VENTURA, Calif. -- Forrest Richardson and the city of Ventura got it right. In 2005, the city hired Richardson for a crucial golf remodeling project, and he made the most out of the opportunity.
Situated within a thousand yards of the Ventura Harbor, the project called for imagination and talent. The land is relatively flat and sandy, what you'd expect so close to the Pacific. Afternoon breezes are the norm. There are trees, but they are relatively small. Natural fauna and no-entry environmental setbacks had to be worked into the design.
Richardson blended it all into a unique experience called Olivas Links Golf Course.
Golfweek rated this course in 2009 the 10th best public course in the country, an honor, to be sure. But the same list had San Francisco's Harding Park, site of the 2009 President's Cup, rated No. 16. Let's just say Olivas Links is an enjoyable, fun and challenging place to play and worth the 40-mile trip from central Los Angeles and the 30-mile trek south from Santa Barbara.
From the street, it doesn't look like much, because the city has yet to construct a clubhouse on the property. Portable buildings hold the small pro shop and restrooms. But that's okay, because the money went into the golf course.
Olivas Links Golf Course's first is an easy warm-up, but the double-dogleg, par-5 second requires knowledge of where to direct your shots -- well to the right off the tee and then well to the left on the lay-up second to open up the approach. And the green has some severe contours to challenge the putting.
Laying short of the bunkers on the 356-yard third sets up a short iron in the green, the plateaus and slopes of which require precise approach shots to ensure an easy two-putt par. The 381-yard 10th is another example. A drive on the right edge of the fairway brings a squat cypress tree in play, negating an easy approach to the green.
There aren't many hazards, though tall, natural grasses on the sides of holes eat up balls. The sixth (420 yards) might be the best on the front, but the 344-yard ninth again requires a decision to lay back from a fairway bunker or challenge it and get very close to the green.
Holes 11 through 16 will stress your game. The par-4 11th is a dogleg right around wetlands, and, after a reverse of direction, the 12th plays into the prevailing breeze, the wetlands collecting slices from the right-handers. The par-3 13th (171 yards) and the par-5 14th, at 548 yards, both require good ball striking due to their play into the breezes.
The short, dogleg right 15th is a great links hole. A Goldilocks tee shot -- not too short, not too long -- sets up a flip wedge to the green.
Closing out the experience, a short par 3 and a reachable par 5 offer opportunities for birdies, which always bring a smile. But by that time, most of us will have been smiling for a long time.
Olivas Links Golf Course is a very good impersonation of what one would find in the links land of Scotland or England. There is little elevation change as short and long holes feature bunkers and undulations in the green complexes. It's not overbearing, but the more you play it, the more you realize precision off the tee and into the green improves the score. That's otherwise known as the links experience. And it's a very easy walk.
At just more than 6,800 yards from the back tees and 6,530 from the blues, Olivas Links isn't a punishing test. This is the course whose charms greet you very early on and grow.
The facility includes a large, natural-grass practice area, large putting green, another chipping green and an instruction center. The course is very popular among the locals, and it also serves as home course for local high school teams.
"I like the links style," said Edwin Thomas, who was born in England but has resided in the U.S. for more than 20 years. His two sons -- one in community college, another in high school -- play Olivas Links regularly as members of their respective golf teams.
"It's usually in good condition, and the shots are there. You can make it as tough as you want, but it's just a very good course."
Olivas Links Golf Course offers stay-and-play packages. The Crowne Plaza Hotel is less than a mile from the course. Restaurants abound.
August 30, 2012