Eye on Design
U.S. Open 2023: Why the challenge of LACC North's final six holes is so unique
Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course is nearly 100 years old—the current iteration opened in 1927—but there are aspects of it that are quite modern. Among them is the length it can play from the “Long Course” tees that stretch the design to over 7,500 yards, a distance George C. Thomas Jr., a brilliant and forward-thinking architect, might have surmised would someday be necessary but would probably make him do a spit-take if seen in practicality.
Most competitive majors are decided on the final homestretch of holes, and the 2023 U.S. Open at the North Course should be no exception. What makes the course’s final six holes different—actually five of the six, with a dainty par 3 intermission that will play less than 100 yards at least one of the days—is their enormity. Each of the four par 4s, beginning with the 13th, measures over 500 yards (the 18th is listed at 492 yards but can be extended), and the dénouement includes a 630-yard par 5 that will require an all-carry second shot to reach the green in two.
This may favor any contending power hitters who are controlling their drivers on Sunday, but there’s enough room in the fairways for crafty players to plot their way around this mile-and-a-half gauntlet and put themselves in a position to drain critical putts. But based on the scorecard demands of these holes and what we've seen already this week, the ending to this year’s Open is likely to turn into a battle of last-man standing.
Let’s take a look at Los Angeles Country Club’s closing holes.
THE LONG PAR-4 13TH
Los Angeles Country Club's 13th fairway (North Course).
The fairway at the 510-yard 13th is nearly 60 yards wide, but the right third is crowned—and drives that don’t remain on the higher left side will drift into the right rough leaving a blind, uphill shot from a hanging lie that must carry a front right bunker.
The 13th green is open to approaches from the left.
The green opens to approaches from the left, and running the ball onto the putting surface that tilts heavily back to front will be an option if players find the left rough out of abundance of caution for missing right.
THE IMPOSSIBLY LONG PAR-5 14TH
Nothing good happens to shots lost right at the par-5 14th.
The green at the 633-yard 14th will be unreachable in two for players who can’t make the 280- to 295-yard carry over cross bunkers that angle into right side of the fairway. Hitting around them brings the left rough into play and a likely layup since there’s scant room to scoot the ball onto the molar green guarded by two deep front bunkers. We also saw Rickie Fowler escape the right barranca with a layup, leading to a crucial momentum-saving birdie in his record-breaking round of 62 on Thursday.
The "molar" 14th green possesses a variety of intriguing hole locations.
Layups need to stay left as the right half of the hole is the trouble side, so the smart tactic, depending on where the hole is cut (especially if it’s near the front right “root”), is to play toward the left greenside bunker, or even left of the bunker, for a better angle on the third shot.
THE 15TH, A SAND WEDGE PAR 3
The succession of Herculean long holes is briefly interrupted by their opposite, a wedge-shot par 3 that plays no more than 133 yards—has yielded multiple holes-in-one—and will likely measure 78 to 90 yards during several rounds.
There's no room to miss when holes are cut on the thin front tongue of the par-3 15th.
For this morsel of a hole, size matters not. The green is deep but narrow. A pin set in the thin, sloping sliver of putting surface pinched between bunkers at the front is a terrifying target when the wind is up. The fatter back part of the green is oriented around a Perry Maxwell-like knob that might have originally been conceived as a bunker, like Thomas' sixth at Riviera, creating distinct targets that must be approached with precision.
This knob can alter approaches and putts when flags are placed near it.
A MESMERIZING GREEN AT THE PAR-4 16TH
The angle of the drive from the championship tees of the 542-yard 16th turns an essentially expansive hole into a more restricted double dogleg. A bunker on the left edge of the fairway sits on the line to the green and players will have to try to skirt tee shots around it on the right (it’s a 340-yard carry from the back tees) to reach a speed slot and 20 extra yards, then contend with a bunker that covers the right half of the most cunningly contoured green on the course that feeds into a central channel and rises toward the back right corner.
The long par-4 16th is an ingenious use of the natural terrain.
The down-sloping fairway and speed slot will make this a drive-and-pitch hole if played from any of the forward tees but will demand two long, well-played shots at the Open yardage.
Putts break in contasting directions at the 16th.
THE PAR-4 17TH DEMANDS LENGTH AND ACCURACY
The 528-yard 17th is visually stunning, dropping back into the basin to one of the course’s narrower fairways with rough and a bunker left and twisted sycamores and the barranca on the right. The trees can potentially tangle tee shots from the back tees, and the 35-yard fairway is one of the most demanding to hit on the North Course.
The tee shot at the par-4 17th is one of the tightest at Los Angeles Country Club.
The green is 45 yards deep and angled right to left with a phalanx of bunkers in front, and back left pins can add 30 yards to the approach.
The 17th can vary dramatically depending on whether the hole is toward the front right or 30 yards or more further in the back left.
A LONG RIDE HOME AT THE PAR-4 18TH
The 18th can also stretch to 500 yards, and the semi-blind drive has been stiffened with the addition of a line of rough drawn in down the left-hand side beyond the bunker complex, accentuating the right to left flow of the hole.
The tee shot challenge at the 18th is the lack of visibility and defined targets.
Because of the low tee and low visibility of the fairway or other targets, challenge of the drive is to pick a line and commit to it The farther right players are, the more direct the angle is into a deep, tri-cornered green. Eighteen isn’t the most intimidating final hole in U.S. Open golf, but the lack of definition and naked clubhouse backdrop (there are no grandstands behind the green) can subltly complicate depth-perception judgment and impact late-day scoring.
After hitting good drives, players in contention will have an approach at 18 that looks something like this, only with hundreds of spectators surrounding the green.