6,601 yards, 132 from the Blues
Established in 1921 and now in Somis, CA, The Saticoy Club actually started at a different location and course. The first course was designed by George Thomas in 1926 and is still around today, known as the Saticoy Regional Golf Course. William P. Bell worked with Thomas on that first course and in 1964, his son, William F. Bell, was brought on to design the new course at the new location, where it remains today. Formerly known as the Saticoy Country Club, it is now known as the Saticoy Club. That’s a lot of Saticoys and took a little bit of research to make sure I showed up at the right place. Bell was in an advantageous position of having been trained by his father, who had worked on the original course and while there’s a few decades between projects, his father’s experience with Thomas helped craft a course that fits well into the valleys and ridges upon which it sits.
Indeed, these valleys and ridges dictate the tempo and flow of the routing, which rises and falls accordingly. Remarkably, this does not result in a lot of narrow and confined space that usually yields precision aerial golf. Instead, the course is firm and fast. This is done rather well considering the terrain, managing to remain wide enough, especially around the greens, for such conditions to flourish. By the Second, I was taken aback at how many ways the ball could romp and roll about, navigating contours, trees and bunkers for the best position. A nice combination of raised and sunken greens and bunker placement along with the occasional prominent tree vary the play yet the terrain is the main driving force. Starting down in the valley for most of the front, the back climbs along a ridge and before you know it, the valley is far below and on clear days, the ocean is in view beyond. The closing holes come back down some what, but the finishing green manages one last climb to the top of the ridge by the clubhouse.
The course is situated in the Camarillo area, which is roughly between LA and Santa Barbara. The Santa Susana Mountains separate the Greater Los Angeles Basin (specifically nearby Simi Valley) from Camarillo, with Pleasant Valley on the northern side. Sweeping both west and north is the Pacific, which is easily in view. The coastal fog and breeze tempers the hot valley days, which makes it ideal farming land and mainly yields strawberries. Coming from LA on the 101, you crest the Santa Susanna and Pleasant Valley is below in vibrant splendor. It’s one of the best views in Southern California.
I have made the drive between LA and Santa Barbara countless times since I went to college there and enjoyed that view every time, yet had never actually stopped in Camarillo. Moving to the east coast after college decades ago, that valley harkened me back to finally, actually, stop. With the Saticoy Club within the Camarillo Hills and fond of Billy Bell, Jr., it was the perfect time to go back and explore.
It had only been a couple weeks since I previously travelled to Southern California, but much had transpired. The helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter, among others (I was driving in the fog to the airport for my flight back to Philadelphia the day of the crash) and rising concerns of COVID-19 were becoming more and more of a stark reality. The flight to LA was less crowded, as were both airports. A strange sense was starting to overtake traveling, at least out west at that time. No longer feeling that the news of this disease was remote or isolated from anything any of us were doing yet still unsure whether it should affect our daily interactions, it seemed like we all went about our business, albeit with a rising level of trepidation. Most of this washed away as I crested over the Santa Susana on a warm clear day in February, that verdant valley just as I had remembered it, glistening in the sun. At last, doing what I should have done all those years ago and much more often, stopping.
The First is a 407 yard par 4 (from the Blues). The ocean beyond, the opening salvo dives straight down into the valley, the fairway opening up from the right then running up against the hillside on the left. Width is on the right but using the hillside to thrust the ball forward is enticing. Trees confine on the approach a bit with the green has a smaller entry point at the front, bunkers all around. The green widens from center to the rear, but the line between hitting a shot that stays on and one that releases off the back is a fine one. The tone is set for control and navigation amidst the valley corridor.
The Second is a 329 yard par 4. The hole grabbed my attention immediately. The fairway slopes along with the hillside and rumples, looking perfect for a tee shot bounding and rolling along it. The thing is, you have these enormous trees out there. The trees actually provide great obstacles to ensure that the tee shot is not simply some reckless affair that takes advantage of the slope. Instead, negotiating the trees amidst the fast fairway and slope becomes part of the strategy and execution of the hole. I some how managed a lower running tee shot that dodged the tree on the left before swerving around to the right, finally coming to a rest in ideal approach shot territory. Thrilling! The green is above, bunkers quartering it at each side, the fairway spilling around the front one on both sides. A unique play, interest was now piqued.
The Third is a 411 yard par 4. We’re at a narrower and lower part of the course, yet have turned around to start at its heart. Straight for the most part with bunkers along the left and trees and hillside on the right. The fairways have knobs, hollows and dips that one only learns how to use thoughtfully through repeat play. That’s certainly the case here, particularly around the green. There’s room around the left of the green to play with, especially if running the ball is your thing.
The Fourth is a 199 yard par 3. All the room you could want in front of the green below it, the adventure here really begins once you get on the green and start putting. The intricacies of the green can be realized and enjoyed at that point.
