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A modern day golf masterpiece, Rustic Canyon is easily one of the best courses open to public play in the state—and indeed the entire country. And with most green fees well under a hundred bucks a round, it's all the more compelling. The only downsides to consider: occasionally slow play on weekends and holidays, and (as is often the case with popular courses) inconsistent or worn turf in places.
Pros & Cons
Beautiful setting with no houses, engaging links-style architecture, forgiving fairways, challenging greens in great shape.
Fairways can be patchy, occasionally slow play, rocky waste areas are hard on clubs.
One of the finest public golf courses from sea to shining sea.
Intro to Rustic Canyon
Tucked into a scenic valley just north of the suburban Southern California community of Moorpark, Rustic Canyon is an 18-hole, par-72 public golf course, with rates that vary from $34 for a weekday twilight round to $104 during prime time on the weekend.
The course opened in 2002, after several years of planning and development by noted golf course architect Gil Hanse, with help from golf historian and commentator Geoff Shackelford. Since then, it's received numerous accolades, including a place on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play list in 2017.
The facility sits on 350 acres of Ventura County public lands (a former sheep ranch) and includes the 18-hole golf course, a well-equipped pro shop and a full-service cafe, as well as a complete practice area featuring a driving range (with both mats and grass), a chipping and pitching area with a practice bunker, and a practice putting green.
Though it opened just two decades ago, Rustic Canyon is a throwback to the classic California golf course designs from a century earlier. Back then, courses like Riviera and Los Angeles Country Club were carved by hand and mule from wild desert landscapes that have since become the highly-manicured neighborhoods of Hollywood's rich and famous.
Rustic Canyon today looks very much like those now iconic courses must have looked originally: routed through natural desert washes and barranca, rich with natural contours and features, and (with the exception of a few holes) nary a house in sight.
And like those courses from the golden age of golf course architecture, Rustic is rich not just in beauty but in strategic possibilities. It takes full advantage of the landscape to keep players engaged from shot to shot and hole to hole, with not only a wide variety of challenges but also plenty of opportunities for fun.
Playing Rustic Canyon
Off the tee, Rustic Canyon is quite forgiving, with some fairways stretching as much as 70 yards wide. But you'll have to be a bit more discerning in your ball placement to have the best approaches into the greens. Stray too far right or left, and you'll find yourself with a far more challenging approach. A few holes do incorporate forced carries, but those tend to be more intimidating visually than they are in actual play.
Once you're on the green, the real fun begins. Most of the green complexes at Rustic are vast and undulating, so two-putts can feel like a real accomplishment, especially if you've left your approach on the wrong side of the hole. And then three- or even four-putts are not uncommon. Something else to keep in mind: the entire property slopes from north to south, enough that it affects the break and speed of most putts. Locals call it the "valley effect," and it is very real. Be sure to spend at least a few minutes on the practice green before you tee off so that you can try to get the hang of it.
If you should miss the green, you'll face another test: wide, tightly-mown aprons, which are clipped almost as tightly as the greens themselves. To chip or to putt is often the question. Unless you're a whiz with tight lies, we suggest favoring the ground game as much as possible, as the course designers are fans of old school links golf and have usually factored in a way to roll the ball close to the hole, even from a long way out.
In another throwback to old school golf, Rustic Canyon is walkable, with most tee boxes near the prior green. The front nine is quite a bit flatter than the back, which climbs up the valley to a dramatic overlook of the entire property from the 16th tee. If you're walking, make sure to grab a snack and a drink at the turn to power you up those hills.
The routing at Rustic is varied and quirky, with short drivable par fours to enjoy on each nine, plus a relative abundance of par fives, including back-to-back three-shotters at the turn. The outward nine generally plays a bit easier, helping you to find your footing before the challenges of the inward nine, which include some of the more demanding tee shots, such as a dramatic 200-yard forced carry on the terrific par four 14th (tip: it's easier than it looks), followed by a gut-wrenching top-of-the-world launch at the long downhill 16th.
Rustic Canyon: Hole by Hole
All yardages noted below are from the blue tees.
