You know a golf course has been around a long time when it has a Ben Hogan story. Having been established in 1919, venerable Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles is that type of place.
I played there for a charity event on Monday and was clued in on the lore of Ben Hogan, the ninth hole and the Hollywood sign. The ninth is a 418-yard dogleg-left par-4 that begins with a blind tee shot. Wilshire CC is located in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, which is visible at several points on the course but most prominently on No. 9 because it’s part of the backdrop, as is the sign for the high-rise El Royale apartment building, which you see on the right. The green is visually located beneath the Hollywood sign.
The story I was told by my playing partner actually involves the El Royale sign, but I searched online and found an LA Times story that says it’s actually the Hollywood sign, which makes more sense, but the gist is the same.
Apparently Hogan, the master ball-striker of his time and perhaps all-time, arrived at the ninth tee and was told by his caddie to aim at the Hollywood sign. A few moments passed and Hogan had neither spoke nor addressed his ball. The caddie interjected and asked, “Mr. Hogan, do you have a question?”
“Yes,” Hogan replied. “Which letter?”
A former sportswriter friend once told me a similar Hogan story about him playing a practice round where the sightline involved a water tower. When Hogan played the course the second day, he was reminded about the water tower being the aiming point and said, “Actually, it’s two feet to the left.”
Now that’s precision.
I played No. 9 by hitting my usual draw and hoping it would follow the fairway. It didn’t. We found it on the right side in some very thick rough and I got to chop it out from 175 yards. My approach was left and fortunately found a rare safe landing spot amongst the myriad of bunkers that guard this hole and, for that matter, every hole at Wilshire. It’s the most severely bunkered course I’ve ever played and fortunately the format we played has us rarely playing out of them.
Anyway, after a pitch and a tricky two-putt, I took 5 on No. 9, but walked off happy to have had the experience of following in the footsteps of a golf legend.
Thanks to the staff at Wilshire for being gracious hosts for a quintessential LA golf experience and thanks also to the charity sponsor, Prototypes, which advocates for mothers with children who are going through recovery to keep their children out of foster care. This was their fourth annual tournament. I’ll be providing additional information about the event in a separate post.