You do a lot of things in college that you later come to regret. In that spirit I would like to apologize to the good people at Rancho Park Golf Course, in Los Angeles. During my under-grad days at UCLA, sneaking onto Rancho was a favorite afternoon study break. A few things fueled this practice—the impossibility of snagging a tee time, the constraints of a student budget and, it must be said, the low-grade thrill of trespassing.
My outlaw route was always the same: I'd park next to the public tennis courts off Motor Avenue, duck behind a thorny bush and squeeze through a hole in Rancho's fence, emerging near the 12th hole, far from the watchful eyes in the clubhouse. If the tee was open on this long par-3, I would rush through the inevitable double bogey. Usually I would have to wait on the 10th tee to find a group that needed a single. With a well-rehearsed spiel alluding to the instructions of an unnamed starter, I was off and running.
The back nine at Rancho Park is a superb test, carved through mature trees and zigzagging across gently rolling terrain. It was a long way from the flat, dusty munis I had grown up playing in Northern California's Steinbeck country. Still, the only hint of Rancho's past was the plaque behind the 18th tee commemorating the 12 that Arnold Palmer took on the hole during the 1961 LA Open. I would barely give the memorial a glance, as I was usually rushing to beat the sunset. Then it was back to the dorms for dinner.
It wasn't until my junior year that I played all 18 on the same day. I was working on a story about an upcoming Senior tour event at Rancho, and the pro hooked me up with a tee time. I was delighted to discover that the front nine was as good as the back, but reporting that story forever changed my feelings for Rancho. I learned that it started out as a private club in the 1920s, catering to a glamorous Hollywood membership. The city purchased the club in 1946, revamping it into its current configuration, a 6,628-yard par-71. In 1953 and '54 members of the men's club won the U.S. Public Links, and beginning in '56 Rancho hosted the first of 16 L.A. Opens. Palmer added the requisite star quality by winning three times.
The Senior tour stuck around only from 1990 to '94, and Rancho is now solely the province of the common man, a green oasis in a land of mall and sprawl. During my final two years at UCLA, I refrained from sneaking on. I had developed too much respect for the place, and besides, I had interviewed all the marshals, and they knew my name. During afternoons escaping English papers, I would queue up at the 1st tee, like the other hopefuls. Eventually I would get on, always smiling as I arrived at the 12th tee.