Angeles National Golf Club, LOS ANGELES, CA
During the last few years, a lack of land has exiled the many new golf courses in the L.A. area to the uneven lies of the city's surrounding foothills. The new Angeles National is a welcome exception. Opened in June within L.A.'s northern city limits, it resides in an expansive, flat and rocky flood basin that designer Steve Nicklaus has craftily transformed into the type of desert oasis generally associated with courses in Palm Springs.
The younger Nicklaus says that his design philosophy, "learned in part from my dad," was to make it "relatively easy for golfers to get their tee shots in play on most holes, then to increase the difficulty of the subsequent shots as the holes narrow to the pins." The stunningly tough 485-yard par-four ninth, with its wide landing area and long second shot over a dry creek to the green, achieves this goal with Bearlike abandon. Other Nicklaus-family trademarks include split fairways, variably sized and fairly contoured greens, immaculate conditioning and a world-class practice facility.
YARDAGE/PAR: 7,141/72. GREENS FEES: $78-$98. TEE TIMES: 818-951-8771 or visit angelesnational.com.
The Ranch Golf Club, SAN JOSE, CA
"How many balls did you lose?" course designer Casey O'Callaghan asked upon learning that I had played the Ranch. It is, in fact, the first question everyone asks. Even O'Callaghan, a single-digit handicapper, admits to losing three or four his first time out on this unusual target mountain setup—and he presumably knows where to hit the ball.
Located high in the foothills overlooking Silicon Valley, the Ranch is "terrain crafted" and "custom fit" within the confines of canyon walls, wild barrancas, 150-year-old oak trees and an assortment of creeks, riparian hazards and environmentally protected areas that make golf balls disappear as if they were hors d'oeuvres at happy hour. Simply put: Hit it wrong and it's gone.
In return for running its hoary gauntlet, the course, which opened in May, affords stunning elevation drops and postcard-like views of the skylines of both San Jose and San Francisco. They'll almost take your mind off all the ammunition you're losing.
YARDAGE/PAR: 6,747/72. GREENS FEES: $80-$100. TEE TIMES: 408-270-0557 or visit theranchgc.com.
Tunica National Golf & Tennis, TUNICA RESORTS, MS
Tunica County, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta region, had the blues bad in the early nineties; it was the poorest county in a poor state. In 1992, in an attempt to turn its fortunes, Tunica opened the state's first casino, which—although not ushering sudden prosperity into the region—at least brought three new area courses. Tunica National, which opened in March, is proving to be the best.
From a distance, the Mark McCumber-designed layout appears to be a wide-open affair where spraying the tee ball would be a welcome option. Wrong. True, there's nary a tree nor homesite in view, only the cotton fields the course was once part of. But water licks up on fourteen holes of this well-bunkered, links-style course, and the fill from the man-made streams, ponds and canals has been redistributed in the warp and woof of the zoysia fairways. There are no wild moonscape humps, but the 360- degree practice range, the state's largest, includes an uneven-lie area, a strong hint of things to come.
YARDAGE/PAR: 7,204/72. GREENS FEES: $25-$56. TEE TIMES: 866-833-6331 or visit tunicanational.com.