Ventura County’s hidden jewel is ready to be shared with the world.
The Saticoy Club, Ventura County’s oldest private golf club, ends a century’s wait this week by hosting its first professional event, the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship, in the hills above Somis.
Lee Martin, who served as the club’s head golf professional from 1979 to 1999, can hardly wait for the historic occasion.
“I think we’re finally going to have a tournament that’s going to validate the golf course,” Martin said.
For more than a century, the club has been the playground of Ventura County’s elite, who have shared it with A-Listers like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and, more recently, Michael Jordan.
Those who have had access to it marvel at its beauty, as well as its challenges.
“It’s the toughest golf course probably on a day-to-day basis between Riviera and Pebble Beach,” Martin said. “It’s the best-kept secret in Southern California. ... People who have never played it before don’t realize the gem they’re playing until after they finish.”
When Bob Lowe, who has been a member of the club since 1980, brings up his beloved golf course, he is used to hearing “Where’s that?” as a response.
“They call it a hidden jewel of the West because not many people were aware the course existed,” Lowe said. “Consequently, not many have played it.”
Or even seen it, until The Golf Channel cameras arrive this week.
Prepping for the pros
The course was originally designed by Billy Bell, who also helped design Riviera, as well as Buenaventura, Olivas Park and the Ojai Valley Inn, locally.
The club has been preparing for this weekend for nearly four years, when membership was bought out by new ownership in 2018.
“It was a Rembrandt,” Saticoy Club general manager Robert Nagelberg said. “It just needed to be dusted off, polished, shined and returned to the Louvre.
"This tournament is kind of the culmination of that.”
New ownership worked with Arnold Palmer Design on a long-term plan. They reshaped and leveled 18 tee boxes, replaced sod on four greens, enhanced the irrigation system and removed or trimmed about 225 trees.
"We did a lot in a short period of time," Nagelberg said. “If you looked at the list, it's 200 items long."
Although the club, an hour from Los Angeles and 15 minutes from Highway 101, is set back in the hills above Somis, Nagelberg is hoping to share the facility with more than 10,000 golf fans this week.
“There's not a ton of history for Ventura courses,” Nagelberg said. “We’ve been told to expect anywhere from 10 to 15,000 over the course of the four days.
“Ventura is so golf focused and centric. I think there could be more. I mean, our ticket requests alone are nearing a couple thousand, just in terms of friends and family. So that bodes well.”
The club opened in 1921 on Wells Road in Ventura, where Saticoy Regional Golf Course now sits. It moved to its present location in 1964.
“It was a very private club,” Martin said. “I grew up at the old club on Wells Road and they only had 300 members.”
Martin learned to golf at the old course, where members hosted the likes of Crosby, Mickey Rooney and Babe Didrikson Zaharias. He once caddied for a foursome that included Dean Martin.
Until the mid-1980s, members were required to own property in Ventura County. That meant the membership reflected the economy locally.
Members were local businessmen in oil, insurance and real estate. There were a lot of doctors and farmers, Martin said.
Julius Gius, The Star’s editor from 1960 to 1987, was also a member.
“Basically the membership was Ventura County culture,” Martin said.
There also were a few movie stars, like Cheech Marin.
“They didn’t want any notoriety at all,” Martin said. “We had a lot of really good members.”
'Legitimate test of golf'
The course itself is known for speedway-fast greens.
“It’s mainly the greens,” Martin said. “The greens are the main defense of the golf course.
“It’s in beautiful shape, the bunkering is well done. It’ll challenge anybody. … No matter what tees you play, if you play a set of tees to your ability, you will be challenged.”
Lowe has been playing the course for more than half a century, and it still surprises him.
“It’s a legitimate test of golf,” Lowe said. “It’s not tricked up. Everything you’ve got in your bag, you better be good at.
“I’ve been a member for a great many years and I’ve been fooled now and again.”
While the course has never previously hosted a professional event, it has hosted plenty of professional golfers.
Martin tutored future PGA Tour player Duffy Waldorf during his times golfing for Taft High and UCLA. Waldorf still shares the course record from the blue tees at 64.
Fred Couples and Lanny Watkins were among the golfers who used the course to prepare for The Masters.
Steve Stricker told The Star in 2011 that he prepared for Tiger Woods’ World Challenge event at Sherwood Country Club in 2007 at Saticoy, on the suggestion of tournament director Greg McLaughlin.
“The course is harder and trickier than this one,” Stricker told the Star. “If you hit it on wrong side there, you have no chance. And the greens are as fast as these greens, so it’s a great place to get a lot of work in."
Stricker said there was nothing like Saticoy on the PGA Tour schedule.
“You have to do everything well to play there,” Stricker said. “It's narrow so you have to drive it well and I've talked about the greens. It's difficult, but I really feel like I get a lot out of practicing there.”
A regular tour stop?
The club has often hosted USGA and Southern California Golf Association events.
It’s hosted the Pac-12 Conference and California Community College events. Rio Mesa High once hosted tournaments at the course, as Pepperdine University and Loyola Marymount University have done recently.
The big question, at least next week, will be whether the pros will return.
“That’s a good question,” Nagelberg said.
The MEDIHEAL event was previously hosted the last four years by the Lake Merced Country Club in Daly City. That course is currently undergoing a renovation.
“I think everybody's trying to feel out how it goes the first year,” Nagelberg said. “As a property, we are intrigued and we've told them we want to ... knock it out of the park and do it again. Does that mean we're doing one again? I don't know.
“But the LPGA Tour, Outlyr (event production company) and ourselves have put a lot of time, effort and resources into kind of setting the base template and getting it tournament ready. I can't see how any of us wouldn't want to come back and do this again.”
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: The Saticoy Club set to host 2022 LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship