Located in Burbank, Calif., DeBell is a narrow, challenging course. Many golfers find it so difficult they avoid playing here. This is the home course for Vlad Valesco (a longtime supporter of Global Traveler), and he asked me to share some of my trick shots as we navigated William Bell, William Johnson and Richard Bigler’s design. The course opened in 1959 and only measures 5,633 yards from the tips for a par 71, with a rating of 68.8 and a slope of 114 on Kikuyu grass.
Many golfers in Southern California call DeBell a gem — it is right in the city of Burbank, it is maintained to high standards and has a friendly staff in the pro shop. There are a lot of deer, and the greens team often have to repair the damage from their hoofs, even in the middle of your game. Players with wild tee shots might want to pass on DeBell or bring a gross of golf balls; they will lose a lot. Vlad and I have played courses all over, including some of the best in Southern California, Las Vegas and Pebble Beach. It is always a treat to hit the links together.
Hole 1 | 457 yards, par 5
This is a wonderful but difficult starting hole. From the tee box, you look down at the fairway. Your drive needs to favor the right side of the turn of this dogleg left for a clear shot to the green. Big hitters can reach or get darn close to this green in two. Vlad and I nailed our drives within 15 feet of each other. Unfortunately, our second shots did not meet our expectations — mine landed on the left, causing my approach to be blocked by a tree branch. After we putted in, both for double bogey, we looked back at what should have been a simple par.
Hole 3 | 278 yards, par 4
Golfers, including me, shake their heads at this tee box and think, “Is this the way it is going to be all day?” The hole is so narrow it is intimidating, as so much can go wrong. On the right a hillside has a great deal of brush to capture your ball; on the left a ravine will take you out of play. I slammed a drive favoring the left, thinking a fairway trap would save me. Vlad went right, and I thought his ball would stay in Burbank forever, but he found it in a reasonable area of rough. When I searched the trap, no ball was to be found. I hung my head low and began walking down the ravine when a player in the group before us motioned to me. (It turns out this gentleman lived a block from my home in Yardley, Pa., and recently retired to Southern California — small world!) There was my drive, on the left side of the green in a fine position to chip; it had careened off course, aided by the cart path. I chipped low to avoid tree branches and ended on the green in regulation. I two-putted for par and smiled at Vlad, who shook his head in disbelief.
Hole 6 | 124 yards, par 3
Vlad gave a loud laugh as my ball landed in the trap on the right of the green. He landed just in front, thinking he had this hole won, but I had a few good shots left in my bag of tricks. Make sure you look to the right of the tee — this is where some of The Lone Ranger TV show filmed in the ’50s. I took Vlad’s challenge and yelled, “Hi-ho, Silver! Away!” as I hit my sand shot to the green and crushed his gloats for a win. Tonto would have been proud.
Hole 8 | 499 yards, par 5
This is the No. 1 ranked hole, and from our scorecard, we have to agree. From the tee, your drive is in typical DeBell fashion, with a narrow fairway lined by trees. The hole turns right in a wide horseshoe to the green. Keep this curvature in mind; many golfers shoot too far, into the rough. Check out the homes on the high cliffs as you make your final approach. The green slopes back to front and right to left.
Hole 11 | 443 yards, par 5
Hole 11 sends those who tend to drive left out of their minds, as it lies up against a road and fence, which is out of bounds. I have seen golfers humorously watching their balls bounce down the pavement. The best shot is center left so you have a clean shot to the green, which lies to the right as this hole doglegs. Vlad and I hit successive brilliant drives, and then I had a great-looking fairway wood shot to the green, perfectly straight, but it landed just off the front of the green. An easy chip inches from the cup offered the chance to earn a par. Vlad caught the sand trap right of the green, costing him an extra stroke.
Hole 12 | 181 yards, par 3
On this tricky hole you have to launch your ball over a rocky high hill to reach the green, which is not visible from the tee box and is tucked in to the left. I took a little too much club and landed on the green but bounced behind near some pine trees. Vlad took a different approach and landed short and right. A chip got me on the green for an easy two-putt for bogey. Vlad struggled for a double.
Hole 18 | 385 yards, par 4
As you stand on the tee box, to the right is the old clubhouse, now used for storage. DeBell invested in a beautiful new clubhouse a few years ago, which is at the first and 10th holes. Your drive here should be straight; the hole runs from tee to green as if the designer snapped a chalk line. A slight curvature on the right of the fairway offers false hope of extra landing room, so some players end up in the pines. If you secure a decent drive as we did, an approach shot to the green is in grasp. The hole heads downhill and has a nice view of the brand-spanking-new clubhouse. The large green slopes back to front and to the left.
DeBell Golf Club
1500 E. Walnut Ave.
Burbank, CA 91501
tel 818 845 0022
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