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Course Source: Griffith Park, Nicklaus North

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The Sports Xchange

By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange

Course Source: Griffith Park, Nicklaus North

IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Griffith Park Golf Course, Harding and Wilson courses, in Los Angeles

THE LAYOUT: George C. Thomas, one of the greatest American designers in the early part of the last century, helped design not only Riviera Country Club and Los Angeles North -- perhaps the two best private courses in Los Angeles -- but also these two remarkable municipal courses.

The United States Golf Association believes the Wilson course, where nine holes were created as early as the 1860s by Gen. John M. Baldwin at Potrero de Los Angeles, is the oldest muni course in the U.S.

Thomas added nine holes to Wilson in 1923 and also designed Harding, which opened in 1924.

Harding measures 6,536 yards from the back tees, with a 70.8 rating and a slope of 112. Wilson stretches to 6,947 yards with a rating of 72.9 and a slope of 115. Both par-72 courses wind through tall eucalyptus trees in Griffith Park next to the Los Angeles Zoo.

Even though Wilson is longer, more accurate shot-making is required on Harding. The trees make the fairways appear to be narrower than they actually are, and the greens are relatively small.

Also in Griffith Park is the Marty Tregnan Golf Learning Center for youngsters and beginners.

HEAD PRO: Roger Barber, son of the late Jerry Barber, the 1961 PGA champion who was head pro at Griffith Park for 23 years.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The Los Angeles Open, now the Northern Trust Open, was played at Wilson and Harding from 1937-39, with "Lighthorse Harry" Cooper, Jimmy Thomson and Jimmy Demaret winning.

Sam Snead cashed his first check on the PGA Tour, worth $400, after a high finish in the 1937 L.A. Open.

Babe Ruth played the Harding and Wilson courses often when he came to Hollywood to dabble in the movies during the 1920s and '30s, and Tiger Woods won the Los Angeles Junior Championship on the Griffith Park courses in 1991.

Other winners of L.A. City Junior titles include Al Geiberger, Charlie Sifford, Corey Pavin, Duffy Waldorf, Curtis Sifford, Tommy Jacobs, Phil Rodgers, John Cook, Amy Alcott, Marlene Bauer, Alice Bauer and Laura Baugh.

Several years ago, Woods was filmed for a commercial hitting a tee shot from Wilson's elevated first tee. The 536-yard downhill, dogleg right par 5 can be reached in two shots by big hitters who shape the approach around the corner to the green.

That is the beginning of a strong three opening holes, which also include the downhill, 416-yard, par-4 second -- rated No. 1 on the card -- and the uphill 192-yard third.

Memorable on the back nine at Wilson are the 222-yard, par-3 11th, which plays in a grove of trees, and the daunting 438-yard, par-4 16th.

Harding opens with a challenging, downhill, 421-yard par 4, with the tee box perched atop a large hill.

Tee shots that wander right on the 345-yard, par-4 12th and the 192-yard, uphill, par-3 13th are gone -- the first onto Interstate 5 and the second onto the grounds of the Gene Autry Heritage Museum.

The par-5 18th plays uphill to the clubhouse, with the zoo on the right. Flamingos often fly over the fence to provide a gallery on the tee box.

OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks also operates the Encino and Balboa golf courses at Sepulveda Golf Complex in Encino; Rancho Park Golf Course in West L.A.; Hansen Dam Golf Course in Pacoima and Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys.

Nine-hole layouts under the L.A. City umbrella include Roosevelt Golf Course in Griffith Park, Penmar Golf Course in Venice and Harbor Park Golf Course in Wilmington.

Angeles National Golf Club, the only course in Los Angeles County created by Nicklaus Design, is a highly-regarded, daily-fee course in Sunland. About 40 miles away in Santa Clarita are TPC Valencia, which had Mark O'Meara on its design team, and Robinson Ranch, with its award-winning Valley and Mountain courses.

WHERE TO STAY: The best hotels in downtown Los Angeles -- including the Westin Bonaventure, the New Otani Hotel & Garden, the Omni Hotel Los Angeles, the Millennium Biltmore, the Hilton Checkers and the J.W. Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live -- are about a 10-minute drive from Griffith Park. The Sheraton Universal Hotel, adjacent to Universal Studios theme park, also is about 10 minutes away.

ON THE WEB: http://www.griffithpark.lagolfclubs.com/clubs/NewHome.cfm/ClubID/25/Section/Home

IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Nicklaus North Golf Course in Whistler, British Columbia

THE LAYOUT: For decades, skiers came to Whistler for the world-class slopes on Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Peak, where the alpine events were contested during the 2010 Winter Olympics, hosted by Vancouver.

Now, there also is world-class golf in the area, and the best golfer in the history of the game came to Canada to create a masterpiece that opened for play in 1996 below the glacial peaks.

Jack Nicklaus has put his stamp on nearly 300 courses around the world, but about all you really have to know about Nicklaus North is that it was the first, and still one of only two, that he put his name on.

Nicklaus North actually is a public course, but it is located in one of Canada's top vacation spots. Tee times can be arranged by all of the local resorts.

To help get the word out, Nicklaus brought the Telus Skins Game to the course in 1997, when Greg Norman took the bulk of the money from Nicklaus, Fred Couples and Nick Faldo.

The event returned in 2005, with Canadian Stephen Ames beating Nicklaus, John Daly and Vijay Singh.

In 1998, Nicklaus North was host to an episode of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf in which Couples shot a brilliant 5-under-par 66 to defeat Ernie Els.

The course, which has a maximum rating of 72.2 and slope of 133, winds 6,961 yards from the championship tees through a gentle valley floor along the shores of Green Lake, with five sets of tees offering golfers of all abilities a challenge that suits their game.

