US Open to start in LA under shadow of golf’s shocking merger
Bloomberg June 12, 2023
Just a few miles from Hollywood, an exclusive club makes its big premiere this week. The Los Angeles Country Club is hosting the U.S. Open, one of golf’s most prestigious events, for the first time.
However, the private course’s big moment, more than eight years in the making, may well be overshadowed by the news that has rocked the golf establishment. Last week, the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf announced a stunning alliance, ending a dispute that plunged the polite world of golf into a nasty civil war.
Players who previously had to choose sides in golf’s big schism — including Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy — will be walking side by side on the course’s narrow fairways.
“I am really rooting for this U.S. Open to kind of rescue us all, even for a few days, from the story that I think everybody knows has been so divisive,” said Dan Hicks, a play-by-play announcer for NBC Sports, which will air the tournament.
The club, founded in 1897, sits on 300 acres of prime real estate adjacent to Beverly Hills, but most motorists on Wilshire Boulevard would hardly notice the two courses hidden behind giant hedges. Mike Whan, chief executive officer of the United States Golf Association, which runs the event, said the course will be new even to professional golfers.
“This is very different than where they might be walking onto Pebble (Beach) or Pinehurst or Oakmont, and some of what they would consider more of the regular stops from a U.S. Open perspective,” Whan said last week on Bloomberg’s Business of Sports podcast. “This is going to be an unveiling.”
The association has had staff on-site for more than a year, making the club’s North Course more challenging and fan friendly. That meant moving some of the tees back to make the holes longer and extending the rough to make fairways narrower. It has even built a temporary bridge over Wilshire to facilitate foot traffic.
The course, designed by golf architect George Thomas, will feature a rugged terrain and holes of unusual lengths, including par 3s that stretch nearly 300 yards and a par 4 that can be reached from the tees. The last three holes, long par 4s, will be particularly challenging.
While entry-level tickets during the week start at $125, guests looking for a little shade can sit in the Trophy Club beginning at $490. Seats in the Champions Pavilion, which include food and beverages, begin at $825.
Attendees can visit a pop-up museum on-site, which includes Ben Hogan’s 1948 U.S. Open championship medal, which he won at the nearby Riviera Country Club the last time the event took place in Los Angeles. There is also a tribute to golf and Hollywood, including Sammy Davis Jr.’s Gucci golf bag and a hockey-stick-shaped putter used in the 1996 film “Happy Gilmore.”
Corporate sponsors include Dewar’s whisky, which created a drink called the Lemon Wedge, the official cocktail of the tournament. The merchandise tent features local golf apparel brands G/Fore and johnnie-O, offering hats, shirts and hoodies, some designed specifically for the event.
Like many private courses, the Los Angeles Country Club has an exclusionary past. Jews could not get in and founded their own, the Hillcrest Country Club, in 1920. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, whose former mansion sits near the 13th hole, was also denied membership.