hole, but like most of the course, can bite you in a hurry if you hit it in the wrong places.

The First

Approach shot territory from the left side of the fairway

The Second is a 562 yard par 5.  And with that, the course throws you in the fire, your game needs to be firing on all cylinders or spend the rest of the round digging out of a big score.  This par 5 starts with a forced carry over a scrag area to a fairway that’s o the narrow side.  The fairway then turns right and ascends to the green with the occasional bunker popping up.  What makes it tough is that it’s narrow, it’s twisting and long.  And there really is not that much forgiveness off to the sides.  So just hit it long and straight and you should have a good chance at par….

The Second

Second shot territory

The Third is a 177 yard par 3.  Easing up a little, this one shotter is another forced carry to a green hat slopes from back to front.  There is a bunker hiding on the right front of the green.  The green is a challenge on this one, so although the green is fairly large, getting it close to the pin is important.

The Third

The Fourth is a 396 yard par 4.  A bit of a breather from the first three holes, the fairway is all in front of you and aside from a bunker on the left, is somewhat mild up to the green, where bunkers protect the green.  While too far on either side is still a lot of trouble, recovery shots are not that difficult and the green is receptive.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 378 yard par 4.  The holes going towards the foothills provide such a spectacular backdrop and frames the holes quite well.  The tee shot is a forced carry over native area and with a large mound on the left and left center, the fairway curves off to the right and begins sloping that way, pushing overambitious shots towards that side into trouble.  The green is wide and sits perpendicular to the fairway while larger bunkers sit below the green on both sides.  There’s also a run off area on the left side of the green on the other side of the bunker.  I thought it was a fun hole, especially from the approach shot in.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

The Sixth is a 416 yard par 4.  The fairway presents a smaller target area and the fairway ends into native area, with the green on the other side.  The length of the forced carry makes it mandatory to get in good position off the tee, or else you will likely have to lay up before the carry.  It’s a fairly tough hole after the fun and refreshing Fourth and Fifth.

The Sixth

The Seventh is a 164 yard par 3.  Another forced carry where much of the green is hidden from the tee, although the green is quite complex, which funnels towards the front and folds on either side.  There are some short grass collection areas on the sides of the greens, which helps for those who stray too far off line.  

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 494 yard par 5.  The forced carry tee shot is set at an angle, at about 1:00, with bunkers on the left.  You can’t see t from the tee, but the fairway actually ends in tee shot range, so pay attention to yardage and bear in mind that the second shot needs to set up the third shot more than anything else.  The approach shot is to a smaller green and with a couple pot bunkers along the front right, hitting in the correct area on the green, preferably form a line where the bunkers stay out of play.  The approach shot is one of my favorite on the course, mainly because it requires a good amount of finesse.

The Eighth

Moving down the fairway

A look at the green just short of it

The Ninth is a 446 yard par 4.  A dog leg right, you don’t have to worry about a forced carry shot here; it’s on the second shot instead, as the fairway ends with the pitched green surrounded by bunkers on the other side.  As we have seen throughout the front nine, the aerial game is preferred here and oftentimes required, so another approach shot with a good amount of precision is necessary to avoid the trouble and have a chance at par or birdie.  The green runs from back to front significantly as well.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

Generally, the front nine features significant bunkering, several forced carry shots that require a proficient aerial game and a good amount of penalty if your ball strays too far on either side.  The par 5’s stuck out as strong, especially the Eighth, while the other holes did well at maintaining a consistent theme while presenting a nice range of challenge.  Ranking them, I would go 8, 2, 5, 6, 9, 3, 1, 7, 4.

The back nine starts with the 429 yard par 4 Tenth.  Going in the same direction as the First, the back nine loops closer to the foothills than the front nine.  As for the Tenth, the green is tucked away on the right side, so while any tee shot in the fairway will be fine, the further left you are the more of a view of the green you will have, as a ridge blocks its view, especially from the right side.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 293 yard par 4.  This short par 4 offers a bevy of options off the tee and while there is trouble towards the green, it’s worth the risk.  The fairway is narrow, however, so your straightest club might be the best off the tee as opposed to the longest.  The green is receptive to more than the aerial game, depending on where you approach, which sets itself apart from the majority of the greens here.  With the foothills serving as the direct backdrop and a short par 4 allowing some strategy and creativity off the tee and around the greens, it’s a fun hole.

The Eleventh

The green

The Twelfth is a 120 yard par 3.  Unfortunately, I was licking my chops too much and forgot to snap some photos.  It’s a short par 3 with the green sitting a little below the tee to a green that’s narrow yet deep and runs from back to front.  A good scoring hole, just be sure to hit the green since there is little beyond the immediate area that will allow for a decent recovery shot.

