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

L.A. Country Club to host 2023 U.S. Open
A dramatic view of the Los Angeles Country Club and Wilshire Boulevard, from a 22nd-floor condo high-rise. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

After decades of waiting — and a year of careful negotiations — the U.S. Open is finally headed back to Los Angeles.

The U.S. Golf Assn. will announce early Wednesday morning that Los Angeles Country Club has agreed to host the 2023 national championship.

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The deal culminates a long courtship in which the USGA wooed the revered — and traditionally aloof — club, hoping that membership would someday open its gates to the world.

"This is a wonderful thing for golf," said Tom O'Toole, the association's president. "Just a special opportunity."

Officials said the arrangement required concessions from both sides, and a pivotal vote by LACC members.

"Our club may have been very private in the past," said John Chulick, president of the board of directors. "But the world had changed."

The U.S. Open is one of golf's four major championships, along with the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship. Its last time in this city was 1948, when Ben Hogan won at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.

Riviera tried on more than one occasion to lure the tournament back but ran into a stumbling block.

The modern Open had become an extravagant affair involving tens of thousands of spectators and acres of corporate hospitality tents. Its sheer size had outgrown a course with a relatively small footprint and limited street access.

"Riviera is a gem," O'Toole said. "But it certainly doesn't have the operational capabilities that a Los Angeles Country Club does."

Several major surface streets feed into LACC, which is situated at the edge of Beverly Hills. The intersection of the 10 and 405 freeways is only a few miles away.

More important, the club stretches across 325 acres. The tournament will be played on its North Course, with the South Course devoted to all those tents and trailers.

The USGA had kept LACC in its sights for at least 26 years, dating to when O'Toole joined the association. But, he said, "at the end of the day, we needed an invitation."

Club leadership kept rebuffing overtures, even though LACC had been amenable to professional tournaments in its early days.

The North Course hosted the Los Angeles Open five times from 1926 through 1940. When co-founder Joseph Sartori died in 1946, that tradition "seemed to languish," Chulick said.

LACC became known as a cloistered enclave, its grounds hidden from view by thick foliage and trees. In a star-driven town, leadership was hesitant to accept Hollywood celebrities as members.

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This stance began to soften with the launch of an extensive renovation.

Architect Gil Hanse was hired to return the courses to their earlier form. Natural elements — such as a rugged wash — were brought back during the restoration of a past design by the famed George C. Thomas Jr.

"It was kind of like an archaeological dig," Hanse said. "We found old sand bunkers and the outlines of original greens. We focused on putting that stuff back."

A new generation of LACC leadership wanted to show it off.

In 2009, the club agreed to host an amateur tournament — the 2017 Walker Cup — run by the USGA. Association officials began visiting on a regular basis to keep tabs on the renovation.

"We developed a friendship and started talking," Chulick said. "It was very casual at first."

The discussions turned serious after the 2014 U.S. Open as both parties sat down to work out details.

Club officials agreed to a straightforward lease by which the USGA will take control of the property for two weeks, paying an undisclosed amount while retaining ticket and merchandise revenues during the tournament, Chulick said.

On a more problematic level, the board needed to present a concrete proposal to its membership.

The USGA likes to keep negotiations secret until an official announcement, but when a letter was sent to members, Chulick said, word of the deal "was definitely going to leak out."

Last year, The Times reported on a preliminary agreement, subject to membership approval. LACC held a vote last fall.

"The support was overwhelming," Chulick said. "In excess of 90%."

The USGA now gets to return to a large media market where the sport is popular. Southern California weather should help when it comes to making the course more challenging for pros.

"You know it's going to be dry," Hanse said. "We have the necessary length and the USGA will be able to dictate the firmness. That's the most effective defense for modern-day Tour players."

The architect sees another advantage to playing a major at LACC.

"To have this beautiful piece of ground preserved amid so much urban development is amazing," he said. "There's no other setting like this anywhere in golf."

The Beverly Hilton rises above the trees beyond one green. Westwood towers overhead to the west, Century City to the south. The juxtaposition should make for good television.

LACC officials hope those scenic shots will further enhance the reputation of a club that regularly ranks among the top 100 in the nation. Revenue from the lease will help pay for renovations, which ultimately will include both courses and the clubhouse.

"We think it's exciting," Chulick said. "It just seems to be the right thing to do at this time."

Follow David Wharton on Twitter @LATimesWharton

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