The Los Angeles Country Club will host the 123rd U.S. Open June 12-18. The last time the tournament was held in the Greater Los Angeles area was 1948 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. Photo courtesy of the USGA
This one has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.
The 123rd U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club promises well-known characters (think Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler). Mystery (what actually is a barranca?). Twists (five par 3s, one more than the usual amount for a U.S. Open). Suspense (rough that
hasn’t been witnessed in a U.S. Open for 18 years).
The cast that preps the 7,400-yard-plus par-70 North Course is guided by Chris Wilson, a 20-year GCSAA member and director of golf courses and grounds. In a U.S. Open of firsts, the championship slated June 12-18 will be Wilson’s first in charge.
It also is the first U.S. Open at LACC, which is 6 miles from ocean shoreline, within eyeshot of famed Griffith Observatory and where you can distinctly see the downtown LA skyline from the 11th tee. The last time a U.S. Open was held in Greater Los
Angeles happened 75 years ago in 1948 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.
Obviously, this is a biggie for LA and LACC, which is located between Beverly Hills and Brentwood and turns 126 this year. It makes for quite a spectacle in the shadows of Tinseltown and the heart of the film industry. As for Wilson and his team of roughly
six dozen staffers — whether it is North Course superintendent Dan Catterson and his assistants, Paul Burgess and Nick Boswell, or South Course superintendent Brian Wolfand and his assistants, Christian Foster and Adam Pellicciotti — he
is confident their performance will stick to the usual script. Translated, they will get things done on the big screen, golf style.
“We have a diverse group of guys who all bust their tails,” Wilson says.
The maintenance team prepping LACC for the 2023 U.S. Open is made up of seasoned professionals eager to show off the course. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Country Club
Then and now at LACC
This U.S. Open isn’t completely about first-time experiences at LACC.
Wilson is in his second chapter there. A native of Arkansas City, Kan., he got his start for then-Arkansas City Country Club superintendents Joe Aholt and Rex Brown. Wilson spent a decade in maintenance at famed Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.,
where he worked with Bob Randquist, CGCS, and John Szklinski, the latter who oversaw the 2001 U.S. Open. He also worked there with Russ Myers, who was in charge for the 2007 PGA Championship.
Wilson was superintendent at Hillcrest Country Club in Bartlesville, Okla., before he went to LACC for the first time 13 years ago and was reunited with Myers, who in 2009 had come to lead LACC. Together in 2010, they completed a major restoration of
LACC’s North Course.
Wilson went on to serve as superintendent at the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt, Colo., before he came back to LACC in December 2015 to replace Myers (Myers departed that year to go back to Southern Hills). Wilson’s presence while he worked next to
Myers still resonates. “From Minute One he was one of the most focused, determined employees I had,” Myers says. “He maximized every minute of the day to be productive.”
Jose Gomez handles the mowing for the maintenance team. Carlos Rivera's role is bunker oversight. Photos by Marina Milosevic
LACC’s restoration featured the work of architects Gil Hanse, colleague Jim Wagner and collaborator Geoff Shackelford. They restored some of the original framework that architect and former World War I Army Air Service Captain George C. Thomas Jr.
intended on the North Course. Among other things, they restored fairway bunkers and contours, built new greens, eliminated nonnative vegetation to open up vistas and accentuated the risk-reward aspect for golfers while reviving the rugged, rustic
look of days gone by at LACC.
LACC wasn’t devoid of notable events before this year’s U.S. Open, which drew a record 10,187 applicants by the USGA, breaking the mark of 10,127 set nine years ago at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C. LACC held the 1930 U.S. Women’s
Amateur, the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur and, most recently, the 2017 Walker Cup. What happened there six years ago was vital to what goes down this month.
“When the Walker Cup was there, we tried to implement our course setup philosophy overall. It was firm. Greens were pretty fast. It was a great rehearsal, and we got a lot of good information,” says Darin Bevard, director of championship agronomy
for the USGA Green Section.
Andrew Halmrast tends to moisture duties for LACC.
Bevard has spent ample time with Wilson and his team. Changes have been minimal. “There’s been some bunker changes here and there, subtle changes most people wouldn’t even notice, and we added a tee box here or there,” he says.
“Obviously, we narrowed fairways. There’s not much rough at LACC on a normal basis. But there will be rough.”
Oh, about that rough …
“Probably one of the things that’s going to be interesting about this U.S. Open, and it’s interesting to us, is you haven’t seen a U.S. Open with bermudagrass rough since 2005, and that was back before Pinehurst was renovated,”
Bevard says about Pinehurst No. 2. “So usually you hear U.S. Open rough is 5, 6 inches. Well, you’re going to hear about mowing heights of like 3 to 4 inches because it’s bermudagrass. From a fan perspective, people are like, ‘Three-inch
rough?’ But 3-inch bermudagrass rough is quite penal. With the width of the fairways, that’s probably the way it needs to be.”
Kyle Targett is on cup duty for U.S. Open preparations.
All the while in this process, Bevard has found Wilson to be quite the ally. “He knows his golf course. He has a good idea what to expect. He’s been fantastic to work with from the word Go,” Bevard says. “Chris is a rock star.”
