What had become an eyesore in the Big Tujunga Wash alongside Interstate 10 east of Los Angeles now boasts the only Nicklaus Design course in Los Angeles County.
Even though the area had become a dumping ground, the course was created only after a 15-year battle with bureaucrats and environmentalists.
The project, which at various times was called Los Angeles International Golf Club, Red Tail Golf Club and Canyon Trails Golf Club, has become one of the best newer golf experiences in Southern California.
Angeles National, with the basic design created by Steve Nicklaus -- son of the greatest golfer of all time -- plays to a par of 72 and measures 7,140 from the back, or the Nicklaus Tees. However, there are four sets of tees to make the course playable for golfers of all abilities.
Golfers must receive permission from the golf shop to play the Nicklaus Tees. Club officials who prefer that only single-digit handicappers play from the tips, but are willing to be flexible for those who want to get the full experience at Angeles National -- as long as they do not slow the pace of play.
Players who receive permission to play from the Nicklaus Tees receive a special introduction from the course starter similar to what you hear on the PGA Tour.
The stunning Spanish-style clubhouse, which includes a full-service restaurant and bar, opened in May of 2009 and offers a panoramic view of the course.
Tom Addis, first general manager at Angeles National and a former president of the PGA of America, has called the layout “the best golf course in the Los Angeles area.”
Judging from the response of golfers in the area who have flocked to the course at the base of the Angeles National Forest since it opened in 2004, that might not be far from the truth.
There are three lakes on the property, which come into play to one degree or another on five holes, and the course is dotted by large boulders, some of which were moved for strategic reasons, and native vegetation and trees.
Despite the landscape, there is ample driving room at Angeles National, and there is some undulation on the greens -- but they are not over the top. Golfers find the test challenging yet fair.
The first five holes are a lot of fun and have a nice feel to them, allowing the golfer to get comfortable with the course before hitting the meat-and-potatoes of the front nine on Nos. 6 through 9.
Book-ending the final four on the front side are two exceptional par 4s, the 459-yard (from the Nicklaus Tees) sixth hole, called “Hollow,” and the 486-yard ninth hole, which is known as “Oak Tree.” They are the most difficult holes on the front, requiring approach shots over a barranca, and perhaps the most challenging on the entire course.
The seventh hole is a 176-yard par 3 called “Roller Coaster,” featuring the most contoured green on the course, which invites a three-putt. No. 8 is a 530-yard par 5 called “Fortress,” in what is probably the most scenic spot on the property -- with a large lake waiting for any long tee shot down the left side, and the mountains providing a backdrop in the distance.
On the back side, the 130-yard 12th hole, called “Valley,” is deceptive because the narrow green is 42 yards from front to back and is surrounded by bunkers. The 494-yard 13th, known as “Wasteland,” is a reachable par 5 with a waste bunker that juts out into the fairway from the right.
And the finish is something else.
The well-bunkered 16th hole is a 537-yard par 5 that has been dubbed “Domino,” followed by two strong par 4s. The 406-yard dogleg 17th, “Tujunga,” tempts golfers to cut the corner over a large bunker, and the 416-yard finish, known as “Creek”, is a slight dogleg left with a large lake fed by a creek to the left of the tiered green.
OTHERS COURSES IN THE AREA: Angeles National is one of several courses that have opened in the foothills and valleys north of Los Angeles in the last 10 years or so. Among the others the Mountain and Valley Courses designed by Ted Robinson at Robinson Ranch in Canyon Country; the TPC Valencia, which had two-time major champion Mark O’Meara on the design team; Rustic Canyon Golf Course, a unique links-style course in Moorpark designed by Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford; Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley, designed by Pete Dye and Fred Couples; Moorpark Country Club, designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy; Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, designed by Robert Muir Graves, and Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark, designed by Robert Cupp.
Also not far are several fine muni courses in the Los Angeles City chain, including Hansen Dam Golf Course in Pacoima, the Harding and Wilson courses at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, and the Encino and Balboa courses at Sepulveda Golf Complex in Encino.
Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, which plays host to the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open, is 28 km southwest of Angeles National.
WHERE TO STAY: The best hotels in downtown Los Angeles -- including the Westin Bonaventure, the New Otani, the Omni Hotel Los Angeles, the Millennium Biltmore, the Hilton Checkers, the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Marriott Downtown -- are about a 20-minute drive from Angeles National during non-commute hours. The Sheraton Universal, adjacent to the theme park, also is about 20 minutes away.