Griffith Park Harding Golf Course (L.A.): Course Review

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*A special thanks to my golf buddy Jack G. who prompted me to review Griffith Park Harding as he noted how often I book rounds at this venue for our Friday gatherings.

10 September 2016 (Pasadena, CA) Tucked away in the midst of the Los Angeles Zoo, Dodger Stadium, The L.A. River, Frogtown, the Gene Autry Museum, Traveltown, the Griffith Park Observatory and Park sits the queen(s) of municipal golf in Los Angeles: The Harding and Wilson Golf Courses. The Harding Golf Course designed in 1923 (Wilson in 1927) by prominent golf architect, George C. Thomas, who is most widely known for his designs of Riviera, Los Angeles, and Bel Air Country Clubs gives the Harding Course a prototypical feel of a Los Angeles styled course (L.A. courses are best characterized by their challenging cucuya roughs, generous landing areas guarded by sycamore and oak trees, and ingenious bunkering systems). At 6,600 yards from the blues, the Harding Course is an entertaining test of golf in the heart of Los Angeles only to be rivaled by its Wilson neighbor and Rancho Park on the Westside of town. For my taste, I love this course flat out. It probably has to do with the fact that I grew up just a few miles down the road though rarely played it in my youth. The venue has an oasis feel in the heart of urban Los Angeles. It is a CITY course and it boasts a wonderful history. Built at the height of the golden film era, Hollywood types have long mingled with city loopers for decades and continue to do so today. In 1920, at the site of the original Harding Course predecessor–Los Angeles Municipal Golf Links, Babe Ruth learned of his trade from the Red Sox to the Yankees (shouldn’t this event be recognized with a national holiday?). The Los Angeles Open (now the Northern Trust Open) was hosted at Griffith Park from 1937-’39 and famously was the site of female sport icon Babe Didrickson’s (first ever) entry into a men’s tour event. Today the course retains all of its charm. With the exception of a few mundane holes, Harding has a dramatic elevated opening hole that descends into the bowels of the course, tricky but fair doglegs that require precision tee shots, par 5s guarded by water hazards and as noted above, deep cacuya roughs ready to gobble up any off target shot. Holes 2 and 4, at first glance, are benign and short dogleg par 4s that quickly reveal their teeth if not played wisely. The dramatic closing 6 holes, however, make this very reasonably priced tract worth your time. 13, a long uphill 200+ par 3; 14 a tricky dogleg left shot with thick cacuya guarding what appears to be a wide landing area; 15, a well bunkered 160ish par 3; 16, another tricky dogleg right par 4 that also has a well-bunkered green complex; 17 a driveable (for big hitters) par 4 and good birdie opportunity for the final charge; and my favorite hole on the course, 18, a challenging uphill par 5 that runs adjacent to the L.A. Zoo (many shots have to negotiate the squawking peacocks!). At the right time of day, lazy shadows add to the visual beauty of this hole that re-ascends back to the beautiful (albeit slightly worn) Spanish-style clubhouse. One can only imagine the dramatic scene this hole provided for PGA golf events. In many ways, this final hole rivals the dramatic and ascending 18th hole at Riviera. I often imagine cheering galleries as I walk (or drive) this fairway (believe me, at the right time, it is a breathtaking walk). The clubhouse has a nice menu for an early breakfast or post-round lunch or dinner with a full bar. There is no food cart staff but Harding has a food house that you will pass on the 4/5 and 8/9 holes with plenty of good food and drink options. The golf shop at Griffith Park is run by Tom Barber (son of 1961 PGA Championship winner, Jerry Barber) has a reasonable selection of golf supplies and logo sportswear if needed. The courses themselves have no marshalls (typical of an LA course as a money saving measure) and can play very slow on weekends. Weekday golf runs very well with rounds averaging 4.0-4.5 hours. For my money, the Harding Course has become one of my favorite courses in the Southern California region and is a regular on our Friday tour. Highly recommended for the historical golf aficionado and the weekday/weekend looper. Who knows, you might just find yourself golfing with a Hollywood personality. I have.

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