It does not take as long to reach Whistler these days because of a construction project that widened the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway to handle the traffic from Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics.

Workers blasted enough granite out of the mountains to fill 60,000-seat B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were held, and all of the rock was recycled into fortifying the old two-lane Highway 99.

Canadians were disappointed their country did not claim a single skiing medal at Whistler during the 2010 Games, but they still celebrate the gold that Nancy Greene of British Columbia claimed in the giant slalom at Grenoble, France, in 1968.

Greene was instrumental in the development of Whistler, and the locals did not forget, naming a street located on the way from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler to Nicklaus North Golf Course as Nancy Greene Drive.

DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Andrew Smart

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Unlike some of Nicklaus' early designs, Nicklaus North is very playable, with wide driving areas in the fairways and large, receptive green complexes.

The project was environmentally sensitive from the beginning in keeping with the spectacular natural habitat, and the course is impeccably manicured.

Five spectacular par-3 holes provide the strength of the course, and it starts early with the 219-yard second, which requires a tee shot over a large pond to a green guarded by five bunkers.

The most challenging of the par-3s probably is No. 12, which is rated by several sources as one of the most memorable holes in Canada. It plays 225 yards from the back tees across another pond to a two-tiered green that is protected by bunkers on all four sides, with a steep slope in front sending many shots that are barely short back into the water.

Among the best of the rest is the ninth hole, a dogleg left, par-4 that measures only 376 yards from the tips, but there is trouble all the way to the green. It starts with water down the left side, and the farther back you are on the tee, the more there is to carry. Long hitters who can avoid the water and steer clear of the deep bunker 245 yards off the tee will have a short iron on the approach, but playing it more conservatively still might present the chance for a birdie or par.

Most challenging of the par-5s probably is No. 11, 555 yards from the tips with a prevailing headwind making it unlikely to get home in two, even for big hitters. Bunkers and a conservation area border the fairway on both sides off the tee, and water comes into play on the left when laying up. Bunkers right, left and rear protect the green.

Nicklaus provided a spectacular finish on the last four holes, wrapping around Green Lake, which has a greenish hue because of the mineral deposits caused by the melting glacier that drains into the lake.

The tee shot on the par-4, 437-yard 15th, again over water for longer hitters and often affected by a crosswind, must be threaded between two fairway bunkers to provide for a reasonable approach to a large and undulating green.

The driving area on the par-4, 425-yard 16th is generous, but the approach to a firm green must carry wide Fitzsimmons Creek, which can be reached from the tee by long bombers. Check out the float planes that dock near the clubhouse before hitting your drive.

No. 17 is the last of those par-3s, and although the 226-yard tee shot is not over water, Green Lake awaits tee shots that wander left. A bunker that wraps around the green saves many a ball from a watery grave.

The finishing hole, another strong par 4 that measures 438 yards, might be the most difficult on the course. Even after a tee shot that avoids the trees on the left and a bunker on the right, a solid approach over water is demanded to reach a relatively small green guarded by traps left and right.

Don't be surprised to see bear, moose, coyote, deer and other critters wander out from the tall fir trees during your round, but what makes this course special is that it has the Golden Bear's paw prints all over it.

OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Less than a five-minute drive from Nicklaus North is Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club. The course, which plays to a par of 72, climbs 400 feet from the clubhouse up the slopes of Blackcomb Peak and features tight fairways, doglegs, severe drops and rises from tee to green, plus uphill, downhill and sidehill lies. Don't be fooled by the 6,635 yards shown on the scorecard; look instead at the 145 slope from the back tees.

Whistler Golf Club, located barely inside the town limits, was the first course in the area and the initial Arnold Palmer-designed layout in Canada. It opened in 1982 and underwent a $1.8 million renovation in 2000.

Big Sky Golf and Country Club, located about 25 minutes north of Whistler, is a spectacular course designed by Robert Cupp and John Fought at the foot of Mount Currie in the Pemberton Valley. It opened in 1994 in a valley where potatoes once grew and features seven lakes plus several streams that bisect the course.

If you have a chance on the way up from Vancouver, stop and play Mayfair Lakes Golf and Country Club below the towering Coast Mountains in Richmond, or picturesque Furry Creek Golf and Country Club, about 30 minutes south of Whistler on the Sea-to-Ski Highway.

WHERE TO STAY: Fairmont Chateau Whistler, part of the worldwide chain that has its flagship in San Francisco, is one of several spectacular golf properties owned by the corporation in Canada.

Conde Naste Traveler magazine selected the Fairmont Chateau Whistler as the No. 1 ski resort and No. 1 golf resort in Canada. Whistler receives 46 feet of snow a year, and the Wizard chairlift right outside the back door of the resort whisks skiers up the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain to 8,100 acres of skiing terrain.

After returning from the slopes and/or the links, have yourself pampered in the Vida Wellness Spa. Then enjoy exceptional cuisine in the Wildflower Restaurant, the Grill Room or the Portobello Market and Fresh Bakery, and have a drink in the Mallard Lounge. For even more exceptional service, stay on Fairmont's exclusive Gold Level.

Other winter activities include cross-country skiing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowshoeing, dog-sledding, ice skating, four-wheel driving, indoor rock climbing and snowmobile riding.

During the spring and summer, guests also enjoy kayaking, wakeboarding, windsurfing, jet boating, whitewater rafting, swimming, fishing, rollerblading, mountain-biking, hiking, rock climbing and canoeing.

Other top hotels in Whistler include the Four Seasons Whistler Resort, the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler, the Whistler Alpine Chalet, the Delta Whistler Village Suites, the Crystal Lodge & Suites, the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside and the Chalet Louise Bed & Breakfast Inn.

ON THE WEB: http://www.golfbc.com/courses/nicklaus_north; http://www.fairmont.com/whistler

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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