Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, Mission Viejo, CA
South of Los Angeles by a clogged-freeway hour lies Orange County, a region of citrus trees, theme parks and an exploding real estate market that has devoured many of the massive ranches that once dominated the landscape. Thankfully, a few ranches still exist, and one of them, Rancho Mission Viejo, has large swatches of earth set aside for ranching, wetlands conservancy and, to our delight, a new golf course called Arroyo Trabuco. Designed by Casey O'Callaghan with Tom Lehman, this pristine, linksy design is a blessed bridge between the terrors of muni golf and the forbidding tariffs at surrounding daily-fee layouts.
Bound to be a hit with O.C. locals, Arroyo should also attract road warriors from San Diego and L.A. to its 240 hilly acres carved from native vegetation and scrub brush. Befitting its links feel, the layout runs straight away from the clubhouse and, like Bob Dylan, never looks back. As a rule, landing areas on par fours are generous, usually between a slanting bank and the ubiquitous arroyo (or creek), so free swinging off the tees is rarely punished. There are two lakes and a creek running through the course as well as gentle canyon breezes that should kick up most afternoons and deliver the siren scent of the outdoor barbecue pit that general manager Matthew Donovan hopes will promote speedy play. A welcome notion, that—spareribs instead of marshals.
Yardage/Par: 7,011/72. Greens Fees: $55-$85. Tee Times: 949-364-1881 or visit arroyotrabuco.com.
Snowmass Club, Snowmass Village, CO
About the kindest thing one could say of the old Arnold Palmer-Ed Seay layout at the tony Snowmass Club was that it helped kill time between ski seasons. The 1980 design, while adequate, never equaled the beauty or the challenges found on the surrounding slopes, and with sexy new Aspen-area private courses such as Aspen Glen, Ironbridge and the Roaring Fork Club attracting members by the cartful, Snowmass looked as dated as some of the condos that bestrode its outlying fairways. So architect Jim Engh got the call.
Known for his knack for mining magnificent courses (Redlands Mesa, Fossil Trace) from inhospitable Colorado terrain, Engh could have nipped and tucked his way to a paycheck. But he didn't just renovate Snowmass; he detonated it, moving more than a halfmillion cubic yards of dirt in an aggressive rerouting that adds more than four hundred yards of length and infinite panache to the site. Crouching below 14,000-foot peaks, the reborn Snowmass is akin to a black-diamond slope you can traverse by foot, each fairway a bump run leading to bump-and-run opportunities queered by hidden pot bunkers or deep, heavily banked sandpits that squiggle and slalom in front of the greens. Yet this same beefy greenside mounding forgives errant approaches and funnels them towards the putting surface, where even wilder rides await.
Not one of the bent-grass greens is unfair, but Engh appears to have solved the course's parking problem by burying a car or two beneath the front of the putting surface on the sixth, and snowboarders might mistake the thirteenth green—a modified Biarritz—as a halfpipe. The tone set by the opener—a 595-yard double dogleg over a lake that rewards the bomber with a clear angle to the green—carries through to the finish. A village of pot bunkers fronts the uphill par-three seventeenth, making the carry appear longer than its two hundred yards, and sand in the optimal first landing area turns the par-five eighteenth into a layup hole. All require gutsy plays to score well—an approach this architect seems to thrive on.
Yardage/Par: 7,004/72. Greens Fee: $150. Tee Times: 970-923-0929 or visit snowmassclub.com.