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Jones Sr.'s Powerhouse Course at Valencia CC
There will always be a place in the world of golf for classic and understated but challenging courses, ones that don't bludgeon players over the head with undue length and call for quality shot-making every time a club is pulled and the ball is addressed.
9th Fairway & Green at Valencia CC
Such is the case at Valencia Country Club, set some 45 minutes north of Los Angeles in the city of Santa Clarita and fashioned with flair by the eminent Robert Trent Jones, Sr. To play this course players must exhibit skill, execution and imagination. And the experience is enhanced by pristine conditioning and a routing that - while far from isolated - is, at the very least, insulated from the madding crowd beyond its tree-lined periphery.
The non-equity private club was the site of the Champions Tour's AT&T Champions Classic from 1990-2009 and hosted the PGA Tour's Northern Trust (formerly Nissan) Open in 1998. Built in 1965, the par-72, 7,076-yard layout has stood the test of time and remains a favorite among tour professionals as well as the members and their guests. Golf Digest lists Valencia CC as one of the top-25 courses in California.
While Jones, Sr. was renowned for his strategic bunkering, it's the putting surfaces here that draw the most kudos from top players. Because of the course's segmented and sloping greens, a reasonable point of attack from the fairway is required for success. Valencia is not punishing; it simply rewards good golf shots and confident play, two hallmarks of a classic and expertly crafted golf course.
The layout carries a rating of 74.7 and a Slope of 138 from its back set of four tees. Virtually every hole has risk-reward opportunities, calling for strategy that brings birdie - or double-bogey - into the equation. Water features include ponds that enter play on eight holes.
A Valencia Green Closely Protected by Water
Instead of being squeezed onto land left over from a residential development, the course was established before L.A.'s sprawl made it this far north. Built to attract future housing projects (along with the nearby Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park), Valencia Country Club quite literally had a city built around it.
Mature trees block out the business parks and the Valencia Town Center mall which surround the course, but little can stop the din of traffic flying by on the Golden State Freeway, which is 20 yards on the starboard side of the ninth fairway. In fact, hole Nos. 6-9 are close to the freeway and separated from the rest of the course by Tourney Road to the east. But if the only thing one can criticize about a course is its proximity to noisy traffic on one of 18 holes, there's little doubt that the experience at Valencia CC is superb.
A Fine Balancing Act
Finding the fairways at Valencia Country Club is not that difficult. In fact, the question (just how good is your game?) is asked on the approaches. "How did I shoot a 64 on that golf course?" Tom Kite asked of the middle round during his victory in the 2006 AT&T Champions Classic.
"Valencia Country Club's course has a lot of balance," said the World Golf Hall of Fame member from Texas. "The greens are so undulating and sectioned off that they don't play as large as they look. If the player is going to get close to the pin they have to drive the ball in the fairway so they can have a chance."
Valencia CC has just four par-4s that play more than 400 yards from the tips, but each of those has personality. No. 4, at 422 yards, has a 50-yard-long putting surface; the 427-yard sixth sports a pond to the right and concludes at what many consider to be the most exacting green on the entire course.
The 470-yard 10th is blind and impossibly long off the tee, but if the drive is really nailed, it will roll down a hill and give the player a short-iron into the green, which is guarded by four bunkers. No. 17, carded at 466 yards, has a landing area pinched by sand laterally and another 50-yard-deep green, this one uphill and false-fronted, meaning shots hit short will roll up back down the fairway.
Valencia Country Club
The collection of par-3s at Valencia Country Club might be the toughest in the Golden State. These are highlighted by the 237-yard third, the course's signature hole. It demands an outstanding tee shot to a green guarded right by a water hazard that causes many players to aim at a dangerous bail-out area off to the left. Once on the putting surface, there's scarcely a flat spot, making par here feel like a birdie.
The 202-yard 16th, the only hole on the course that requires a carry over water, either accentuates or ruins a good round. While the green looks large from the tee, it is actually very shallow and slopes toward the water and is one of the most sectioned on the course, again making par a difficult proposition.
The final impression at Valencia Country Club may be the most memorable. The massive 566-yard closer plays back to the clubhouse and is like an entire course unto itself. An uphill tee shot is followed by an uphill blind second shot that takes some steely nerves and some power to get home in two. The sloping 18th green is squeezed by an array of bunkers.
Valencia CC's course offers a fulfilling experience for both amateurs and professionals. Its history and tournament pedigree place it among the elite of Southland venues, but the club is anything but stuffy. This is a course that makes player want to return to tee it up again and again.
Besides the course, members and guests have access to an expansive practice facility and a grand, 45,000-square-foot clubhouse. The club recently changed management hands from KemperSports to Fore Golf Partners. The new operator plans more than $1 million of capital improvements during the next 12 months, including upgrades to the course and clubhouse.
From this author's viewpoint, that's like adding another jewel to an already exquisite tiara.
For more information on Valencia Country Club, visit www.valenciagolfclub.com.
Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.