It's hard to believe that from Los Angeles, if there's no traffic and you're not overly fond of the posted speed limit, you can be at the tranquil Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in just seventy-five minutes. Well, if there are no hitches. Meredith, my occasional writing partner, was on a deadline for a screenplay, so when she discovered about thirty minutes into the trip that she had forgotten her laptop, we had no choice but to turn around.
"Meredith! How could you do this to me?" I whined as I made a U-turn. "That'd be like me forgetting my golf clubs!"
Thirty-five miles south of Santa Barbara and twelve miles up rural Highway 33, Ojai is a quaint, artsy-craftsy hamlet whose downtown stretches only a handful of blocks. Beautiful homes hidden away in the surrounding hills sequester a lot of the Hollywood crowd seeking a restful getaway from the hectic pace of the film business. But just before you get to Ojai's main drag, a turnoff takes you up to the majestic Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, arguably one of the finest resorts—if not the finest, when golf, spa and food are all factored in— in Southern California. In fact, I don't know of a better resort nor a place I would rather rusticate at, especially if I only have a few days. And let me repeat: From L.A., it's only seventy-five minutes away. You're there before you know it.
We pulled into valet and were greeted by a swarm of eager young men. Luggage was hustled to our room and golf bags lugged down to the pro shop. After a brief check-in, we fortified ourselves for an afternoon of golf on the outdoor patio at the Oak Grill, perched over the first hole of the back nine, where we sipped a glass of frigorific chardonnay and dined on grilled ahi and locally sourced vegetables. I had been to Ojai before to play golf but never to stay at the inn, which was out of my price range in days past. Times and my fortunes have both changed, and now here I was for three days and two nights of golf, spa treatments and the promise of wonderful food.
As we lunched, the first thing Meredith and I noticed was that there were hardly any golfers on the course. Admittedly, it was the middle of the week, and it was an unusually warm afternoon—but not that warm. It was a shock to see these verdant ribbons of fairways stretched out below us virtually empty. Plus, it was the height of the summer tourist season.
After lunch we repaired to our lovely room in the Hacienda building. When we threw open the curtains, we discovered that our balcony commanded a sweeping view of the front nine, with Sulphur Mountain framing it in the distance. A waxing half moon was already transiting up into the creamy blue sky. At night that sky would grow a deep violet and be scintillant with stars. But first, we had a tee time to make.
Ojai Valley was the brainchild of Edward Libbey, a plutocrat who made his fortune in glass manufacturing and later used his money for philanthropic purposes. In 1923, having grown enchanted with the valley and the game of golf, he commissioned George C. Thomas—who would also design L.A. Country Club, Bel-Air, Riviera and a handful of other magnificent courses in his short, brilliant career—to create the layout for a private facility called Ojai Valley Country Club. To this day, unless you're privileged to be (or be friends with) a member at one of those courses, Ojai might be one of your few chances to play a Thomas design. And playing one is like taking a trip back in time to an era of small, dramatically elevated greens, raised bunkers—and fewer of them—and shorter, tighter holes.