A pitch for short courses

I realize columns about golfing are usually published during the spring or summer months, not early winter. Then again, as evidenced by our recent string of near-one-hundred-degree days, winter in Southern California is all too often more a state of mind than a condition of the weather.

It was one of those mid-summer articles that I read with interest pointing to a revival of so-called “pitch ‘n’ putt,” three-par golf courses across the country. According to the piece, with the inevitable aging of the baby boomer population (guilty as charged), traditional regulation-length 18-hole golf courses are losing ground. Apparently, we boomers are less willing and/or able to play a round of golf that takes too much of the day, requires too much stamina, and is too difficult to play.

Enter the short course, like our very own Verdugo Hills Golf Course, where a golfer can play an entire 18-hole game in as little as two hours compared with four or five for a traditional-length course. Verdugo Hills (currently under threat of being turned into an unnecessary, unwanted and unacceptable 229-unit residential development by its current owner) is a three par, 18-hole course that’s exceptional in many ways. One of the most unique features of the Verdugo Hills course is its history, a subject Mike Lawler, my constant co-columnist on this page, has written extensively and in fascinating detail about.

Another hallmark of this local golfing gem is its geography. After all, the entire course is built on the side of a steep hill. Now, I’ve played in dozens of cities, on several continents. From Brookside to Hansen Dam, Spanish Bay in California to the Big Blue Monster at Doral in Florida, from Ocho Rios, Jamaica to Melbourne, Australia – I’ve lost many perfectly good balls (along with most of my composure) playing each of those and too many others to count. But I can say with certainty that no other course I’ve played offers such a combination of unique challenges and rewards. And they’re available right here in my own backyard at Verdugo Hills.

The tee boxes on the eighth and seventeenth holes in particular perch you, the golfer, high on the edge of a drop off that is not for the faint of heart. If you’re not standing on or near the mat with the little rubber tees, you have no idea even where the green might be. It looks as though the golfer is about to hit the ball into outer space. Looking w-a-a-a-a-a-y downhill towards that little patch of green, you’ll notice that someone has drawn a chalk circle around the cup with the flag in it. Getting ready to take my shot, I sometimes think it must feel a lot like what WWII bombardiers saw looking through their bomb sites over enemy territory. Standing in the tee box, club in hand, I’ve even wondered if air traffic control at Burbank airport shouldn’t be called to warn them of small, white flying objects that may interfere with incoming flights. Seriously.

Another hallmark of our local links is its out-of-bounds areas. If you hook a shot on the south side of the course, it will bounce and roll away down La Tuna Canyon Road. Slice one out-of-bounds anywhere else and it will be swallowed by dense scrub brush teeming with wild rabbits and rattlesnakes. I’ve written off many out-of-bound balls even when I could see right where they landed – simply because I didn’t want to chance whether the source of rustling in the underbrush had fur or fangs.

I’ve heard that the current owner/developer puts the value of the property at $15 million as it stands. He’s wrong, of course. When you consider how much this special corner of the Crescenta Valley has added to the quality of life for countless people all these years, I’d put the figure somewhere in the high “priceless” range.

I’ll see you ‘round town.