Everything about Robinson Ranch — from the friendly Khaki-dressed attendants who take your bag, assist your check-in, and escort you to the first hole, to the charm of the luxurious clubhouse — has the markings of a private club. But Robinson Ranch isn’t private.
The public is welcome at this Santa Clarita course nestled at the base of the Angeles National Forest. In fact, this course, designed by and named for Ted Robinson Sr. and Jr. realized one of their dreams when they created this award-winning club-level course that is open to anyone.
I’ve played this club’s two 18-hole championship courses, Valley and Mountain, so many times I’ve lost count. It is the resulting challenge of the two courses and their uncanny ability to always push and test my game that keeps me coming back.
One particular challenge on the Robinson Ranch courses is keeping your ball away from protected habitat — the sage and chaparral — that lies beyond the edges of the fairways and greens on every hole. It can be frustrating to watch your straight ball hit the playing surface, then discover it has rolled down and away — and into the protected zone. Yes, you got it! A drop. I’ve taken many score-ruining drops by going only inches beyond this line. For this reason, it is crucial that you put your ball down the middle.
The Mountain Course offers a different challenge. The edges of the fairways and greens on most holes slope away from the center. For this reason, even more so than Valley, you must keep your ball in the middle.
Valley Course, from the Blues plays 6469 yards.
Mountain Course plays 6172 yards from the Blues.
On this particular outting to Robinson Ranch, my brother Milton and friend Joe joined me, with a fourth added to our group. We played the Valley Course.
Overlooking the Santa Clarita Valley from the first tee, on a spot that was once part of a 400-acre cattle ranch, I often wonder what it took to transform the land into this golfer’s dream. But my focus quickly shifts back to the game at hand.
The very first hole here presents a tough decision. Lay-up for fear of driving the ball past the fairway on a slight dogleg right, or let it go and hope no wind variance or slight bend of the wrist lands you in the verticle extended trap riding the right side? This time, to my delight, I found the middle of the fairway — but a bad second shot just right and off the green produced a bogey.
I like hole #4, a long dogleg left par 5. From the blues it is 522 yards and if you strike the ball well on the drive and do the same on the fairway, you can reach the green in two. I’ve never done it but have come close.
After the 4th hole, Milton and Joe were starting to pull away from me. Frustrated, I put some blame on the speed of the A-4 bentgrass greens — some of the fastest in California. Putting the ball too far past the hole or not hard enough due to fear was turning into my theme. Brendon wasn’t doing much better. Joe, getting better with every round, was able to consistently keep his ball in the middle of the fairway, earning him three pars and one birdie by the time we reached the 6th.
The 7th hole, a par 3, is one of my favorites. The wide open green rests 180 yards below a hanging bluff. But there’s nothing but bush between you and the green so you have to hit it well.
From the tee on #9 you’re high enough to see the clubhouse and surrounding terrain steeped with poplar, sycamore and centuries-old oak trees.
I was still trailing Milton and Joe by a few strokes at this time in our over-all bet, but Milton and I were tied on our front nine total-hole wager. I pulled my ball on the drive and had to take a drop. Milton hit his ball right down the middle, but hooked it on his second shot forcing him to take a drop.
At the 150-yard is a beautiful two-tier waterfall and a lake that is home to several birds — ducks, geese, egrets and herons, to name a few. Here, Milton hit and found the center of the green. My ball landed pin high, but off the green on the side of the hill. Milton made his putt and dropped it for a bogey.
I really didn’t have much of a chance to tie from the position I was in. But it all came together with a little luck and a chip with a 7-iron. We all watched my ball roll down the hill, across the green and stop so close to the hole that just a strong gust of wind would have blown it in.
We pushed on the back 9.
The 10th hole, back nine, is a straight shot down the middle. A slope 100 yards in front to the green will add another twenty five yards to the your distance with the run.
Hole #13 is the start of Death Row — holes 13-18, which are so-named because they are the six toughest finishing holes in Southern California.
The 13th hole is a fun par 5. It runs 548 yards. At first glance appears benign as you stare toward a wide, open fairway with only a distant trap to the left and a wall of tall trees on the right to stop you. The ominous dilemma that awaits is a ravine 10 yards in front the green that will surely make you stop and think about your shot options. One has to feel really confident in club selection to make an attempt to get on in two. I always lay up.
If you can send your ball to the upper tier on #14, par three, you can watch your ball roll back down and come within a few feet of the hole. With dismay, I watched Joe’s ball do just that.
I conceded at this time that I was out of the victory running unless Milton and Joe completely fell apart.
The only thing I wanted to think about now was the Fish Tacos I planned to order at the Sycamore Bar & Grill. (The club’s culinary delights were voted freshest food made from scratch in Southern California by L.A. Times and the Santa Clarita Signal.)
The 15th is another spectacular hole with a beautiful view of the surrounding area.
Every round, the undulating greens on #15 and #16 are a challenge for me.
Whether you’re hitting the ball well or poorly, the 18th hole finish is always a delight. So much can happen on this hole — and often does. Not only do you share the same waterfalls and lake as the 9th, but there is enough undulation on the fairway and an oak obstacle to keep you strategizing. Plus there is nothing like the feeling of chipping your last good shot toward the green with the possibility that on-lookers sipping martinis in the bar or banquet room could be watching.
Joe played well this week, earning his win.
Redemption is always a week away.
Robinson Ranch Golf Club
27734 Sand Canyon Road,
Santa Clarita, CA 91387
Mon-Thurs: $87 or $59 twilight
Fri-Sun & holidays: $117 or $69 twilight