Sports

L.A. Country Club planning to host 2023 U.S. Open

Steps remain before deal is complete for the very private club to get one of golf's most prestigious events
The U.S. Open has been held in Los Angeles once, at Riviera in 1948
Open would be held on the North Course, but changes probably would have to be made

All you see at the entrance on Wilshire Boulevard is a simple numerical address: 10101. Nothing to advertise the expansive clubhouse and championship golf courses behind the trees on either side of the driveway. The 1,500 members can speak of the facility in great detail; not many others can.

That is about to change.

The Los Angeles Country Club, one of the area's most exclusive clubs, has reached a preliminary agreement with the United States Golf Assn. to stage the 2023 U.S. Open, one of the world's most high-profile golf events, several individuals familiar with the process confirmed.

The tournament would take place 75 years after the only previous Open in Los Angeles was played at Riviera Country Club, when Ben Hogan won the first of his four national championships.

Several steps remain before the deal is completed. The club's board of directors sent emails and letters to members Thursday afternoon with the recommendation that they approve the plan. A vote could be completed by mid-October, an individual close to the situation said, and a deal struck by the end of the year or early next year.

LACC officials, who rarely speak publicly on matters related to the club, declined to comment.

The USGA, which usually does not discuss future sites, made an exception, saying that it and the club are "exploring the possibility of conducting a future U.S. Open Championship at the club."

The USGA noted that there were several remaining steps to work out, including getting the approval of the club's membership.

The U.S. Open is one of the four majors in golf, along with the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship.

Los Angeles Country Club has a long history of privacy and reverence for tradition. Like some other exclusive clubs, it has a strict dress code: Men must wear ties and jackets in several areas of the clubhouse and may not wear shorts on the courses or in the clubhouse; caps are to be worn with the bill facing forward, and cellphones are to be left in the car.

Members regard the club as a cherished 325-acre sanctuary in the middle of Los Angeles, straddling the borders of Beverly Hills and Westwood.

The club is seldom in the news. Members prefer it that way and are discouraged from speaking about club matters.

Current members include USC Athletic Director Pat Haden, pro golfer Fred Couples and prominent developer Nelson C. Rising. Former President Reagan was also a member.

There is almost no Hollywood connection at the club. Actors and others in the entertainment business have rarely been welcome as members.

The late actor Victor Mature, in one story perhaps embellished over time, reportedly distanced himself from his profession after being rejected for membership by saying, "I've never been an actor, and I've got 70 movies to prove it."

The 2023 Open championship, which could attract 50,000 or more spectators a day, would open that sanctuary to millions of television viewers and put a very private club in a very public light.

The tournament would be played on the North Course, a 7,200-yard layout that underwent a five-year renovation completed in 2010 to restore many of the characteristics in the original design by noted architect George C. Thomas Jr.

Thomas also was the primary designer of Riviera, site of the regular PGA Tour stop now called the Northern Trust Open, and was involved in the design of Pine Valley in New Jersey, considered by many the premier golf course in the United States.

L.A. North has been included in Golf Digest's annual list of America's top-100 golf courses every year the magazine has been compiling it but it has not hosted a professional tour event since 1940. The club had previously rebuffed the USGA when contacted about the Open, but since the restoration of the North Course, there appears to be a change of heart.

The USGA announced five years ago that the 2017 Walker Cup, competition between top amateurs from the United States against a team from Britain and Ireland, would be held at L.A. North. By then, renovations to the clubhouse, which opened in 1911, and to the shorter, more forgiving South Course, will be complete.

"It does seem like the club is changing," said one member, who requested anonymity to discuss the club's attitude.

The USGA often makes considerable modifications to courses to make them more difficult. What that would mean for L.A. North, a course with wider fairways than most Open courses, is unclear.

"The members wouldn't want to change a lot of things," the member said.

The North Course was the site of the Pac-12 championship in 2013. Max Homa of the California Golden Bears won the individual title; he shot a 61 — nine under par — in the first round. That's two strokes lower than the best round ever shot in the U.S. Open, and the chances are the course will be changed in some way to protect it against low scores. U.S. Open courses are known for being extremely difficult.

It is also unclear if the club would want to be a more regular site for the championship. The Olympic Club in San Francisco and Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula have each hosted the Open five times. The tournament is scheduled to return to Pebble Beach in 2019.

Pat Finlen, general manager at the Olympic Club, said the club has had a long-standing relationship with the USGA and sees the Open Championship as a way to foster amateur sports. The club has played host to numerous amateur national USGA championships.

"Our goal isn't to seek Opens, but they ask us to hold them and we love doing them," Finlen said.

"The U.S. Open championship is a terrific event, for any facility or city."

Riviera Country Club, also regularly among Golf Digest's top 100, has tried to secure a U.S. Open for several years. It will play host to the 2017 U.S. Amateur but has not been successful in persuading the USGA to allow it to host the association's flagship event. Riviera was home to the PGA Championship in 1983 and 1995.

The potential landing of a major golf championship in L.A. comes at a time when there is a growing spotlight on the Los Angeles sporting scene. The Dodgers sold for a record $2.15 billion two years ago, the Clippers recently sold for an NBA-record $2 billion, and he NFL is considering building a football stadium in L.A. while there is percolating interest by at least three teams about relocating here.

The NFL is also looking at Los Angeles as a site for its 2015 draft. The Kings recently won their second Stanley Cup championship in three years and the Dodgers and Angels are among the best teams in baseball.

"I think you can argue that we're in a golden age in Southern California sports," said David Carter, executive director of USC's Sports Business Institute. "You go down the checklist and maybe we're becoming more and more of a sports town."

The overall impact on the economy in San Diego from the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was about $142 million, according to a report released by San Diego State University. Whether that kind of economic boost would occur in Los Angeles could depend on the number of fans coming from out of town.

At Torrey Pines, USGA statistics showed roughly 75% of the tickets sold were from outside San Diego.

In that 2008 Open, Tiger Woods, hobbling on a surgically repaired knee with two stress fractures in his lower leg, outlasted Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff. L.A. North can only hope for that kind of ending.

Times staff writer David Wharton contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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