MALIBU, Calif. -- It's easy to hear the name Malibu Golf Club and envision a snooty private country club where valet parking is $30 and you will be lucky to get a friendly greeting from anyone.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Even in the days when it was actually named Malibu Country Club, this beautiful parcel of land in the Santa Monica Mountains was always open to the public and only 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.
And you can play in the off-season for as little as $60.
One has to love the surfer culture, the movie star buzz and the magic vibe that comes just from the mention of Malibu. But when it comes to Malibu Golf Club, the visualization might not even come close to the reality.
"I've been here 22 years and have always thought of management with the Cheers mentality," General Manager Dan Meherin said. "If you are a member we are going to know your name, and as employees, we are not all buttoned up. Some days I come to work in jeans and flip flops, and I think the members relate and feel part of something special."
Legends, too, have grown from the original owners of the course -- a Japanese religious group called Perfect Liberty, which built the course in 1977 with famous California architect William Francis Bell (Torrey Pines, Sandpiper Golf Club) sculpting the holes without moving a lot of dirt.
Stories have been passed down that golfers were asked to sign waivers not to curse, to dress and act appropriately for golf, and if a hired "spotter" of Perfect Liberty heard "cussing" from the fairways that golfer was asked to leave.
The course changed hands several times before being bought by current owner Malibu Associaties LLC in 2006.
Today's Malibu Golf Club
First impressions come quickly. There was no attendant hounding me for valet parking, service was quick and efficient, and the cart had GPS.
Looking down the fairway of no. 1, a 399-yard par 4, you can see that the terrain is rolling, and fairways are narrow and follow natural contours. The Santa Monica Mountains rise for beautiful vistas without homes, but once you reach the green you better pay attention.
"Greens are slick with subtle breaks," Meherin said. "Local knowledge helps greatly, and above the hole can be a humbling experience. But even though they have a lot of Poa (and bent) in them, they roll pretty smooth. Our superintendent does a great job of managing the natural grasses that are here and giving players great conditions from tee to green."
Malibu Golf Club: Don't let the yardage comfort you
The scorecard says 6,614 yards from the back tees, par 72, "but it plays a lot longer, and when you are going back uphill, it's not that easy," Meherin said. "Guys come out and see the scorecard yardage and feel like they have to play from the blue tees, but the first time you see the course it can eat even the single-digit players alive."
One reason could be the narrow fairways of the front nine, kind of like target golf. Even with the GPS, no. 9 -- a 370-yard par 4 -- can be tricky the first time you play it because it is blind to a safe landing area in front of a lake that guards the green.
But no. 7 could be one of the more beautiful holes. It is a par 3 of 192 yards over a pond. The green sits back against a hillside with two huge bunkers in front and trees surrounding the green.
The back nine is more of a back-and-forth, old-style layout, but the narrow fairways, some blind shots and slick greens won't let you score as low as you think you should.
Malibu Golf Club: The verdict
If you love solitude and golf, this is impressive. You are only 10-15 minutes from the busy 101 freeway and 10 minutes in the opposite direction to the Pacific Ocean. So folks who live in the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles could really appreciate the quiet.
Like many California golf courses there's no driving range, but there is a multiple-golfer, netted hitting area, and practice balls are complimentary. There's a chipping and putting practice green, and lessons are available.
Memberships are also available with unlimited golf for $4,500, and that's seven days a week. There are also weekday and weekend memberships.
Malibu and Vine Bar & Grille in the clubhouse is a favorite for locals. It has a hand-crafted beer and wine bar with random acts of cooking featuring the culinary skills of Chef Matthew Zubrod. The Outdoor Wine Bar features numerous varietals of locally grown Semler and Saddlerock wines. Both overlook the first fairway with views of the canyon and Santa Monica Mountains.