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A look inside the gates at Southern California's most prestigious country clubs.

By Joel BeersPublished: August, 2007

You think belonging to a prestigious country club doesn't go to a person's head? How about this story:

After awarding a Los Angeles resident an honorary membership in the early '70s, the membership of Bel-Air Country Club received this request at the ceremony in which said person received his honor.

"Now that I'm a member, could you please cover the canyon in front of the 10th tee?"

The speaker was Jim Murray, the legendary Los Angeles Times sportswriter. And though Murray was speaking with tongue firmly in cheek, the quote is indicative of the pull that members have, even at a historic country club like Bel-Air.
"The second he became a member, he started demanding changes," recalls a chuckling Eddie Merrins, who has served on the course's professional staff since 1962.

And why shouldn't members have pull? After all, they're laying down plenty of Woodrow Wilson's (he's the president whose mug is on the $100,000 bill) in order to belong to a private country club, receiving all the amenities - and unparalleled social status - that comes with it.

And while belonging to a prestigious club is a privilege that only the wealthy can enjoy, it's a privilege any golfer would love to have.

Here are 10 we wouldn't mind calling home.


Designer: Tom Fazio.
Opened: 2001.
Golf specs: Par 71, 7,012 yards.

Show me the money: Membership, $300,000; monthly dues, $1,195.

Prominent members: Tiger Woods, Mark McGwire, Jim Rome, Shawn Green, Garrett Anderson.

Overview: Set on 300 acres overlooking the Shady Canyon Natural preserve in the San Joaquin Hills, this Fazio-designed jewel is part of a 400-home community, all of it surrounded by 16,000 acres of natural open space.

Amenities: A 53,000-square-foot clubhouse, a state-of-the-art 6,500-square-foot fitness center including personal training and exercise classes, junior Olympic-size pool, and a spa.

Quotable: "The more times you play it the more you like it," said Jay Miller, founder of the Get A Grip Foundation and manager of Hidden Valley Golf Club in Corona. "It's got everything you need for a great golf course. The rolling hills give it a lot of challenge, but it's also fair and plush as all heck. And the practice facility is off the charts."

Bet you didn't know: Although set on 300 acres, only 80 are devoted to fairways and greens. The rest of the course features natural areas that don't require irrigation, which saves four times the amount of water otherwise needed.


Rancho Santa Fe
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
Opened: 2000.
Golf specs: Par 71, 6,916 yards.

Show me the money: Membership, $350,000; monthly dues, $1,445.

Prominent members: Phil Mickelson, Scotty Cameron.

Overview: Set on 450 lushly vegetated acres complete with cavernous canyons that yawn several hundred feet below the course, The Bridges feels as much like Italy as San Diego County, complete with groves of olive trees, adjacent vineyards and citrus orchards. A 285-foot suspension bridge traversing a canyon between the 10th tee and fairway is the course's most distinctive feature.

Amenities: A 36,000-square-foot Tuscany-themed clubhouse with wine loft and spa, luxuriant 10,000-square-foot sports center with state-of-the-art fitness area, swimming and massage.

Quotable: "It's exclusive but everyone there is also very, very friendly," said Lee Davis, who captained USC's 1966 golf team and has won the Los Angeles Country Club championship 19 times. "Even if you play there as a guest, you're treated like royalty."

Bet you didn't know: In 1927, residents of Rancho Santa Fe established a covenant that oversees all development in the community. Basically, any property owner who tries to erect a garish eyesore, or anything that deviates from the aesthetically high standards of the community, will run into problems.


Los Angeles
Designer: George C. Thomas.
Opened: 1926.
Course specs: Par 70, 6,754 yards.

Show me the money: The club de-clined to state the cost of membership.
Prominent members: See below.

Overview: Los Angeles has no shortage of storied golf clubs. But Bel-Air is special even in that select company. The membership alone is reason to put it on the list, with names such as Ronald Reagan, Bing Crosby and Richard Nixon belonging in the past. Current members include Dennis Quaid, James Woods and Luke Wilson.

Amenities: Not a whole lot except golf. There are a couple of tennis courts but "all we are is a golf club," Eddie Merrins said. "But I like to think we're one of the best golf clubs in the world."

Quotable: "I think our roster of members has been what's made Bel-Air special for so long," Merrins said. "And the reason these celebrities and well-known people like this club so much is that here they're treated like everyone else. They have a place where they can feel like a golfer and not a celebrity."

Bet you didn't know: In 1938, Howard Hughes attempted to woo Katherine Hepburn by landing a plane on the eighth fairway as she was taking a golf lesson. The landing was fine, but it infuriated club members. Hughes soon surrendered his membership.


Thousand Oaks
Designer: Jack Nicklaus.
Opened: 1989.
Golf specs: Par 72, 7,025 yards.

Show me the money: The club declined to state. In 2004, the L. A. Times reported the initiation fee was $300,000, with monthly dues of $2,190.

Prominent members: Wayne Gretzky, Sylvester Stallone, Kenny G.

