The two hit it off and agreed to keep an eye out for a future project. A couple of years later, when the site in Moorpark became available, Shackelford’s father, Lynn, brought it to his son’s attention. (Lynn, the former UCLA basketball star and Lakers announcer, had previously worked with Craig Price, whose company had won the bid to develop the course for the county.) Shackelford then easily sold Hanse on the project.
Although he had impressive credentials as a golf architecture critic, Shackelford had never contributed to an actual full-length design. For Hanse, that wasn’t an issue. "A lot of people understand strategy and can draw up a good golf hole," said Hanse, "but building one is completely different. Geoff realized he didn’t have a lot of experience and was eager to learn and observe, which helped him become a better architect."
For Shackelford, the opportunity to put down his critic’s pen and sit in the director’s chair (okay, codirector’s chair) was irresistible. "It was exciting, particularly since Gil was so patient, especially when I got on the bulldozer," said Shackelford. "Some of the crew looked at me as a lowly writer—what could I possibly know about course design?But I asked a lot of questions and had some observations that hopefully brought a fresh perspective." Though they haven’t worked together since, the two (along with Wagner, Hanse’s design partner) are now reviving their partnership for courses in Nebraska, Mexico and British Columbia, all of which are expected to get under way in the next year.
In the case of Rustic Canyon, the project was expedited by the fact that Shackelford lives less than an hour away in Santa Monica and was able to spend far more time than usual roaming the site with a topo map. "When we hit the ground for construction," Hanse said, "we were so far ahead of where we typically are because Geoff had done such a thorough inventory of the property."
Exploring the canyon, Shackelford made special note of any terrain that mirrored what he liked most about Riviera Country Club, a course he grew up playing and for which he wrote a club history. Rustic Canyon, he pointed out, "is in a very similar setting, with the hills on the sides and the hazard going down the middle. Very similar plants and everything. It’s hard to believe, looking at Riviera today with the mature trees and kikuyu grass and multimillion-dollar homes on the sides, but that was very much the course we looked to for inspiration."
Although the designers didn’t attempt anything as ambitious as a bunker carved into the middle of a putting surface (as at Riviera’s sixth), golfers playing Rustic’s twelfth hole will nevertheless enjoy their rendition of Riviera’s elusively angled tenth green. And the boomerang green of the thirteenth, crazy slopes and all, is also straight from the George Thomas playbook. "A lot of developers would say, ’How could you do a boomerang green on a public course?’" Shackelford said. "’Someone could wind up on the wrong side and try to chip the ball!’ There really isn’t much we would have done differently if it had been private."
Nevertheless, it would do both clubs an injustice to hold up Rustic Canyon as a poor man’s Riviera; the course has far too much personality of its own. The cross-canyon fourth, a blind par three over a weedy embankment, is the kind of modest, low-lying short hole one might find on an unsung English heathlander. In contrast, the view across the entire course from the high sixteenth tee is so unexpected that it gratifies in a way that courses devoted to "framing vistas" never do. Oddities abound along the way, from a fiendish pot bunker on the ninth named "Serge" (in honor of the truck driver who nearly crashed into it during construction) to the tenth green, also known as the "Lap Pool."