The Fifth is a 382 yard par 4. Our trek up the valley continues. A dog leg left with bunkers at each side of the turn, the tee shot becomes a handful of decisions. Laying up to the shorter side area of the fairway, take on the bunkers or try to thread between them. The fairway widens a little after the bunkers and runs to the green, where three bunkers are positioned about it. The smaller size of the green as well as its movement in relation to the bunkers makes it a tough approach where knowing how the contours react to different lines is certainly a leg up.
The Sixth is a 486 yard par 5. The gradual climb continues. A slighter dog leg left with a less demanding tee shot and still uphill. In fact, the hole seems to understand its moderate tightness is enough challenge leading up to the green, then it’s an entirely different business altogether. Running the ball on to the green is an adventure and was fun as heck, hole after hole. Here, the front bunker also juts the green high up in that area, which flows against the general terrain moving in the other direction, creating a saucer that swirls balls twirly whirly, some of them liable to spill out on to the slopes and short grass areas off green. Lots of shenanigans to be had on those green complexes.
The Seventh is a 368 yard par 4. Still climbing, the hole seems like it dog legs right, but it’s only a slight shift and plays a bit like one because of the tee placement. Bunkers tighten the fairway at the tee landing area, which then widens just a tough after them. Here, the green is larger and more receptive to a number of shots than some of the smaller greens we’ve come across.
The Eighth is a 535 yard par 5. We’ve reached the pinnacle of the front nine and now turn back downhill, towards the clubhouse. It’s a quiet spot and the ranch house that sits behind the tee fits in splendidly. The downhill is a welcome change, especially when considering the distance of the hole. Off to the right appears to be the tree used in the course insignia, which sets itself apart from the others with its height and broad plume. Use the downslope, which eventually crooks just so to the right before ramping to the green. All is clear at the entry point, with the bunkers to the side of this larger green. Staying true to form, a very fun par 5.
The Ninth is a 157 yard par 3. We come out of the valley corridor and see the clubhouse smiling from above, along with the Ninth green, which looks down at the tee. Fairly straightforward, the bunkers are on the left and a long area before the green takes care of any shot landing short of it.
The front nine starts by dropping down to the valley floor then gradually climbs back up in one of the broad canyon crevices. I would rank them 2, 8, 6, 7, 1, 5, 3, 4, 9.
The back nine start with the 166 yard par 3 Tenth. A drop shot with water on the right, the green is set an angle almost perpendicular to the tee. Bunkers line the far side while bail out room is off to the left. A much different look than we’ve come across, signaling we’re in for a different journey on the back.
The Eleventh is a 402 yard par 4. Now on the higher side of the hills, we start climbing a bit, the fairway canting from right to left. Trees on both sides, more so on the left, yet enough width to attack that left side from the tee and have it spring forward and center. The fairway narrows closer to the green, which then ramps up to the green. The green is deep and bunkers are on either side, undulating for fun.
The Twelfth is a 334 yard par 4. And oh, how the Twelfth treated me so. Still going uphill, the fairway staggers more than dog legs to the right, which puts a lot of it further out beyond view. Once clearing the turn, however, a marvelous rumpled road to the green is ahead, which cants this way and that as it uses the hillside and slopes from the bunkers on the left. At the green, bunkers guard its quarters and the slope before the green makes most approach shots blind.
After a lashing tee shot, I had a short iron in from the left side. Crisp contact, the ball flew straight and true directly to the pin. I couldn’t see where it landed because of the front slope but was already patting myself on the back for finally mastering this game. Beaming self satisfaction, I get to the green and don’t see my ball. No matter, it’s probably in the hole! Trudging to the hole with as much certainty as I’ve ever had about anything ever, it all changed to sheer befuddlement when the ball was, in fact, not in the hole. The search commenced, around the edges, in the bunkers, every where. To no avail. I was at the point where I suspected I simply imagined my approach and never actually hit the ball, so I looked back at the fairway and there it was, about 50 yards before the green. I then saw my divot mark in close proximity to the pin and realized what happened; the ball landed near the pin, then the speed the green took it painstakingly off the front and down to where it ended up.
I was more impressed than anything else. Knowing the green contours, their speed and how they react to shots is all part of it and the conditions here were terrific for that movement. Next time, I’ll aim for the rear portion of the green, or hedge for the right center off the tee so I can run it up there!
The Thirteenth is a 187 yard par 3. The final par 3 comes early in the round, back towards the valley and we have our first glimpses of the horizon that becomes more prominent as we soldier on. The slope on the right can be used to advance the ball towards the green while the left side has bunkers below the green. Fairly straightforward, hit the shot then manage the green.
