The land El Caballero Country Club occupies was aptly owned at one time by Brig. Gen. Harrison Grey Otis, the original publisher of the Los Angeles Times and a Civil War hero who helped secure Abraham Lincoln’s bid for The White House. After his death, his estate sold the ranch to Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan novels, who moved into the Grey Otis home and ranch and named it Tarzana.
Burroughs was the genius behind the building of a golf course on the site and using his home, perched high on a hill, as the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the Roaring Twenties came to an end with the Great Depression and Burroughs lost the land. Over the years, the club and land transferred to various players until 1955, when it came into the hands of Bernie Shapiro. Shapiro wanted to create a non-restrictive club open to anyone. Perfectly timed for the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the current El Caballero was born.
Famed golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designed the course, which embodies all his signature elements including tight fairways, challenging doglegs and significant greenside bunkers. The course winds through elevation changes, lovely mature trees and the gentle El Caballero Creek (most of which is channeled under the course in California’s never-ending zeal to capture water).
Global Traveler Globility Board member and subscriber Steve White invited me to play the course, and he graciously allowed me to invite Bill Noonan of Asiana Airlines and my “crackerjack golfer” nephew, Haydn Sonnad, who plays for the Agoura High School golf team.
It was fitting to tee up and play El Caballero, given its history and links to publishing.
Hole 1 | 497 yards, par 5
Trent Jones likes to ease you into El Cab with a fairly straight par 5. Off the tee box, you must keep your drive as straight as possible due to out of bounds on the left and a line of mature trees on the right. Out of the gate, Steve and I hit decent drives to the fairway, mine favoring the right side. Our caddie, Mike, assured me I would have a clean second shot. Haydn and Bill got hung up in the trees on the right and kept hoping for that miracle recovery through the branches.
My second shot was straight on as Mike suggested, and Steve followed through systematically as well. I lost a stroke to the green, underestimating the length and uphill location. While I was able to card a bogey, Steve secured his first par of many.
Hole 6 | 174 yards, par 3
From an elevated tee box, golfers can gaze toward their attack, a green elevated beyond and surrounded by trees. Four bunkers heavily guard the green, but they were no match for Steve, who slammed a shot and rolled within a few inches of the cup. For the rest of us amateurs, we hit decent shots but missed the mark for bogeys. Steve carded his first of two birdies.
Hole 7 | 501 yards, par 5
This long hole features a sharp dogleg right, which includes out of bounds for players who try to cut the corner. But Haydn took no care of this danger when he launched his drive perfectly, favoring the left side. The green is heavily bunkered with four traps covering every point on the compass. Steve joined Haydn as they both put together strings of nearly perfect shots to the green for par. Bill and I struggled. I landed on the left side of the fairway in a grove of trees that knocked my ball around like a woodpecker.
Hole 10 | 141 yards, par 3
This pretty par 3 includes a water feature in front and on the right of the green with a kidney-shaped surface. Two traps just behind the green lie ready to catch players adding a little too much muscle in an attempt to avoid the water. Steve, naturally, made a lovely shot to the center of the green for par. Bill equally teed up and drove his ball home for the second par. Haydn and I took a more traveled route, both ending up on the left side and chipping far enough away to two-putt and score bogeys.
Hole 11 | 381 yards, par 4
In typical Trent Jones fashion, a dogleg right makes things more interesting here. As if this is not enough for struggling players like me, trees on the right side of the fairway can block your shot to the green. I landed near the farthest left tree, which offered a psychological effect: I could envision myself hitting this tree squarely and knocking myself back. I decided to take a little more club — Mike agreed with my yardage assessment — and cleanly hit the ball, adding a slightly right turn to the shot and landing on the green within 15 feet of the cup. My partners struggled, Bill losing a ball and Steve disappearing on the left. Haydn’s drive was so long and strong he was in the next county! I carded a par, one of my few during the round that day.
Hole 17 | 421 yards, par 4
The second-to-last hole at El Cab can either make you or break you. It took a chunk out of Steve’s par/birdie streak as he carded a bogey. Haydn hit one of his 300-yard drives askew and landed near some trees on the right. It is a beautiful hole, running ever so slightly downhill to the green, with a pond in front and to the left. I drove a weak shot from the tee box but made up the distance with a 3-wood, landing in front of the green on the bank of the pond. A make-or-break chip paid off by holing out, to the cheers of Steve, Haydn and Bill. It was a great day for golf at a historically rich club in Southern California. I must be a good luck charm for Steve, who carded a 74 for one of his all-time lows.
El Caballero Country Club
18300 Tarzana Drive
Tarzana, CA 91356
tel 818 654 3000
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