What I spent on a marathon 2-day golf trip in Los Angeles
Welcome to Greens Fees, a travel series from GOLF aimed at helping you understand the dollars (and sense) of your next golf trip.
I was supposed to hate Los Angeles.
For much longer than I’d care to remember, my image of LA as a status-obsessed, wheatgrass-slugging hipster haven had stood as a playful straw man for my beloved hometown of New York.
LA could never be NYC, and it surely could never beat it. The list of things I supposedly loathed about the area ran longer than a 2 a.m. pizza line back home: its lack of substance, its adulation for misery in the name of “grind culture,” its insistent self-flagellation, Hollywood.
Sure, the weather was better, but was that really worth the cost of my soul? I felt certain of my correctness on the matter. But as I bundled up for another frigid winter in New York, I felt my conviction slipping.
The previous month, my coworkers had mentioned the possibility of an early-January golf trip to the area. Los Angeles is in for a huge season of golf, and they wanted to be the first to get the lay of the land. Beginning with next week’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera and continuing well through the summer to the U.S. Open, the eyes of the golf world will be on SoCal.
The plan, they said, was simple: spend 48 hours doing everything. All the places you can see, all the food you can eat, all the golf you can play. I took one look at the forecast in New York and felt my stomach turn. I’d never been to Los Angeles. Seventy degrees and sunny sounded intriguing.
Before I knew it, I found myself aboard a westbound 767 bound for sunny Southern California, my golf bag in tow.
I arrived to find my preconceptions overblown. As it turned out, LA was nothing like what I expected. Its neighborhoods were charming, its people warmed by the sunshine, its energy annoyingly infectious, and its weather strikingly … terrible?
At any rate, La La Land was shocked into my consciousness when it finally came time to board my flight home. It would stay that way for at least another two weeks, until the credit card bill came in.
What I spent on a 2-day Los Angeles golf trip
The benefit of a golf trip to a major metropolitan area is that travel is relatively straightforward.
For those leaving from transportation hubs, flights to LA can be more affordable than some regional locales. Airfares routinely run in the neighborhood of $300 round-trip, while a glut of rental car inventory means a weekend ride can land in the same neighborhood.
Rental car (per person): $73.40
Trip Total: $420.40
Over the holidays, I chatted with a relative who’s lived in Los Angeles for the last few years.
“You’ll see this when you get there,” she said. “But everything is 40 minutes away from everything else.”
At the time I laughed, but it took only a few minutes in town before that laughter turned to dread. More than any other place I’ve visited, location is critically important to success on an LA golf trip.
Fortunately, my colleague Dylan Dethier booked our fivesome a lovely Airbnb just north of Santa Monica. It was the perfect center point for most of our 48-hour boondoggle. The rental wasn’t cheap, but our itinerary might have paid an even heftier price had we stayed somewhere less convenient.
Airbnb (3 nights, split 5 ways): $390
Trip Total: $810.40
There’s an old Albert Hammond song that summarizes our first morning in LA. Perhaps you’ve heard it.
“It never rains in California,
but girl don’t they warn ya, it pours.”
The meteorologists called the rain that fell on our first morning in town an “atmospheric river” — a fancy term for what our ancestors once called a “great flood.” Water pierced through the sky in globs, soaking everything in an instant. Newly formed rivers flowed through the streets. Great puddles sprawled out over the cement.
Rather than tempt the irrigation at a course that sees less than 20 days of rain a year, we canceled our first tee time at Terranea, a cliffside par-3 course in Palos Verdes. Instead, our crew headed to Norm’s, a SoCal greasy spoon original, to plot out the rest of our day through forkfuls of avocado-covered omelets and thick pancakes.
Before our afternoon tee time, we decided to stop by the Aroma Driving Range for a slice of LA golf heaven. The net-enclosed range rests in the heart of Downtown LA — and just feet above a parking garage. As fate would have it, Aroma was also a Hollywood bonafide, serving as the setting for a handful of scenes in the Fast and Furious franchise.
We departed Aroma around noon and, at long last, it was time for golf. The site of our round was Los Verdes, a municipal course set on the cliffs above Palos Verdes, the southernmost tip of Los Angeles. With food in hand from Phanny’s, a breakfast burrito-only joint in Redondo Beach, we set off for our first round of the trip.
With its cliffside views and jaw-dropping scenery, Los Verdes is an unbelievable value. In fact, there’s an argument to be made it’s too affordable. Among LA golf diehards, tee times at Los Verdes come with the same esteem as winning lottery tickets — and about as often. There is a 10-year waiting list for “membership” at the club, which helps secure early afternoon tee times. Juniors pay a whopping $3 after certain times in the afternoon.
“You guys are going to get a really good finish,” one teenager told me with a knowing smile as we walked to the 11th tee.
The sun poked through just as our round came to a close, basking us in glorious streaks of gold right as we reached the course’s climactic stretch on holes 11-15. Our pants were stained with mud when we finally made our way back to the parking lot, but our golfing souls were cleansed.
After a quick shower, it was off to our final stop of the night, the Clippers game at Crypto.com arena. We giggled our way through a deliriously dominant Kawhi Leonard performance with stadium snacks in hand. We’d originally planned for postgame Korean BBQ, but as the final buzzer rang, there was an unspoken agreement among our fivesome: it was time for bed.