The Fourteenth is a 513 yard par 5. The climbing that we’ve been doing the entire round finally pays off. The trees give way and we see off to the left, the valley below us. As we continue up the fairway, we still climb and the canyon to the left becomes a much steeper fall off. There may be shots that end up on the left side that would then need to carry the canyon, so favoring the right side altogether makes sense, especially since the fairway pinches in further up to try and bring that forced carry in for most shots. The hole dog legs to the left and continues to climb. After the turn, the fairway leads straight to the green, bunkers on the left and all the short grass area you could want on the right. Looking back from the green, the valley takes on that same glorious splendor that was largely responsible for drawing me here after all these years. Sublime.
The Fifteenth is a 394 yard par 4. As is wont to happen, I took on the rest of the round with an inspired vigor and the game became easy. There’s a fine line out here amongst mind, spirit and nature. While I’d love to know how to call upon these heightened skills at will, it just kind of happens on its own. I start visualizing the shots, am in tune to the surroundings and simply know where the ball will go before I hit it. Growing up as a distance runner, there’s something called ‘runner’s high,” where it almost feels like you’re floating out there, the speed comes natural and the pain resides. There’s a golf equivalent and while I don’t know what to call it, I suspect it’s something we all have come across . . . and keeps us coming back in search of it.
As for the hole, we’re at the highest point of the course and start to come down. A dog leg right with a generously wide fairway that feeds right into the green, which sits perpendicular to the fairway and has a bunker at each end, sloping from right to left. Naturally following the contours of the land, the hole flows nicely from tee to green.
The Sixteenth is a 327 yard par 4. The final climb of the round is here as we go back up the hill at this short dog leg right par 4. The tee shot juts sharply uphill and curl to the right, presenting all types of questions off the tee. The fairway looks daring, like it will shun balls downhill back towards the hill if not hit long enough. Clearing the turn is the goal, or otherwise knowing the green well enough that a shorter club off the tee to the wider area of the fairway. The green is further uphill, blind to the fairway, bunkers at either post at the front. It’s larger than it appears from the fairway, but ending up in the far right bunker with a pin back towards the front of the green is not ideal, running the risk of seeing the ball plummet back down the hill. A nice short par 4 at a good time during the round.
The Seventeenth is a 446 yard par 4. Now comes the descent. The elevated tee shot to the fairway below gives us one last look at the valley below. The fairway then dog legs left, the hillside off the right moving in that direction. The green is terraced on that hillside, flanked by bunkers. The tendency will be for shots to move left, so certainly account for that on both shots. A tricky green ands the hillside playing a more prominent role than it appears at first glance.
The Eighteenth is a 557 yard par 5. The tees placed on the left puts more bend to this hole and almost turns it into a double dog leg. The dog leg right at the end is what to focus on and the first two shots should focus on getting down the hole far enough to get a clear look at the green. Specifically, get your shot to the turn, which dog legs right then rises sharply to the green, with the clubhouse beyond. The approach shot will be blind because of the hill but getting to the turn at least ensures you have a clear line to it. It’s a devilish closing green, as the final guardian of the round and ensuring you get to golf just a little bit longer.
The back nine is loops around the higher side of the property, is more scenic and varied in terrain than the front. I would rank them 14, 15, 16, 18, 12, 11, 17, 10, 13.
Generally, The Saticoy Club uses the terrain within which it is set in fun and charismatic ways. There’s rarely any flat area, so embracing the hillsides and slopes then extending that type of movement through the greens makes for a lot of thrills and more versatility than you’d expect on land than gets narrow on occasion. It took me a bit but I realize the course reminds me of Los Verdes in a lot of ways. Another Billy Bell, Jr. design, Los Verdes is set on a coastal bluff and the use of the hills in creating the movement struck me as similar. Bell also used the more scenic property on the back nine there as well, so perhaps that was one of his intended design concepts. The similarities are telling though in showing Bell’s proclivity to create width and options within terrain that can get confined or severe in spots. Here, what could be seen as limitations on the property were actually used as its strengths and make it unique. Indeed, it’s worth noting that both this course and Los Verdes were designed at the same time! Perhaps working both areas at once, moving up and down the Pacific coast, developing ideas as he moved to and fro, helped improve the design of both. Here, the greens punctuate this entire approach impressively, with undulations that vary in conspicuity, movement that changes directions and speeds unexpectedly, as well as assorted shape and size. In a way, the greens are miniature versions of what to expect of the fairways so that the monicker of putting being a game within a game takes on a distinct meaning here. A nice play with distinct features and a handful of really good holes capped off with terrific scenery.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Sitting on a ridge overlooking the Ninth and Eighteenth green, it a low profile affair with a lot more space than appears from the outside. The pro shop is on the top level and well stocked.
Practice area: The driving range was one of my favorite views here; hitting off the cliffside on the other side of the Tenth, the Pacific and Channel Islands were in view. I liked to pretend I was hitting my drives out to them. An awe inspiring view to get you ready for the round. There’s a short game area off of the Tenth green and putting green as well.