Overview: The course is located about 35 miles west of West Los Angeles and is part of a 1,900-acre gated community. It features several stunning canyons set against the Santa Monica Mountains. It includes distinctive rock formations, a creek, elevation changes and groves of ancient oaks.

Amenities: A 50,000-square-foot main clubhouse and 14,000-square-foot family-oriented second clubhouse, a wine cellar and fine dining restaurant, pub, two croquet courts, a wading pool, and numerous tennis courts.

Quotable: "Unless you're a member, or a guest of a member, you just can't get on," Jay Miller said. "The course is one where if you were blindfolded and flown for 10 hours and then landed, you wouldn't know where you were. It could be the Carolinas, it could be Northern California. It's completely unique."

Bet you didn't know: Owner and developer David H. Murdock, 83, dropped out of high school in the ninth grade. He moved to Detroit after serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, borrowed $1,800 to buy a diner and embarked on a pretty decent business career. Today, he's worth a reported $4.2 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.


Los Angeles
Designer: George C. Thomas.
Opened: 1921.
Golf specs: The North Course is a par 71 measuring 6,909 yards; the South Course is a par 70 that plays 5,970 yards.

Show me the money: Declined to state. Member Lee Davis reports that when his father bought a membership to the club in 1942, he paid $200. Even Davis won't divulge what it costs now, but he will say it's a lot more than what his father paid.

Prominent members: Few clubs guard their members' privacy more tightly than L.A.C.C. Reportedly, it doesn't have nearly the entertainment names as Riviera and Bel-Air. But we know this much about the members: they're all wearing long pants. As of last year, it was one of the few courses in America that still banned shorts. They also get a good view of the Playboy Mansion, which is off the 13th green.

Overview: No course in Southern California pops up on more "100 greatest courses in America" rankings from national golf magazines than the North Course. It is, by all accounts, one of the best in the country. Both courses are in-credibly scenic, thanks to the nearly 100 years of growth the trees have enjoyed. It also has surprising elevation changes for a course in West Los Angeles.

Amenities: Who knows? You have a better chance of slipping out of Fort Knox with a bar of gold than you do at squeezing a dollop of information about this club from its members or administrators. The members relish their privacy so much that they've turned down multiple requests from the USGA to host the U.S. Open. So, for all we know, the rivers are filled with rubies and silver blossoms dangle from the trees.

Quotable: "George Thomas had quite a bit of land to work with here and he did a fabulous job," Davis said. "The North Course was designed to be a championship course and it still stands up. The bunkering is fabulous and it just flows purely from hole to hole. You step off a green and the next tee is right there. Plus, all the holes are distinctive. From my perspective, if you play a golf course once and remember every hole, that means it has character and is a great course. That's what Thomas did with the North."

Bet you didn't know: As of 2006, the club still had a locker with former President Ronald Reagan's name on it.


Indian Wells
Designer: Tom Fazio.
Opened: Mountain Course, 1981; Desert Course, 1984.
Golf specs: The Mountain is a par 72 measuring 7,066 yards. The Desert is a par 72 and plays 6,322 yards.

Show me the money: The club wouldn't say. But Southland Golf reported in 2004 that the initiation fee was $300,000, with $1,750 monthly dues.

Prominent members: Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca. One desert golf pro said The Vintage Club is overt about not aggressively catering to the Hollywood crowd. "Their members have a lot more money than Hollywood," he said.

Overview: Encompassing 712 acres, The Vintage Club is located 15 miles southeast of Palm Springs. It features a desert course that combines native flora with lakes and waterfalls, and a mountain course that is Scottish-links in style. There are five acres of lakes and waterfalls on the property.

Amenities: An 85,000-square-foot clubhouse inspired by ancient pyramids, a tennis center, a swim center, wine cellar and fine-dining restaurant.

Quotable: "The courses are immaculate with nothing out of place," Miller said. "You won't find a weed anywhere. Even the rakes are special. You press a button, it pops out of the ground and when you're finished with it, you press the button and it goes back down."

Bet you didn't know: In 1981, a former winemaker stepped into the pro shop. He noticed a wedge and putter with hickory shafts, and, thinking they were antiques, purchased them. He found out the clubs contained steel shafts and were made by a contemporary company, Hickory Stick. Two weeks later, the man, Ely Callaway, bought the company. It would later become Callaway Golf.


Newport Beach
Designer: Robert Muir Graves.
Opened: 1971.
Golf specs: Par 72, 6,876 yards.

Show me the money: Declined to state. But our sister publication, OC METRO, reported in 2004 that new memberships cost $170,000.

Prominent members: Tiger Woods has an honorary membership. John Wayne was a member later in life.

Overview: The name is a misnomer: there isn't one big canyon on the course, there are several. It's a mostly traditional layout with tree-lined fairways, excellent bunkering and plenty of water.

Amenities: The course is in the process of expanding and upgrading its 35-year-old clubhouse.

