Go West Young Man, Go West

Words by: Alex Ames
Photography by:James Wilson & Jason Jahnke

I’d never smelled marijuana on a golf course before. To be fair to the group in front, we’d been playing 3 hours and were approaching the sixth hole. Sparking one up wasn’t going to slow anyone down.

From our elevated tee box LA’s bright lights were beginning to pierce the hazy Californian skyline below. In the UK we’d have walked off or politely asked the group ahead to hurry the fuck up. But we were playing a five ball in our tee shirts for 11 bucks, we couldn’t feel too hard done by. We waited for total darkness and a match deciding putt on the 9th and final green of Roosevelt Golf Course.

It’s by no coincidence Roosevelt has become the spiritual home of golf’s counter culture. This leafy haven near LA’s famous Griffith Observatory is the crown jewel in a collection of well maintained municipal golf courses throughout the city. Since COVID, Roosevelt and other relaxed affordable courses like it have been attracting LA’s creative class to the game. Inevitably, they’ve begun to do what creatives do best. Change everything.

The new LA golfers don’t pay extortionate annual fees, they pay 11 dollars at public courses. They’re inclusive, not exclusive. Keeping score? Why bother? They’re too busy shooting the shit with their playing partners as they wait for the group ahead.

Local brands like Malbon, Students Golf, Metalwood and Quiet Golf have sprung up to clothe them. Free from the country club hand book the looks are getting louder, more fashion-centric and further from golf’s mainstream.

Compelled by curiosity, a pair of tickets to The US Open, and a day with the Golf Gaming Club at their US Open Invitational, The MANORS team travelled to LA in June to see what all the fuss was about.

Tattoos, beards, backwards caps and short skirts populated the driving range at Golf Gaming Club’s US Open Golf Day. There was a $1,000 Closest To The Pin prize that took place in a tent, on a video game. The pace of play (for the real golf) was a healthy 5 and a half hours. Plenty of time to get to know the cart girl and endure a few transfusions (a cocktail not a medical procedure). Sponsors and collaborators from Oakley to Adidas, all had their moment. It was big, it was brash, it was ‘Merica. And we loved every minute of it.

So is this it now? Have we entered a new era for the game? One where everyone rides a cart, content reigns supreme and AJ Tracy’s got sticks? Are the club house walls toppling? Has LA replaced St Andrews as golf’s new Mecca? At exactly the moment we began to seriously contemplate these questions, LACC and The USGA brought us crashing down to earth.

Before LACC hosted the 2023 US Open this same golf course denied membership to a wealthy oil baron named Frank Rosenburg because of his last name. To be clear, it was not because he was jewish. He wasn’t. But it sounded like he was, and that was enough (The Atlantic). The club let in its first Jewish member in the 70’s and its first black member in 91.

It should not have come as a surprise then, that the 2023 US Open was particularly exclusive. There were 25,000 less fans than normal, ticket prices were astronomical, decent viewing was determined by the access you paid for on top of your ticket, and in a move to out-flex arseholes everywhere LACC members actually attempted to buy every available ticket to keep outsiders where they belonged. Outside.

But we got in.

Maybe it was the towering LA skyscrapers that framed the course, the stories of Hugh Hefner’s repeated membership rejections, or Lionel Richie's manhattan-apartment-sized bird cage visible from the 4th fairway, but there was something captivating about LACC. It had us all by the meat and two veg.

Perhaps, no matter how much golf changes, we’ll always be intoxicated by the whisper of a course only a friend of a friend has played? As the famous Groucho Marx said: Why would I want to belong to a club that would have me as a member?

Between The US Open and our exuberant Golf Gaming Club welcome we experienced exactly what you’d expect from the Los Angeles golf scene. A fraternity of passionate, exceptional people from all over the world, bonded by creative pursuits, flexible work hours, and a love of golf.

Whether you think these Californians are leading a revolution, or you’re happy tucking in your shirt and cleaning your brogues, we should meet these new faces and fresh ideas with an open mind. It’s not always easy to see, but golf is a game for everyone.