Driving range: $16
Food and drink (per person): $67.75
Clippers Tix (per person): $39.95
Day total: $227.70
Trip total: $1,038.10
I have had better breakfasts than the one our fivesome enjoyed at Franklin’s Cafe on the Wednesday morning of our trip, but more vital ones? I’m not convinced. After a late night in Clipperland, we rose at dawn the next morning with a fury. With bad traffic and a long day of golf before us, there was hardly time to stop before arriving at the course.
By good grace or good fortune, we arrived at Roosevelt Golf Course to find the aptly named Franklin’s — a humble 19th-hole adjacent cafe — bustling in the morning light. We downed coffees and annihilated blueberry muffins (around $10 per person) as we hustled to the first tee at Roosevelt, our outlooks sufficiently shifted.
For the golf purist, it’s easy to make the argument that Roosevelt is nothing special, that it’s as normal and inoffensive as any city-owned nine-holer in the U.S. For the golf tourist, however, the argument against Roosevelt is tougher. The golf course is situated in the heart of LA’s Griffith Park and features stunning views of the skyline and the famed Griffith Observatory. After your round, you’re just a short drive from some of the city’s most significant tourist destinations, including the Hollywood Sign, the Observatory and Hollywood Boulevard.
The sun was high in the sky — and the temperature close to what one could reasonably term “warm” — by the time our round at Roosevelt drew to a close. After a short jaunt up to the Observatory, we headed towards the food destination the promised to make our break our trip: pizza.
As an honest-to-goodness New Yorker, eating pizza outside of the 10-mile radius surrounding my apartment sounds roughly as enjoyable as having my tongue cut out with a 7-iron. Truth is: I don’t even like pizza that much, so if I’m gonna eat it, it better be New York quality.
We stumbled into Pizzeria Bianco on the recommendation of about half the eating Internet. In the years since it opened, the pizza joint — named after founder and head chef Chris Bianco — has earned more publicity than some members of the royal family. Its reservations are booked up months in advance. Its menu sells out daily. It has been called one of the best slices in the country.
On weekdays, Pizzeria Bianco offers counter-service, which is how we earned an audience with the chic fashion district storefront. After an endless line and a short wait, our pizza arrived.
I was too deep in rapturous bliss to notice the reactions on my coworkers’ faces as we bit into our first slice. It was perfect — the bakery-soft dough bubbled to perfection by a ripping-hot wood-burning oven; the tangy yet sweet yet savory sauce; the cheese that strung off every bite like a ball of yarn.
“Well James,” one companion said, gesturing out at the line. “That was absolutely worth it.”
At $25 per person, I felt compelled to agree.
We emerged from our food coma at the completion of another 40-minute drive and headed to our second tee time of the day at Penmar, another $18 muni located right next to the Santa Monica airport. Much like its cousin Roosevelt, Penmar is a simple golf course with a strikingly complex culture. Legend — and club logo — has it that Harrison Ford crashed a WWII-era biplane shortly after takeoff onto one of the course’s fairways. The 19th-hole restaurant, which was rebuilt during the pandemic, hosts a locally famous concert series. Creative imports and LA lifers share fivesomes (not foursomes!), which are announced over a crackling loudspeaker. Pace of play is glacial and conditioning is largely nonexistent, but vibes roll in early and continue well beyond the 6th-hole beer dropbox. Our group stuck around for a post-round pint before heading off to dinner, grasping onto the last whisps of sunlight and unpretentious hipster energy that has endeared thousands of Los Angelians to their beloved “Penmar by the Sea.”
A quick (yet memorably delicious) dinner at Sonoritas Prime Tacos was next on the docket (we escaped at $50 per person), followed by the fourth and final tee time of our trip, which was scheduled suspiciously for 9:30 p.m.
The Lakes at El Segundo has earned considerable pixel space on this website, so I won’t bore you with too much detail. A very long story short: Topgolf assumed ownership over the golf course after it came in and built a facility on some of the course’s land. Today, it operates as one-half mega-luxe Topgolf facility and one-half 10-hole golf course. Topgolf has gone through considerable effort — and investment — to bring the fun of the driving range experience to the course next door, incorporating live music, LED lights, a TopTracer camera and a beverage cart inspired by Southern California. For $25 a head, it was a bargain look at what might be the future of golf entertainment.
Food and drink (per person): $89.21
Day total: $166.21
Trip total: $1204.31
How I could have saved
Beautiful and convenient as our Airbnb was, I found myself wondering if there were similar BNBs that wouldn’t have run us the same cost for only three nights of use.
The food we ate in Los Angeles was utterly delicious, but it was also comparatively expensive. Some of that is due to naturally higher pricing in LA, and some is due to a certain writer’s (me) proclivity for good (and sometimes expensive) food. A smarter traveler would have avoided paying for food and snacks at the Clippers game and instead snuck in some pregame Korean Barbeque at Hanu, a spot down the block from the arena.
Travel was expensive, but we spent a little more than $400 per person, all-in, on our two days in the city of Los Angeles. That’s not bad, particularly considering that four different sets of greens fees are included as part of that agreement.
To learn more about the trip, check out the video linked below.