#1 - par 5 - 512 yards
The opening hole is relatively easy par 5 with a slight dogleg to the right. The safe play off the tee is down the left-hand side, which makes the hole a bit longer, while an aggressive line over the corner can set up a try for the green in two. Be careful of the sand-filled channel that splits the fairway and then runs in front of the large green. A miss left of the green sets up the easiest up-and-down options.
#2 - par 4 - 443 yards
This long par 4 is an early test, rated as the number 1 handicap hole. It tends to play shorter than it looks, particularly if you drive the ball up the left-hand side, which brings OB into play but also allows a running shot into the green. If you bail out right, you'll have to contend with heavy bunkering on your approach. Note that the green runs away from you, so it's usually best to land the ball well short of the hole.
#3 - par 4 - 308 yards
A short par 4, the third hole provides longer hitters a chance to drive the green, while others can lay up left or right of the bunkers in the center of the fairway. The right side is more forgiving but requires a treacherous approach over a mound of greenside bunkers and also brings the large bunker left of the green into play. Be sure to check the pin placement before you pull a club because the green is large.
#4 - par 3 - 152 yards
The first par 3 of the course requires a mostly blind shot over cross bunkers to a wide two-tiered green, dominated by a large mound in the middle. Be sure to play the ball on the proper side of the mound, or you'll face a roller-coaster approach putt.
#5 - par 5 - 545 yards
This is a three-shot hole for all but the longest hitters. It starts with a relatively easy tee shot, followed by a tough second over a wash that continues up the left side of the hole. There's more room out to the right, though an approach from there requires considerable precision. Wayward wedges — and even putts — can easily slip off the sharp slope to the left of the green, making for a challenging up-and-down.
#6 - par 3 - 200 yards
This long par 3 intimidates from the tee but plays easier than it looks. The green is a partial bowl, so shots short or right of the hole tend to gather towards the pin. Misses left, however, invariably end up in the greenside bunker. Be sure to carry the ball all the way to the long green; otherwise, a swale in front will prevent it from bounding on.
#7 - par 4 - 338 yards
Though it's a shorter hole, the seventh can prove vexing thanks to its severely undulating green. A wash crosses the fairway between tee and green. Laying up ahead of it forces a mostly blind approach over a deep greenside bunker, while a bolder shot across, if successful, sets up a relatively easy pitch. Be sure to place the ball on the right level of the multi-tiered green, or face a challenging two putt.
#8 - par 3 - 117 yards
This short par 3 will test your wedge play. A precise shot is required to hit the small-ish green, which falls away on all sides. Don't be afraid to carry the ball all the way to the pin, as the back of the green provides a backstop. Careful not to go long, though, which makes for a very tough up-and-down.
#9 - par 5 - 518 yards
The third par 5 of the outward nine is a straightforward hole. With only a few bunkers to avoid, there's little risk in going for it in two if you have the distance. The real challenge here is the large green, which has a major swale running through the front half. If the pin is in the back right or left, be careful not to go long because it can be difficult to keep the ball on the right level.
#10 - par 5 - 546 yards
The inward nine opens with yet another par 5. This time, you're faced with cross bunking which may force you to lay back off the tee. The hole bends right from there, protected the whole way by a sandy waste area. Flirting with this right-side trouble is rewarded with a straightforward approach into the long but narrow green. A lay up left is safer but demands a precision third. Note that the green is nearly 100 yards long (!), so be sure to check the pin placement before you select a club.
#11 - par 4 - 430 yards
This long uphill par 4 can be a brute, especially if it's playing into the wind. The tee shot over a wash is easier than it looks, with plenty of room to bail out right, though this line significantly lengthens the hole. A bolder angle up the left brings the wash into play but rewards a good drive with a shorter, simpler approach into the heart-shaped green. There the challenges continue, as a significant ridge splits the green into two small targets.
#12 - par 4 - 325 yards
Another short par 4 provides a bit of a breather. It plays downhill (and often downwind), so driving the green is often within the realm of possibility, especially if you have a reliable draw. The safer play is out to the right, which is wide open, but then requires a tricky approach into one of the smaller greens on the course. Bunkers short and left of the green may tempt you to bail out long and right, but the green drops away sharply there, making for a tough recovery.
