L.A. North's 9th Hole
A par 3 closes out the 2023 U.S. Open's opening nine. The ninth is a beautiful and difficult one-shotter with a mysterious backstory.
I was a few days away from finishing a combined 9th hole write-up to go with the 10th. Then I turned on some of the PGA Tour golf from often-renovated Quail Hollow, dropped Mage from my otherwise perfect trifecta box ticket when I reasoned Castellano would never win the Derby (it paid $982.36 but who is counting?), and it dawned on me that we could all use some architectural comfort food.
Plus, it turns out I have more to say than expected about the ninth’s combination of design brilliance, headscratching choices by redesigners George Thomas and Billy Bell, and how 2010’s restoration transformed a hole long viewed as lamentable into a rewarding par 3.
Before we get there, earlier editions for new subscribers…
Even though many of papers, sketchbooks and other golf items were tossed, a full (enough) picture of George Thomas’s life, times and work has been possible thanks to many sources. His prolific writing has been especially useful in piecing together the thinking behind Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course.
Still, there are a million questions I’d love to ask him.
A top fiver, maybe top three: why on earth, Mr. George, did you leave that silly little tree in front of the 9th hole at LACC? Or the eucalyptus trees turning the shot into a claustrophobic oddity? I know chainsaws weren’t what they are today but what the heck?
Amazingly, a replacement for the original tree guarding the green remained well into the 1990s despite having no known fans. And all on a course totally overhauled by the architect who wrote this in Golf Architecture in America:
Trees and shrubbery beautify the course, and natural growth should never be cut down if it is possible to save it; but he who insists on preserving a tree where it spoils a shot should have nothing to say about golf course construction.
The greenside tree eventually met its permanent demise in 1996’s course renovation by John Harbottle. But other significant issues caused by a narrow tee shot opening and a green overtaken by flying bunker sand were not fixed. As a result, the ninth has had few fans.
On paper it’s a simple uphill par 3 with a big left bunker, another on the right and one short of the green sloping back to front. Nothing about this screams brilliance. But thanks to old photos we were able to reclaim the original contours that create little holes, shots and looks within one par 3.
As with all of Thomas’s great one-shotters, nothing about the restored ninth fights the golfer hitting a sound shot. But that wasn’t always the case.
U.S. Open Yardage: 171 yards
Elevation Change: +21 feet from center of tee to the front of green