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Byline: Dave Shelburne Daily News Staff Writer

Have we got a course for you.

Brobdingnagian par-4s, serpentining par-5s, a trio of par-3s that offer only shorter trips to trouble.

Nine lakes, nearly three dozen bunkers, 14 holes with out-of-bounds or lateral hazards or both.

Welcome to the Daily News Toughest 18, a 7,328-yard, par-72 layout constructed from some of the most difficult challenges on 18-hole public courses in or around the San Fernando Valley.

Spanning the Valley from Fillmore to Pasadena, Camarillo to Sylmar, Santa Clarita to the Santa Monica Mountains, these 18 holes are guaranteed to test the mettle of any handicapper - or scratch player, for that matter.

Strap on the sacred shoes, sling up the bag and try a few of these holes from the blue tees this summer:

Knollwood, No. 1- Yikes! What a way to start a round. This 438-yard par-4 in Granada Hills, which has out of bounds all along the right side and requires a severe uphill second shot to a small green, plays like a par-5 for most golfers. Big hitters will want to drive left to get the kick right, but mid- to high-handicappers just might want to keep the green within three-shot range.

``It's very intimidating,'' said head pro Gary Finneran. ``With the length, the uphill, OB right and the fact it's the first shot of the day, there is potential to shoot a big number here.''

Woodley Lakes, No. 10- On a windy day, this 456-yard, dogleg-right par-4 in Van Nuys might be the toughest hole in the Valley. To cut the corner, you need a 260-yard drive into a quartering wind over an 80-yard bunker flanked right by interior OB. Your second shot will be directly into the wind at a huge, elevated green.

``It demands two good shots, the second a solid long iron or a fairway wood,'' said club pro Tim Cotti. ``With the wind, it plays close to 480, and when you reach the green you could be facing three putts.''

Vista Valencia, No. 10- How difficult is this 450-yard, dogleg-right par-4 at the Valencia executive course? Jason Semelsberger, a four-year golfer at Newhall's Hart High School and a U.S. Open finalist this year, couldn't birdie this hole until his senior season at Hart.

``It's all carry, usually into a prevailing wind,'' said men's club president Dennis Ford, who recommends - only half-jokingly - ``a 280-yard drive drawing away from the dogleg corner.'' Even then, a high approach over a gaping greenfront bunker might roll off the green.

Wilson, No. 11- This narrow, 222-yard par-3 in Griffith Park challenges with OB right, an overhanging tree just left of the tee, thick rough down the left, greenside mounds and occasional wind.

But No. 11's small green also can reward second-chance excellence. When eventual winner Burley Stamps of Palisades hit his first shot OB in this year's City high school championship, he hit his next shot within three feet of the pin for a bogey that looked as sweet as a birdie.

Simi Hills, No. 7- When those 30-40 mph winds start whipping through the Simi Valley, you can add a 3-4 club increase on this 422-yard uphill par-4, and it plays tough enough with no wind. A hillside right and fairway bunker left make it a tough driving hole, and a long, narrow green is severely sloped and protected by bunkers.

``The second shot is the toughest,'' said general manager Ron Cox. ``The green is pretty deep and depending on the pin placement, you can add 20-30 yards.''

Elkins Ranch, No. 9- Course tournament director Doug Morrison calls this 416-yard, par-4 in Fillmore the No. 1 score-wrecker at Elkins. ``More guys doing well take a nine or a 10 here than you can count,'' he said of the 90-degree dogleg-left hole, which has OB down the entire right side and water on the left.

If you don't hit your drive 255 yards, your second shot will have to be over water - from 150-225 yards depending on where your tee shot stops on the fairway.

De Bell, No. 16- Almost a dogleg because it shapes slightly to the left, this 232-yard, uphill par-3 in Burbank requires a wood off the tee for most players, who must contend with OB left, tee through green, and the probability of a difficult lie or lost ball on anything hit to the hillside on the right. The green is big enough and sloped enough to produce three putts on any shot hit above the cup.

``We put 'em to sleep on No. 15 (a 132-yard par-3), then give 'em a wake-up call with this,'' said head pro Phil Scozzola.

Scholl Canyon, No. 13- This 289-yard, uphill, dogleg-right par-4 in Glendale might be the most-penal of our Toughest 18. Miss the 25-yard-wide fairway right and you're in a canyon. Miss left, you have a good chance of rolling across the 15th fairway into another canyon. Hit the middle of this right-canted fairway and you might still roll into the canyon. Hit your approach long, you're OB. Hit it short, you roll downhill, possibly into a canyon. Men's club president Jim Hix says on this hole he hits only irons, ``with all of my fingers crossed.''

