California Golf Travel: Ojai Valley Resort

The course at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa


When architect Jay Morrish came to Southern California in 1988 to renovate the classic Ojai Valley Inn golf course, he was greeted with a perplexing situation: Two of the original holes had vanished. The solution to this mystery, Morrish quickly discovered, was that the holes had been bulldozed during WWII when the U.S. Army commandeered the resort for tank training. The military, not surprisingly, failed to rebuild the holes according to the specs of the original designer, Riviera Country Club architect George C. Thomas Jr.

In 1997, Morrish’s son, Carter, was commissioned to restore the lost holes, including No. 3, modeled after the 181-yard third at Pine Valley and said to be Thomas’ all-time favorite par-3. Using only old photos and Thomas’ book, “Golf Course Architecture in America,” Carter pinpointed the location of the lost holes among the scrub and sycamores and brought them back to Thomas’ original design—no simple task, considering that he had to tweak them to accommodate modern irrigation and cart paths.

Like those two “lost” holes, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is very much alive and well these days. A low-key escape from the glitz and glamour of L.A., which lies 90 miles to the south, Ojai was originally the private estate of wealthy glass manufacturer Edward Libbey, who built a country club for his affluent friends and guests in 1923. The property was transformed into a resort in 1931 and quickly became a favorite getaway for movie stars and socialites.

Tucked in a valley that runs north to south, Ojai is bordered on either side by the Topa Topa Mountains. Guests enjoy the unique treat of seeing both sunrise and sunset against the hills, coloring the rocks red-orange and framing each day in what the resort aptly calls “golden moments.”

The 206 spacious inn rooms are spread about the property in 10 cozy, Spanish Colonial buildings. Some rooms have fireplaces and most have terraces with spectacular views of the mountains and golf course. Twenty-two rooms in the historic Hacienda building have been renovated in the style of the 1920s, with touches like hand-carved four-poster beds, Morris chairs, Mission armoires, pedestal sinks, hand-painted tiles and original hardwood floors.

The spa has the appearance of a Spanish village and serves up an intriguing assortment of therapies, such as the “Ojai Orange Honey Body Masque.” The Hollywood set still flocks here, many of them to stay in the spa’s magnificent, four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot penthouse—which rents for a mere $2,000 a night. The penthouse has a fireplace in every room, a private elevator, a private treatment room, and sunrise and sunset terraces with Jacuzzis.

The service and the Pacific provincial cuisine at the Inn’s signature restaurant, Maravilla, is outstanding. The Inn also offers horseback riding, guided hikes, bird watching tours, tennis, heated swimming pools, jeep tours, wine tours, ocean and lake fishing excursions, children’s programs, conference facilities and an array of other comforts.

But Ojai’s centerpiece is its wonderful golf course. The nearly 200-acre site “gave opportunity to select natural holes rather than to build artificial ones, and to include great diversity in the shots provided,” wrote Thomas in an article for Pacific Golf and Motor magazine. The rolling, contoured fairways are immaculately maintained, the bentgrass greens are smooth and true, and the views of the Topa Topa Mountains and the Ojai Valley are dazzling.

At Ojai, you never get that feeling you’ve played the same hole earlier in the round—a tribute to the talents of Thomas, who must be resting easier now that they’ve resurrected those lost holes that were buried under Army tank tracks for so long.