Wilson counts the USGA as a wonderful partner for their ongoing support in his debut major in charge. “It’s been a whole lot of fun. The USGA has been incredible to work with, from Darin to Jeff Hall, John Bodenhamer, Charlie Howe and Matt
Jolly. We faced a lot of challenges with 36.87 inches of rain since last October (fourth-wettest there in the last 90 years). We worked together to keep moving forward with preparations. It has been a blast,” he says.
The LACC grounds team, from left: Christian Foster, Adam Pellicciotti, Patrick Volders, Brian Wolfand, Chris Wilson, Shane Goulding, Nick Boswell, Dan Catterson and Paul Burgess.
A word that starts with a B
Shane Goulding never encountered this while working for the grounds crew of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In a word: barranca.
Grounds and native superintendent at LACC, Goulding oversees maintenance of the barranca, a naturalized area that shuttles water through the property and looks like a gully or dry creek bed unless it receives a significant amount of rain like what LACC
has encountered. If you attend or watch the U.S. Open, the barranca is mostly located on the front nine and the 17th. It should be most noticeable at No. 4, a downhill par 3, and can be viewed in front of the green. Also look for it at No. 8 around
the green on the back side of the hole.
According to Wilson, Goulding and a handful of the team address the barranca daily, doing weeding and trimming. “It’s pretty labor intensive but vital to the overall presentation of the course,” Wilson says.
Wilson, director of golf courses and grounds, came back to LACC in 2015 after previously working there in 2010.
All that rain was beneficial to Goulding’s cause. “I wasn’t really able to do too much, and the water has been doing a lot of the work for me,” he says. “It’s washed out a lot of different edges and created more of
that natural look to it because of all the water flowing through it (the barranca). It did its job, right? It took water through the course, and all that water flowing through it just kind of cut out some sides and made some parts deeper, deposited
some sand and soil in other places.”
The barranca learning curve has been a crucial assignment for Goulding. “Chris gave me this opportunity, and I’ve been learning like crazy. My biggest thing was trying to zoom out. I think like with anybody, we can get fixated on certain areas,
especially with the barranca that maybe doesn’t look perfect or look the way that we really want it to,” Goulding says, “and it can be a 20-foot section where I’m frustrated with this, and I’m just trying to get it right.
Then you zoom out and look at the whole thing and say, ‘All right, it actually looks pretty good.’ It’s a special beast.”
The view looking to the 15th green at the North Course. Photos courtesy of the USGA
Goulding has been on the receiving end of why Wilson so respects his employer — an act that fosters Wilson’s team theme.
Incoming interns and assistants, as Goulding was at one point, can live closer than they possibly could’ve imagined to LACC. The club has staff housing available for those moving to Los Angeles to ease the transition and reduce expenses for those
“I moved in when COVID-19 had just started in 2020. Six 25-year-old guys. We played a lot of cards. Had some good times,” Goulding says. “We went through greens and bunker renovations here that year, too, so we had a lot of long days
of work. I enjoyed it.”
One of the numerous scenic views at LACC. This is the par-4 10th. Photo courtesy of USGA/John Mummert
Wilson says, “We have 100 volunteers from around the globe coming to assist us with hosting the U.S. Open, and 37 of them have been on our team at one point over the past 13 years. The club is extremely supportive and provides a variety of opportunities
for staff to advance their career. It’s a special place.”
Wilson’s North Course superintendent Catterson is an example of somebody who was so sold on what LACC had to offer that he left his job as assistant superintendent at Lake of Isles in North Stonington, Conn., to be an assistant-in-training 10 years
ago at LACC. “I was looking for something bigger, fast paced, a top 100, and a career goal of being part of a U.S. Open,” says Catterson, an eight-year GCSAA member. “I kind of took a step down, but it seemed like a no-brainer to
eventually take that next step. I wanted to be part of the team. Our team is great. We’ve been working all along on building a team, and we still work on it. We’re passionate about it. They have begun to grasp that all of the hard work
and effort they have done is going to be on the big stage and will be showcased.”
The par-4 No. 17 at LACC stretches more than 500 yards. Photo by Channing Benjamin
Picturing a happy ending
A rerun still is framed in the mind of South Course superintendent Wolfand.
Ten years ago last month, LACC hosted the Pac-12 Conference men’s championship. Wolfand, a 10-year association member who at that time was an AIT, recalls how Max Homa from the University of California posted a course-record 9-under-par 61. “I
remember watching on Golf Channel, thinking it was pretty cool to come off of the golf course and see where you had just come from, watching the golf course you just helped set up, the course you just put together,” he says. “A good golf
course definitely starts with the crew. People enjoy coming to work. It means something.”
Wilson’s message to the team is to feel the same way now that Wolfand did in 2013.
Wilson remembers working during the playoff in the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills alongside his close and late friend Jeremy Dobson and then-USGA director of championship agronomy Tim Moraghan, who offered Wilson some advice about these type of Hollywood-like
marquee moments (the USGA already announced there will be a sequel in 2039, as LACC is scheduled to host the U.S. Open that year).
“I was setting cups with my buddy Jeremy. We were focused on doing our best to make sure everything was perfect,” Wilson says. Tim said to us, ‘You guys need to look up and see what’s going on around you.’ That kind of stuck
with me … because sometimes you get your nose to the grindstone and forget to appreciate what you are doing. So, I’ll just remind them to look up, enjoy what they are doing, and be proud of what’s going on, because you may never
get this opportunity again.”
Howard Richman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is GCM’s associate editor.