The Thirteenth is a 474 yard par 5.  This is a great par 5 and I don’t think my photos do it justice.  Off the tee, you are angled at the fairway with a view of the right side blocked out.  One aspect of the course I found baffling were the wood chip areas, which are on the left side of the hole off the tee, under the trees.  It’s a free drop if your ball lands in them.  At any rate, there’s a bunker to contend with towards the center off the tee, but the real fun starts on the second shot.  A large waste bunker is off to the right and leads to the green.  The punch-bowl green is actually sunken from the fairway, so advancing up the left side of the hole means the green will be blind.  One of the fun parts of the hole is using the slopes around the green to get the ball close to the hole.  It was one of my favorite holes on the course and wish I saw as much originality present here on more of the course.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The green

The Fourteenth is a 199 yard par 3.  While a long par 3, there is sufficient forgiveness around the green to receive an array of shots, just avoid the large bunker on the right.  There’s also bail out room on the left, which gives you a pitch shot back uphill to the green.  Again with the foothills looming, the scenery is inspiring and this is a well done longer par 3.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 418 yard par 4.  The fairway is somewhat divided by an upper half on the left and lower section on the right.  The upper gives you a better view of the green.  The approach is to an elevated green that is on the small side and runs from back to front.  It’s a much more difficult hole than it appears at first blush, mainly because of the narrow beveled fairway and smaller green, making the margin of error almost nil.  At this point in the round, however, you should be up for the challenge.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 507 yard par 5.  This hole is called, “Domino,” because one bad shot confounds the next and on and on it goes, leading to a bad score.  I’d say a lot of holes here have that effect.  Cross bunkers greet the tee shot, followed by a row of bunkers bisecting the fairway.  On the other side, the fairway leads up to the green to what I call a sliver bunker, which is widest on the left side before running diagonally closer to the green, creating a forced carry for most shots to a generous green.  Take your medicine on this hole and don’t get lured into the hero shot, otherwise the domino will claim victim!

The Sixteenth

Moving down the fairway

A look at the green and bunker slivers

The Seventeenth is a 366 yard par 4.  A hard dog leg right, lots of temptation awaits on this hole form the tee, as the green can be seen off to the right and below, so why not try to get it out there for a little wedge shot in?  The reward certainly meets the risk, so if you’re feeling good with driver off the tee, it may be worth trying to cut as much off the leg as possible.  Of course, the smart play is mid iron straight out with a longer approach shot in.  It’s a nice variation of the traditional Cape hole, provokes strategy and can be played a number of different ways.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 377 yard par 4.  Another hole where I forgot to take photos.  And it’s a shame, as this hole is a lot different, as water is prominent, first as a forced carry hazard from the tee, then as it encroaches on most of the fairway leading up to the green, making almost all approach shots forced carries to the green.  One of the reasons for the lack of photos is I nailed my second shot and thought I’d be sitting pretty, but learned it ended up in the drink, as I had no idea how much it came over to the right.  The green gives you a send off with its undulations, one final attempt to crank up your score and get you back for another round.

The back nine had a little more diversity to it than the front and was a little more difficult.  The par 5’s again stuck out to me as good, while some of the par 4’s rivaled in strength.  The par 3’s were solid as well and I enjoyed the breadth of distance between them.  Ranking them, I’d go 13, 16, 17, 15, 18, 11, 14, 10, 12.

In general, Angeles National is on the challenging side in a scenic venue with a handful of original holes ranging from fun to thought-provoking while the others follow a consistent theme that stays fresh throughout the round.  Nicklaus had some fun here and while some might say the Eighteenth is out of character from the rest of the course, I found it to be a nice way to end things.  Mainly, however, I believe Nicklaus set out to build a course that would test a golfer’s skill set.  The Los Angeles area is in need of higher end courses that the avid golfer could play continuously and still find the course fresh and challenging, but this certainly fits that mold.  Conditioning was very good, service was terrific and the facilities were well done.  For those willing to pay a little more for the rarities of a southern California public golf course offering top flight amenities, a well designed and challenging course with nice conditioning and a limited crowd, you would do well to visit Angeles National.

Gripes:  Do you want a granola bar?  That 5 spot may not be enough….  That’s just the nature of the beast.  Also, I’m not used to the SoCal golfer scene, ranging from millennials in complete Rickie Fowler garb to the older gentlemen trying for their best Mark O’Meara impression.

Bar/Grill:  Very well done.  Folks were coming in just to eat at the restaurant, which was on the nicer side, but was likewise a fitting 19th hole.  A balcony overlooks the practice green and for more casual fare, there’s outside seating off the putting green.

Clubhouse/Pro shop:  On the larger side with some flashy apparel.

Practice area:  Large grass range and practice green.  I could come here for the practice easily.

Nearby:  There’s a lot of places along the 210, including my old cross country course and high school.