PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


Going Topless At The Lake

February 27, 2012

The El Mirage Dry Lake Bed has room for the BMW's 20s to run free.

For as long as man has been driving cars too fast, he has been searching for places to get off the line and look good doing it. Nowhere has that art been perfected more than in Southern California. Handed the keys to a metallic-blue BMW 650i convertible for a three-day golf trip to the Los Angeles area, we dropped the top and headed up I-15 through the San Gabriel Mountains to the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed in Adelanto, on the edge of the Mojave Desert 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

A 10,000-year drought--and a libertarian lack of regulation--has produced the perfect surface for high-speed driving, and all it takes to access it is a $15 day pass to the state recreational area. If the surface is dry--which it is a good 320 days a year--you can drive up and burn out in whatever you brought.

Rodders and belly-tank racers have been running on the 30 square miles of concrete-like lake bed at least since the 1920s, racing against the clock in timed events, and against each other for pink slips or cases of beer. Those adrenaline pioneers wouldn't have known quite what to make of this blue Bimmer. The pretty grand tourer was designed to integrate seamlessly on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills--and it does. But fat 20-inch tires, 400 twin-turbocharged horsepower and traction-controlled grip let us launch like amateur Mickey Thompsons on the hard-packed dirt. And the BMW's heated white Nappa leather seats have much more to recommend them than the salvaged bomber seats bolted into many '27 Ford Lakesters. But you can't fit anything into either car's trunk.

We suspected that might be the case coming in, so two of our three-man crew decided to leave their clubs at home and rent. But we still spent 20 minutes with the boot lid up at LAX, trying to origami three people, three carry-ons and a golf bag into the four-seater. Only after unsheathing the golf bag from its cover and consigning one computer bag to the space under the passengers' legs could we proceed, gingerly, to our Sunset Strip hotel.


After disgorging the gear and heading back out for a leisurely drive through Malibu, we had the BMW in its element--elegant boulevard cruising. With the windows down and rear deflector up, the luxuriously appointed cabin was quiet and pleasant, even in the mild 60-degree weather. One of the 650i's cooler features is the optional heads-up display, which projects speed and navigation instructions onto the bottom of the windshield in ghostly color type--saving you from having to consult with the nav screen in the dash. You can even connect to the car via a downloadable iPhone app and have your Facebook and Twitter updates read to you through the stereo. Sure, our taller-than-average passenger had to sit sidesaddle in the back, but hey, if you can spend $103,000 on one of these, you probably have another car in the stable to taxi extra visitors when necessary.

Malibu is known for its celebrity residents and 21-mile stretch of beach along the Pacific Coast Highway, but we went for the breakfast burritos at Lily's Cafe & Pastries. Hidden in the back of a shopping center off the PCH, it's basically a storefront and a few picnic tables. For $7, you get a giant, foil-wrapped homemade tortilla and green sauce with eggs, cheese and refried beans, and the chance to eavesdrop on a conversation between the two Hollywood producers at the next table. Leonardo is passing, by the way.

After breakfast, we climbed the switchbacks on Decker Canyon Road through the Santa Monica Mountains and headed inland for golf. For every dollar you save on breakfast, it's easy to spend $20 more on a tee time in metro Los Angeles. We dropped $140 a man at the Steve Nicklaus-designed Angeles National in Sunland, not counting the $60 club rental fees. But our clear favorite, Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark, cost less than a good caddie's tip. Designed by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner with help from golf writer Geoff Shackelford, Rustic Canyon is a clever delight, built to test a player's strategic eye and short game. The scorecard tells you up front that you won't catch the subtleties the first time around, but at $52 with cart during the week (and a $31 replay rate), you'll have plenty of time to figure it out.


the road as you receive directions.

Take the seventh hole. At 299 yards from the white tees, it forces you to choose between laying up short of a wash 200 yards from the tee or playing over it. Blasting driver up by the green is an option, but the tiered, kidney-shape green is surrounded by a roller-coaster, close-cut chipping area. You might savor hitting a lofted 25-yard pitch from a tight downhill lie with a rented sand wedge, but I don't. Of course, you might also be the guy who still carries a forged 2-iron.

Snapping the lone bag and a couple of pairs of shoes into the small trunk, we hopped in and peeled the top back as we pulled out of the lot. A plain-Jane Explorer would have easily swallowed all our gear, but sometimes you've got to get a little dressed up.