Los Angeles (North)
A new dawn has come to Los Angeles Country Club. Its regal North Course designed by George Thomas and Billy Bell has been immaculately restored and the club now prepares to host the biggest events in amateur and professional golf. Golf originated by the North Sea on links land. As it gained in popularity, the game moved inland, first to the unique heathland belt around greater London and later to parkland settings. In the United States of America, parkland courses out-number all other forms of golf combined, including ocean, mountain, desert, and prairie courses. What’s surprising is that perhaps the single finest example of parkland golf isn’t found in a bucolic setting on the outskirts of a major city but near the bustling intersection of Wilshire and Beverly Hills in California. The vibrant setting for the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club is akin to a golf course in Manhattan’s Central Park: distant skyscrapers heighten the golfer’s appreciation of the tranquil beauty around him and the deer and the foxes .
Of course, back when George Thomas went to work on the North Course, it was in the country. Times have changed (!) but Thomas’s design values endure. To the author, what Thomas accomplished between 1925 and 1928 constitutes the greatest burst by an architect in the history of the game. During that brief span, and joined by his design associate Billy Bell, Thomas created Bel-Air, Riviera, penned the cornerstone Golf Architecture in America and then oversaw the complete rebuild of the North Course. Superlatives fail to do the man justice.
Born and raised on the east coast, George Thomas was influenced by the Philadelphia School of Design and especially its two design monuments, Pine Valley and Merion. By the time Thomas moved to Los Angeles in 1919, he had built several courses back east. In 1921, the Los Angeles Country Club sought to upgrade its two courses that had been laid out by several members including Ed Tufts and Norm Macbeth. At the time, the Englishman Herbert Fowler enjoyed one of the biggest names in the profession, having built several pre-eminent courses in England prior to World War I including Walton Heath and the complete revision of Westward Ho!. After World War I, his design services were in demand in America and his figure 8 routing and resulting holes at Eastward Ho! on Cape Cod showed great imagination.
He ventured west to Los Angeles by train. For reasons unclear, the 36 holes that Fowler laid out for LACC in the early 1920s weren’t of the same caliber as his top tier designs. Thomas even oversaw the construction of the North Course on behalf of Fowler, who returned to England prior to the North Course opening. As much as any man, Thomas knew of its deficiencies. In 1926, LACC agreed to host the inaugural Los Angeles Open. Harry Cooper, an accomplished champion, won with a score of seven under par but the powers that be deemed the course insufficient. The author can only surmise that it must have centered around a lack of strategy and Fowler’s predeliction for straight holes – and Thomas would have been relentless in pointing that out.