LOS ANGELES -- Golfers, like some bond investors, find L.A. munis too good of a deal to pass up. Municipal golf courses, like the city's bonds, are generally less expensive and lower rated than their peers, and both require investing lots of time and patience to reach the green.
Intrepid investors take on risks from the city's heavy debt load because they like the bonds' high coupon payments. Similarly, local golfers and savvy visitors are willing to wait a little longer on the tee box because they reap the rewards of quality city golf for minimal capital.
Weekday green fees on the L.A. city courses start at $33 for residents, $38 for visitors. Electric carts are extra.
The tracks range from undulating fairways in the Hollywood Hills to a bucolic getaway on the West Side. Two top-notch choices are in the expansive green space of Griffith Park, one of the nation's largest urban recreational spaces, and are named for Presidents Harding and Wilson.
L.A. muni golf: Griffith Park
On a recent visit, both golf courses at Griffith Park featured relatively green fairways and were in good shape, especially considering the extreme drought conditions that southern California has endured for the past two years.
Griffith Park's Harding Course is known for its shorter but much narrower fairways that can create challenging tee shots for the novice golfer.
The Wilson Course is much more wide open, although it does present challenges with its hilly terrain. The track was built in 1923 by George C. Thomas, and it opens with a straight shot downhill that doesn't narrow too much except for the longest drives. No. 2 required a drive up a steep hill and then a controlled second shot back down hill to the green.
As for the greens at Griffith Park, they proved to be tricky and ran quite fast. Definitely make time for the practice green before teeing off. And always bring cash for lunch and snacks at L.A. city golf courses, since credit cards are generally not accepted at the snack bar (you can pay for your round with plastic), or pack your own sushi as one group recently did.
Keep snacks packed away on your cart as there are wild coyotes roaming the fairways. On a recent visit, the coyotes were more interested in napping or chasing small prey than approaching golfers.
L.A. muni golf: Rancho Park
For a more urban golf experience, head to Rancho Park. There aren't any coyotes, but locals say beware the squirrels, and keep the trail mix well hidden.
The course is across the street from the Fox Studios lot, and it may seem familiar as knuckleheads from the Three Stooges to "Modern Family" have shot scenes hacking up these links.
Rancho Park Head Professional Bob Cavanaugh said it was the busiest muni golf course in the U.S. back in the '80s, but it has fallen off the pace after enforcing a strict maximum of foursomes (other public courses are known to let entourages play on). It's still packed, but if you have dinner reservations, you'll be happy that they enforce the foursome limit.
Cavanaugh and his staff are overseeing massive renovations. They have already spent $1.5 million on renovating the double-decker driving range and sprucing up the putting greens. That's pretty substantial since the course, and all L.A. munis, are not on the city's general fund. They pay the bills with revenue collected at the till.
Rancho Park's fairways are also in pretty good shape considering the lack of rainfall. Tee shots need to be fairly tight out of the gate, and watch your head before taking your second shot as there are frequently other golfers hitting back in your direction on a parallel hole.
Since it's city golf, newbies be sure to read signs closely and ask the starter for tips. The greens run fast and always break toward the ocean (afternoon players can follow the sun westward to the coast). Stay left off the tee on no. 13 for an easy pitch downhill. No. 16 rotates between different greens, so look closely for the flag before striking the ball.
The course spreads out some at the downhill, par-5 fourth, and you can appreciate why the neighborhood is known as Cheviot Hills, not flats. The tree-lined course takes golfers into small valleys such as the collection area surrounding the bucolic seventh green.
Cavanaugh says this area and the eighth tee box provide an escape from urban life: "You're in the middle of the city, and you can't tell. It's pretty serene when you're out there."
Rancho Park finishes with a twist -- tee shots that drift right will be stuck behind the driving range and its massive nets. If you find yourself in "Tin Cup" territory trying to hit over the towering nets instead of pitching back across the fairway, you're in good company. Arnold Palmer netted a 12 on this hole in the 1961 L.A. Open, a score that's ignominiously posted in an "inspiration"/fair warning for duffers on a fading plaque at the 18th tee.
Locals, such as retiree Young Kwan, enjoy pointing out the plaque and playing it safely to the left. Kwan is a regular who favors Rancho Park to other city courses.
"The maintenance (and) players are better here, and it's a very good value," he said. "But don't play the weekend, it's five and a half hours per round."
Clearly a golfer who wants to invest his money, and time, wisely.