LA North's Fifth Hole
Everything to know about a difficult par-4 and the historic real estate surrounding one of George Thomas and Billy Bell's more innovative design touches.
Note: This is the latest pre-U.S. Open installment diving into Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course as redesigned in 1927-28 by George Thomas and Billy Bell. I’ve posted in-depth reviews of the first and second holes (here) along with the third and fourth holes (here). The fifth and sixth holes have been split to share several stories, including Thomas’s “courses within the course”, the archaeological discovery of the sixth green, anecdotes about the nearby estates, and much more. It’s one happening northern corner at the North Course!
With the fifth hole, L.A. North gracefully transitions to its highest front nine elevation and the northern corner of the property abutting Beverly Hills. The hole is surrounded by historic estates and manages to come within 95 yards of the world famous Sunset Boulevard. However, other than the occasional siren or L.A. driver rage-honking away, traffic noise is rarely heard from the 2023 U.S. Open site.
During the North’s 1927-28 redevelopment, Sunset Boulevard was in the midst of its westward expansion. The curving four-lane road hugging the base of the hills was transitioning from a 1780s cattle trail into a vital 22-mile artery. Eventually Sunset would connect the city with its new University of California campus in Westwood and the Pacific Ocean. A tourist could spend weeks just exploring everything along the boulevard, and this Jordi Lippe-McGraw story does a nice job touching on the wide variety of possibilities. Sunset’s place in American lore was solidified in Billy Wilder’s 1950 eponymous film where the fading and deranged star Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson, plots her career rebirth in a mansion fictionally placed next to LACC.
As for the golf architecture, the fifth has long been considered one of the toughest two-shotters on the planet. But modern distances and a lack of space to lengthen the hole mean the fifth has lost the cruelty inflicted over the years. Nonetheless, it’ll still be a brute for different reasons in the U.S. Open.
The fifth is also where Thomas created a distinctive hole location in hopes of presenting more “diversity” within a course. I dubbed it his “courses within the course” concept in my 1996 biography of Thomas and can only imagine the thrill he would have experienced seeing the 2017 Walker Cup employ key elements of his vision. And I have little doubt he’d be fascinated to see what could be done with his ideas using modern construction and planning tools, along with a modern handicapping system more amenable to different course presentations within a traditional 18.
Before we get into the fifth’s details, here’s a quick overview of the idea he employed on the North Course, with a fifth hole sketch from the July 1928 issue of Golfdom magazine.