From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
As Dewey Bunnell’s song reminds us, Ventura Highway in the sunshine leads to the place where the days are longer and the nights are stronger than moonshine. I can’t vouch for after-dark, but a blissful afternoon chewing on a piece of grass walking down a fairway at Olivas Links, with the ocean breeze blowing through my hair, is what golf is all about.
Located on the northwest edge of Ventura, Calif. about a mile off the Ventura Freeway and just a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean, Olivas Links is a delightful discovery. From the street, it doesn’t look like much: flat as the mushroom field next door, almost treeless. But once on the course, its character envelops you.
Some could argue that it’s a true links, so close to the ocean, hard against the Santa Clara River that flows west into the Pacific. But it’s not really sand-based. It’s mostly clay and caliche rock. Still, it sort of looks like a links, with its fairway humps and rolls (partly to drain the place into lagoons) and lots of native, unmaintained areas around the backs of tees and in far roughs. Because of the salt content in the soil, paspalum was used for fairways and primary rough, and it plays firm and fast and provides splendid lies. The putting surfaces are bentgrass.
What makes Olivas such a relaxing round are the gentle rolls and swales in fairways and greens, the smattering of strategic bunkers here and there, and the tall, gangly trees on the southern holes along the edge of the river. Heck, there are even a few palm trees on the course.
Credit architect Forrest Richardson of Phoenix for transforming the bland Billy Bell 1950s Olivas Park design into a showcase municipal golf course that’s charming and affordable. The old clubhouse was on the west edge (overlooking the seacoast, probably, before strip malls went up) but the practice range and opening holes faced due east into the morning sun. So Forrest moved the clubhouse to the east side and now the opening holes play west and the driving range faces due south.
Other improvements that probably go unnoticed: His re-routing constantly changes direction and wind conditions, and wetland lagoons are off to the side, avoiding forced carries, with hazards pinching only a couple of crucial landing areas.
The most distinctive aspect of Olivas Links are the patches of rustic native rough between holes. They’re dotted with rocks unearthed during the 2007 reconstruction, and with scattered logs left over from trees toppled and pushed to the side.
Richardson also remodeled Ventura’s other municipal course, the short but heavily-treed Buenaventura (another Billy Bell original), located east on Olivas Park Road. Both courses are now smoothly operated by KemperSports.
So how can I convince you to make your way to Olivas Links? Well, the place is so laid back that every tee box has a high-slatted wooden Adirondack chair, which also serves as the course logo.
Hey, this is Southern California. Seasons crying no despair. You’re gonna go, I know. So tell me, how long you gonna stay?