Quotable: "I think the location is the biggest draw of Big Canyon," Miller said. "It's really a who's who of money people in Southern California."

Bet you didn't know: Members offered a high school student named Tiger Woods an honorary membership after winning his first U.S. Amateur in 1994.


Los Angeles
Designer: George C. Thomas.
Opened: 1924.
Golf specs: Par 72, 7,157 yards.

Show me the money: Last we'd heard, it cost $100,000 to join The Riv.

Prominent members: It's read like an A-list of Hollywood movers and shakers since opening. Bing Crosby, Walt Disney and Douglas Fairbanks belonged in the old days. Today, the membership remains the most celebrity-intensive in the world, with names like Billy Crystal and Larry David.

Overview: Even though it's one of the most famous courses in the world, it doesn't have the sheen of exclusivity that other old-line L.A. clubs have. Unlike many of the older clubs, which openly discriminated against women and ethnic groups up through the 1970s, Riviera has long had a reputation for welcoming anyone who can pay the initiation fee, including hollywood celebs that some stuffier clubs didn't want to deal with. Membership aside, the course is one of the world's most celebrated, as it has hosted the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, PGA Championship, and Nissan Open.

Amenities: There's the golf course, of course. Also one of the finest tennis facilities in Southern California and a gorgeous Spanish-style clubhouse with hotel rooms for members and guests.

Quotable: "If you're talking about someplace to play golf, there's not a better course in Southern California," said Steve Chase, a former Los Angeles Lakers vice president and past winner of Riviera's senior championship. "I've played it probably a thousand times and I never get tired of it. You play in the morning it's one course, but in the afternoon, when the wind kicks in, it's entirely different."

Bet you didn't know: A tree by the 12th green is still known as Bogey's Tree, since that's where Humphrey Bogart would relax - flask in hand - and watch the L.A. Open.


La Quinta
Designer: Tom Fazio.
Opened: 1994.
Golf specs: Par 72, 7,083 yards. Plus, a Fazio-designed 10-hole short course opened in 2004.

Show me the money: General manager Kendale Trahan declined to go into specifics, but he did say that to join the club would cost "in the neighborhood" of $280,000.

Prominent members: One desert course manager commented that 68 billionaires belong to the club. We don't know where he gathered that information, but it just sounds impressive.

Overview: Generally acknowledged as one of the best of the renowned Fazio courses, the Quarry was named the 47th best course in America by Golf Digest in its most current rankings. Trahan says "it's a pretty fair and forgiving course. One thing about this course that's different from others is that we're in a gated community tucked back into a canyon, so we have some real definite elevation changes, from sea level to 300 feet." It rests on 375 acres carved into a former sand quarry, and includes a river and stream flowing through it, along with numerous waterfalls.

Amenities: Like Bel-Air, The Quarry is strictly a golf club. It does have a fitness center, but it's unstaffed, Trahan said. A health club and spa, along with the course-side cottages, round out the non-golf package. But avid golfers who are members are probably most excited about the incredible practice facilities, which include an 18-hole putting course and a 10-hole short course measuring 1,648 yards.

Quotable: "Fazio just did a great job building it," Chase said. "There's a variety of tee boxes, so no matter what the skill level is of the person you're playing with there's a tee box that will have them landing in the same place as everyone else. It's narrow off the tee, but it widens at the landing area, before growing tight again. It's a course that sets up around what you do after the drive."

Bet you didn't know: The course was started by a handful of PGA West members who wanted to establish a more exclusive venue.


La Quinta
Designer: Tom Fazio.
Opened: 2007.
Golf specs: Par 72, 7,426 yards.

Show me the money: $200,000 initiation and $20,000 annual dues, according to an employee in the sales office.

Prominent members: Though it still has that new-course smell, the Madison Club is already known for being the Bel-Air of the desert, according to one long-time desert golf professional. Mark Walhlberg, Sylvester Stallone and Jerry Weintraub are reportedly members.

Overview: Discovery Land Company, which has developed some of the finest golf properties in the world, is the brain trust behind this ultra-exclusive course. Founder Michael Meldman is quite overt about his vision of the Madison Club: to be the crown jewel in his company's portfolio. Designer Fazio moved more than 5 million pounds of dirt and imported some 125,000 shrubs and fully grown trees, some as high as 50 feet.

Amenities: From bagpipes and pianists serenading diners to comfort stations throughout the course, everything about this club seems designed to pamper its members. Even range balls are picked up by hand in order to lessen noise and unsightly blemishes on the driving range. A full-service clubhouse is currently under construction.

Quotable: "From what I understand, it had an unlimited budget and it shows," Lee Davis said. "It's a Discovery Land course and everything they touch is gold. It's a fantastic club and everyone is treated like a king."

Bet you didn't know: Meldman's test scores weren't high enough for law school. So he abandoned that goal and moved to Lake Tahoe to deal cards. He met a few key people around the blackjack tables and soon embarked on a career in developing real estate.

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WOW, thank goodness I can still pay $16 a round on my local course$
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