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Escape L.A.'s Rat Race for some Great Golf at Robinson Ranch

By: Steve Habel


If you are a resident of or visitor to the Los Angeles area, you know there are times when you feel you are part of a great race, running to either beat the clock before traffic gets too much to handle or busting it across town on one of the area's myriad freeways at breakneck speed.

No. 12 on Mountain Course at Robinson Ranch

But things change just 25 miles north of the megalopolis in the quickly growing Santa Clarita Valley, which was formed by the Santa Clarita River and stretches through the northern borders of Los Angeles County and the eastern edges of Ventura County. Less than a half-hour's drive away from the city's smog and constant traffic, SCV is a rolling, rough-edged patchwork of snaking ravines and wide valleys, still dominated in some areas by horse ranches and cattle farms, a place combining rural and chic.

The region is part of the 48,612-acre Rancho San Francisco land grant made by Mexican Governor Juan B. Alvarado to Antonio del Valle, a Spanish army officer, in 1839 in recognition for del Valle's service to the state of Alta California. The rancho was the site of California's initial gold discovery, although that was mostly ignored by the American public as California was not yet a U.S. state.

Some of the communities within the SCV include the city of Santa Clarita and Valencia, as well as unincorporated communities such as Sunset Point, Castaic and Stevenson Ranch. Here, surrounded by the spectacular Angeles National Forest, lies Robinson Ranch, a golf club with more personalities than colors in a California sunset.

Robinson Ranch Golf Club, set on more than 400 acres near the city of Santa Clarita, features two 18-hole public courses that are on par with many top private clubs. The two courses, the Mountain and Valley, meander through stands of wild sage and chaparral, California sycamores and coastal live oak trees.

The courses, designed by the father-son team of Ted Robison and Ted Robinson, Jr., bring water, sand and elevation changes into play in two demanding tests that challenges both your game and wits.

The architects of Robinson Ranch have a pedigree rooted deeply in the game they love. Robinson Sr. has designed more than 170 well-received courses throughout the world, including Indian Wells Country Club in Southern California, Sahalee Country Club in Washington, Experience at Koele on Lanai in Hawaii and Lakewood Oiso in Japan. Robinson Jr. is continuing the legacy and vision of designing courses that bring club-level excellence to anyone with a true passion for golf.

No. 3 on Mountain Course at Robinson Ranch

Mountain Course Offers Target Golf

The Mountain course was the first of the two tracks opened at Robinson Ranch, making its debut in February 2000. Mountain is a top-quality, challenging and undulating layout, offering stunning views of the surrounding hills and mountains as well as the Santa Clarita Valley below. Playing at a manageable 6,508 yards and carrying a rating of 72.3 and slope of 137 from the tips, the par-71 track should not be taken lightly. On a round that sports many dramatic elevation changes, both nine-hole loops start and finish on a wonderfully scenic and often windy plateau, while the holes on the lower sections bring mature oak trees into play, though for the most part the layout is relatively open.

Precise shots are the key to surviving Mountain, as landing areas feed the sage scrub lining every hole and countless fairway swales send even well-struck drives scooting out of play. The bunkering along the fairways and around the greens is both stylish and plentiful; for example, on the drivable (293-yard) par-4 8th, nine bunkers guard the green at the right-front.

At the always-blustery first hole, a 532-yard par-5, players get a taste of the necessity to keep the ball in the short grass at Mountain. The fairway is a half-pipe of manicured green space threaded between brushy mounds, with a road on the right. The nice feature of the ever-present scrub is that, aside from holes along the road, there's no out-of-bounds - all the areas that border the fairways can be played as a lateral hazard.

Among many testing and narrow holes on the Mountain course, the par-4 398-yard fifth which offers a barranca on the left and more sage on the right. The fairway is pinched by oaks and bunkers and mounds just about where you'd like to land your tee shot, and a dry creek cuts across it about 250 yards from the tee.

The 388-yard 15th is a spectacular two-shotter, as trees block the left end of the landing area and a sage-speckled hillside guards the right. The hole's elevated tees tempt you to hit driver, but a fairway wood is the prudent play as the green is nestled into a stand of oaks. Play it smart and take advantage of this chance to score.

If the ever-present wind is at your back, the 484-yard par-5 closer is a great eagle opportunity. The approach can be tricky, though, as the green angles away from the fairway and is guarded by a pond, so take one more club than you think and swing with confidence.

No. 8 on ValleyCourse at Robinson Ranch

Valley Course Builds to Tough "Death Row"

The Valley course at Robinson Ranch opened in June 2000 and is the longer and more challenging of the two layouts. The course plays to a par 72 and at 6,903 yards, where it carries a rating of 74.4 and a slope of 149. Rocky creeks, small ravines, a handful of large ponds and longish carries over desert waste are among its hallmarks.

There are several testy tee shots at this excellently maintained layout, which achieves a great balance between the desert-like front nine and parkland back. Both the ninth and 18th holes finish just below the clubhouse, straddling either side of a decorative waterfall and fountain-adorned pond.

Valley features relatively open terrain on the first six or seven holes, culminating in the excellent, par-3 seventh - which plays 205 yards downhill to a green surrounded by four small bunkers in front and both sides, and a huge bunker at the rear. The 283-yard par-4 eighth is all uphill and has a putting surface hidden by a mountain at the left. But a well-struck drive that carries 270 yards and moves right to left can reach the putting surface in a single stroke.

A scattering of mature oak trees provides a slightly more tree-lined feel to many of the remaining holes. An example is the ninth, picturesque, downhill 549-yard par-5 with a huge oak tree in the middle of the fairway in the landing area; choose to go left or right of the tree but be precise as the fairway is narrow and slopes off each side of the massive tree.

The back nine takes you up and into a pretty valley flanked by tree- and bush-clad hills on one side and the development's almost-never-seen housing on the other. As you start your descent at the par-5 13th, a sign warns "Welcome to Death Row," a harbinger of the challenges ahead.

The 13th plays at 596 yards and buttonhooks on the approach to the green, which must be played over a small creek. No. 14 is a massive 248-yard par-3 with the course's deepest (40-yard) green; a back-right pin placement can stretch this hole to 270 yards.

That pair is followed by three par-4s of more than 400 yards - including the tough 441-yard 17th, which turns hard right-to-left and is fronted by a dry rock creek. The 18th is a 522-yard par-5 with a perched green that adds 40 yards to this excellent finisher.

Robinson Ranch Clubhouse

Robinson Ranch is one of the premier golf experiences in Southern California, and its greens have often been voted the best in Los Angeles County. Mountain hosted the qualifying tournament for the 2002 SBC Champions Tour event contested at the nearby Valencia Country Club and held the 2001 and 2002 Cure Autism Now-ER Celebrity Golf Open. Valley hosted the 2006 and 2007 AJGA Hamni Bank Junior Open.

Robinson Ranch's 25,000-square-foot clubhouse, with its rustic ranch decor, adds to the overall experience by creating a comfortable environment for post-round festivities. The clubhouse contains a fine-dining restaurant, banquet facilities hosting up to 300, a private dining room, additional meeting spaces and a terrace lounge.

Overnight Accommodations

There are a bunch of places to stay in the area, which is just up the road from the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena and is home to the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park.

We were lucky enough to spend a few nights at the Comfort Suites in the bedroom community of Stevenson Ranch, and the accommodations, including a kitchen, king-sized bed and queen-sized sleeper sofa as well as two-person Jacuzzi tub in the living room and free Internet access, were almost everything you could ask for at a great price.

For more information about Robinson Ranch, visit www.robinsonranchgolf.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Business District magazine in Austin and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns.