Appeared in January/February 2001 LINKS
The Sky and Shadow courses at Lost Canyons, painted by Pete Dye on a canvas of the Old West, are now hanging to dry among the hollows and hillsides of the Santa Susana Mountains north of Los Angeles. Sinewy and scrub-covered, this sloping terrain above Simi Valley conjures an era when frontier sheriffs handed down justice and the arrival of the stagecoach was a highlight of the week.
Dye himself admits that he has never been given a piece of ground exactly like this. While extending the Almighty a good deal of credit, Dye quickly adds, “I was smart enough not to destroy it. Most of the time, I was just trying to make the golf holes playable, wiggling them through the mountains.”
While both Sky and Shadow have memorable holes, each has a distinctive feel. The Sky course is open and spacious. The Shadow course is wrapped in deep canyons that throw unusual shadows across the holes and reveal postcard views of Whiteface Mountain.
On the Sky course, the 17th green serves as a pinnacle. From there a 360-degree panorama of golf unfolds with the 16th directly behind and the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th rolling out like an unending carpet of green that trails up and over the mountain slopes.
Pictures tell the story of what is there now, but perhaps the best explanation of Dye’s ingenuity at Lost Canyons is in what he didn't do, which was move a lot of earth. Only 500,000 to 600,000 cubic yards were moved at each course, which is astonishing. “Ninety percent was on four holes,” Dye explains. “Number 18 at the Sky and No. 4 on the Shadow were two of them. Really, God built 32 of the 36.” By comparison, for the Stadium Course at PGA West, which was created from flat agricultural land, Dye moved more than two million yards for 18 holes.
Imagine combining the multiple-hole views of Augusta National, the elevation changes of Castle Pines, exteriors from an episode of Bonanza or The Lone Ranger, then catching a glimpse of design consultant Fred Couples, walking tall, backlit by a setting sun, ready to lasso a birdie on the final hole of the Shadow course. With rugged, frontier terrain, Sky and Shadow cross enough creekbeds, rocks, boulders and native plants that playing them may be good for a scout badge.
Particularly Shadow. Though the course is like a nature trail, there is no need for a compass or bread crumbs to find the way back, because the Lost Canyons golf shop sends a forecaddie along with each group, just in case.
Forecaddies, hired at a nominal extra charge, offer sound advice on how far it really is to carry the ravine, hit over the dry wash or reach that elevated green beyond the yawning bunkers. With so few ordinary visual references available houses, trees, cars judging distance will require some savvy and trust in each shot. The forecaddie is probably worth a minimum of four strokes a side for the 15-handicapper. And the best advice is to hit two clubs more than it ought to take uphill. Dye almost always puts most of the trouble in front of the holes as a scare tactic, so, like the commercials say, longer is better.
If Dye’s hazards don’t distract golfers, the scenery will. “This place will have unmatched views of up to 20 and 30 miles from some points, and all you can hear is nothing,” Dye explains. “It’s hard to believe we're so close to about 10 million people here, and you don't see a soul, and it’s so quiet. I can't say I intentionally focused on trying to pick up long views. In an attempt to make the holes playable, it just happened. When I’m home in Indiana, there is more noise in my backyard than I hear out on these golf courses.”
Year founded: 2001
Architect: Pete Dye
Year founded: 2000
Architect: Pete Dye
Simi Valley, California
By: Kathy Bissel