Los Robles, No. 14- This par-5 gorilla plays 621 yards with a sharp dogleg right, then water edging the fairway 150 yards from a narrow green protected by two bunkers. ``You want to try to cut the dogleg and stay to the right,'' says club pro Al Saunders, who warns that route - requiring a drive flight of 240 yards - risks landing in one of two rightside fairway bunkers. Avoid the bunkers and you're still 250 yards from the green with water awaiting any shot hit left, so take the sensible option: Beg for par and get out of Dodge.

El Cariso, No. 5- This dogleg-left par-4 on the Sylmar executive course is just 389 yards but has OB left and trees, fronted by bunker, directly between tee and green. Any straight-ahead attack must split a gap in the trees, either on first shot (needing a carry of 250 yards) or second shot (170 yards after a layup). A safer, dogleg approach must contend with rightside water for the final 140 yards.

``It's a pretty tough hole even for a regulation golf course,'' said club pro Marcus Briano. ``And for an executive course, I haven't seen too many tougher.''

Balboa, No. 12- This monster par-4 can be stretched to 468 yards, leaving regulars at the Sepulveda Basin course probably yearning for the good old days when it played as a par-5. Now, it takes two big hits to reach the green in regulation, preferably down the right side of a wide fairway flanked left by tee-to-green OB.

Strategy on this wide-open hole is no problem, except maybe for the roller-skaters outside the course who must keep a wary eye for shots hooked by grip-and-rippers struggling to reach this green in two.

Camarillo Springs, No. 6- This 512-yard, dogleg-right par-5 is so loaded with disaster potential that club pro Mike Leeds goes 2-iron, 2-iron, wedge in hopes of happily settling for par.

The entire right side is OB, and two lakes challenge any shot hit left of the fairway. A fairway bunker at 260 yards is another problem, as is a landing area just 15 yards wide in front of a 60-yard-long green. Even with a solid layup on second shot, the approach can vary from wedge to as much as 7-iron depending upon pin placement and winds.

Encino, No. 11- This 449-yard, dogleg-left is not the longest on the Sepulveda Basin course but plays plenty tough on every shot. Try to cut the dogleg with your drive and you risk landing in a devilishly positioned fairway bunker. Take the middle route and you might roll through the fairway and behind a eucalyptus tree. Hit an approach too deep right and your shot might not hold the green.

``The tee shot sets everything up,'' said Sepulveda pro Tom Utsler. ``You've got to have a big tee shot.''

Westlake Village, No. 13- This signature hole probably should be signed in water color, judging from the thousands of balls retrieved each year from the lake fronting the green on this par-3, 176-yard challenge. A 156-yard carry is required to clear water, and shooting at any placement on the front of the green is a gamble.

``When I take my students for a playing lesson, I always tell them this is where they will contribute their golf balls to the lake,'' said club pro Joe Buttitta. ``They might as well get used to it early.''

Malibu, No. 6- The premier risk/reward hole of the group, this 476-yard par-5 is tempting to long hitters hoping to reach the green in two on this scenic canyon course in the mountains west of Westlake. But they must negotiate a double-dogleg, right-to-left fairway bordered right by hazard and left by OB and a greenside lake - all after a drive from an elevated tee with a hill blocking the right side.

``Trouble everywhere,'' said La Crescenta's Bill Skeehan, a 300-yard driver who keeps reminding himself: ``Par is good . . . par is good.''

Harding, No. 3- This 400-yard, slight dogleg-right par-4 has a fairly wide fairway but enough problems - including OB down its entire right side - to create sudden challenges. Hit a tee shot too far left and trees block your next shot. A leftside bunker 40 yards in front of the green also poses perception problems in that it appears to be greenside, a dangerous assumption with OB behind the green.

``It plays tricky,'' said Griffith Park pro Jeff Barber. ``You need a good drive, and if you get into the next fairway you have no shot.''

Hansen Dam, No. 9- This 451-yard par-4 plays uphill for the last 120 yards to a large green. With a generously wide fairway, length is the main problem, but Birmingham High School golf coach Chick Epstein, a single-digit handicapper, calls that problem enough:

``It plays closer to 480 with the uphill and you don't get any roll,'' Epstein said. ``You need a big tee shot and most people have to hit 2-woods. Then, that thick grass on the slope can just suck up your ball. I know whenever I'm on that green in two it's a rare day.''

Brookside-1, No. 3- If you need one last par at this point to close out a par round, you might be in trouble. This 461-yard, par-4 doglegs around thick trees right of a large elevated green backed by OB. Flanking greenside bunkers allow barely 24 feet for roll-up shots.

``You have less than a 50 percent chance of making par,'' said Rob Moore, director of Brookside's Pasadena City Championship. ``No matter what level golfer you are, it's hard to hit two perfect shots, and that's what it takes to reach this green. Most players, regardless of handicap, play it as a par-5.''


Photo, Map

Photo: (color) Because of a lake fronting the green, the 13th hole at Westlake Village Golf Course is among the area's most formidable.

Michael Owen Baker / Daily News

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 24, 1997

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