"We used to call it that," Hanse explained, "because we let Geoff shape it and he couldn’t run a bulldozer very well. He just made this huge rectangular hole in the ground. I went back and cleaned it up, but we left the shape." To their credit, the Lap Pool functions well: Nestled against the wash on the right, it’s not easy to get the approach shot—which plays straight up-canyon—anywhere near a back hole location.
It’s just amazing how many people view ’fun’ as a dirty word in golf," Shackelford said. "Early on, when people first played here, they’d say, ’Oh, yeah, it’s a very nice course. It’s fun.’ And they worried they were insulting me! That’s when I knew golf was in trouble—when I saw that people’s impression of a great course was one that would just beat them up."
Which isn’t to say Rustic Canyon is easy. Rather, it’s more the kind of course where, after a bad swing, you try to talk your ball into a safe place rather than reaching immediately into the bag for a new one. There aren’t many intimidating shots, but Rustic can steal strokes with the best of them.
The first hole, for example, is a 540-yard par-five that is reachable for many golfers, especially when the course is playing firm and fast. It begins with an inviting drive to a broad landing area, but then the approach is complicated by a lightning bolt of a barranca that splits the fairway from just outside the 150-yard marker all the way down to the front right portion of the green. What’s more, the green not only runs away from the golfer but also plays down-canyon, making it tough to hold. Standing back on the tee, one feels confident that birdie or par can be had here, yet it always comes as such a surprise when six (or higher) is written on the scorecard.
The same goes for the wonderful third, a short par four of just 315 yards that conjures up a world of possibilities. Play it five times and you can easily come up with as many results. That you can make a tap-in birdie after driving it clear over the green is the type of thing that sticks in the player’s mind and can cause moments of self-flagellation when, in subsequent rounds, the more conservative approach leads to bogey. Or when a bold drive onto the green leads to a soul-crushing three-putt par. . . .
The regulars all have their favorite strategies for taking on holes like these. They’re an opinionated bunch and unusually devoted to their home course. You’d really expect a guy like Jon Winokur, a nine-handicap who plays in a weekly foursome at Rustic, to come up with something grouchy, given that he was the editor of The Portable Curmudgeon, a collection of the snarkiest pearls from the likes of Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde. But no: "If it ever went private, I’d be the first in line," he said. "I can’t imagine not playing that course once a week for as long as I can hold a golf club."