Perhaps that’s why generations of movie stars and moguls — including Clark Gable, Judy Garland and Walt Disney — have made the drive, as well as other SoCal residents and tourists seeking escapism in a real-life, back-to-nature experience.
The property itself was featured in the Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn film “Pat and Mike” as well as Jack Nicholson’s “Chinatown” sequel, “The Two Jakes.”
The Inn is just a 15-minute drive from the ocean, situated in a lush, green valley at the foot of the Los Padres National Forest. The naturally hilly terrain and surrounding mountains create impressive vistas, a resort laid out on top of and around the bulbous topography, and a challenging layout for golfers to play.
Ohio glass manufacturer Edward Drummond Libbey built the hacienda-style resort in 1923. He hired architect Wallace Neff to design the Spanish Colonial-style clubhouse and George C. Thomas, Jr. to create the golf course at Ojai Valley.
Golf at Ojai Valley: A course for all clubs
Thomas is quoted on a plaque near the first tee waxing about this layout: “I believe I am absolutely impartial as to the courses which I have helped to build, but I consider the Ojai course as far and away above the best of them … there is not a weak hole at Ojai.”
It’s hard to argue with the architect as you survey the course from the clubhouse, taking in the driving range on a plateau down below you and the adjacent first tee, which faces out into nature.
As you may expect from a AAA Five Diamond resort, the golf valet offers club rentals, shoe polishing, bag storage and on-demand club repair. Caddies are also available with advance notice. The carts are equipped with GPS and hole flyover features.
It is not the longest course, playing just 6,292 yards from the tips to a par of 70 (72 for women), but it is challenging with a slope of 132 and nothing if not picturesque.
Jeff Johnson, the Inn’s director of golf instruction, says the course plays long since almost all of the holes have an uphill approach. He recalled Arnold Palmer’s comments coming off the course after a senior’s event held on site: “That’s the longest short course I’ve ever played.”
The two nines have distinct personalities.
“The front nine is target golf with forced carries, doglegs; a fun nine holes that are easy for the better-than-average player,” Johnson says. “The slopes and carries are harder for average golfers.”
The backside is longer, more open and straight and offers up more birdie opportunities.
Many of the fairways, especially the opening holes, are slanted as they’re built into the side of the rolling hills and balls will run downhill toward the deep barrancas that wind throughout the course, so play your shots accordingly.
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa off course
The area’s fertile land is ripe for growing oranges and the sweet Pixie Tangerines for which the region is known. If you happen to be there in-season (March-May), be sure to ask the concierge for pixies.
For a closer look at the countryside, rent a bicycle from The MOB Shop’s kiosk beside the Inn’s pro shop. The MOB Shop can arrange everything from a trendy Linus Bike for cruising through town or along Pacific Coast Highway or serious cycles for a climb up the valley’s towering peaks. The company arranges tours for individuals as well as corporate outings.
After a hard day pedaling over the trails, swinging clubs out on the course, or just enjoying one of the resort’s pools, visitors can count on the Inn’s noted spa to tap into the valley’s good vibrations.
“Ojai is the unofficial ‘Zen Capital’ of southern California, so it is natural that guests and celebrities alike want to escape the hustle and bustle of city-life to a tranquil destination where you can be left undisturbed,” says Heather Dillon, PR director for the Inn.
The spa does not allow mobile devices, it’s a child-free area, and is the place to truly leave those cares, and sore muscles, behind.
Families flock to the Herb Garden pool. And Camp Oak organizes fun activities for children while parents tee it up or get a rub down.
As for dining options, the Oak Room offers upscale dinners inside or out with views overlooking the 11th tee box. Sunday brunch features bluegrass under its branches and kids of all ages are invited to clap, stomp and dance along in the grass.
Jimmy’s Pub — named for three-time Masters champion Jimmy Demaret — offers microbrews and lighter fare for the turn, family lunch or a group watching sports at the bar.
A new signature restaurant is expected to open by early summer. Dillon says it’s one of several ongoing enhancements that will include a new adults-only pool near the lobby.
Sunset at Ojai Valley: Not soon forgotten
One thing’s for sure, book tee times and spa appointments early (especially in summer) as you don’t want to miss sunset; always a special occasion in Ojai and at the Inn. Grab a drink and a spot outside, or stroll out onto the putting green, but give it some time because when the sun disappears for the day, the rosy tinge on the horizon grows slowly until the east-west mountain range bursts with a majestic glow. Take a photo because along with that impossible birdie putt or sweet approach over the barranca, this money-shot will make you want to come back.
For more information, see www.ojairesort.com.