#13 - par 5 - 546 yards
The final par 5 of the course is a beauty, playing up the valley to the far side of the property. A pot bunker splits the fairway off the tee, challenging you to pick a side. Go left, and there's far more room. But if you want a crack at the green in two, you'll have to thread a drive between the bunker and OB which quickly comes into play on the right. This hole features our favorite green on the course, a massive boomerang shape with a bunker inside the elbow. Do your best to leave your approach on the proper side or face a diabolical recovery.
#14 - par 4 - 446 yards
The tee shot here across a wide wash will get your heart pumping. The closer your line is towards the green, the farther you have to carry it. But your bravery, if successful, will be rewarded with a short iron into the green. Bailing out right, on the other hand, significantly reduces the forced carry, but likely means having a long iron or hybrid in. Keep the ball right of the hole on your approach to avoid it feeding off into the wash left of the green. Rated the hardest hole on the back nine, par here is a very good score.
#15 - par 3 - 138 yards
The challenge of this uphill par 3 is getting the ball on the right level of the dramatic three-tiered green. Bunkers left, right, and long swallow up wayward shots, making short your best miss, though that can still leave a tough two putt.
#16 - par 4 - 466 yards
The climb to the tee box from the 15th green may leave you winded, but the view from the top of the property is well worth it. Take a few deep breaths before you launch your drive down to the wide fairway, which bends left and away towards the green.
We suggest favoring the right side, as room quickly runs out on the left. You'll likely face a longish approach, but thanks to the dramatic drop in elevation to the green, it'll play much shorter than the number. Misses short and right tend to bound onto the putting surface, while those that carry pin high are prone to running off the back, leaving you to navigate a steep bank with your recovery.
#17 - par 3 - 161 yards
The final par 3 can be a good scoring opportunity. But it looks easier than it is. The green slopes significantly left to right, rewarding a fade — though if you overcook it a greenside bunker awaits. Meanwhile misses long or left are tricky because they tend to leave you well above the hole.
#18 - par 4 - 437 yards
The par 4 finishing hole provides a fitting finale to the homeward nine. With a wash running the length of the hole on the right and OB left, it's a nervy tee shot. The safe play is to lay back and then take your chances with a longer approach. Note that the large green runs away sharply, so club down one to avoid running through. Further complicating matters is a deep swale bisecting the putting surface, ready to cause grief for those who end up on the wrong side of it.
Conditions & Pace of Play
Rustic Canyon has gained a strong reputation and following, especially over the last few years. It's not the hidden gem it used to be. That means it does attract pretty heavy play, especially on weekends and holidays, which has an impact both on pace of play and overall playing conditions.
While we've rarely experienced anything other than excellent green surfaces, the fairway turf can sometimes be worn thin in places, especially during the drier months of the year (summer and fall). And of course the maintenance crew does punch the tees and greens on occasion, so make sure to check the latest reports from Greenskeeper before you book your tee time.
On the plus side, conditions are almost always firm and fast, which can take some getting used to if you've been playing lusher layouts. The ball will run on the fairways, which helps the course to play a bit shorter than you'd expect. Also, unless you're coming in with a wedge, you'll need factor in a little extra runout on your approaches into the greens. In fact, sometimes landing the ball short of the green is the best way to get it close to the hole.
Weather can also impact play at Rustic quite dramatically—particularly the wind, which tends to pick up in the afternoon and has been known to blow quite vigorously at times. We've witnessed wind buffeting a drive from the 16th tee to nearly 400 yards—and likewise turning the par four 11th hole into a challenging 3-shotter. And if you can stomach the idea of a 12 putt, check out this account of Rustic wind at its most extreme.
Like most public golf courses in the LA area, Rustic suffers from occasional slow play on weekends and holidays, which can see rounds stretch past five hours. For the fastest games, try to book early morning tee times, or stick to weekdays, if you can. Otherwise, if you find yourself waiting from shot to shot, try to enjoy the beautiful scenery, which is never in short supply.
Rustic Canyon is a course that everyone should play at least once. With its wide open feel, its large and undulating greens, and its fast and firm play, it's just so different from almost any other track in Los Angeles—much closer to a Scottish links course than a typical American muni.
And if you play it once, you're going to want to play it again. And again. There are so many interesting features and challenges that it keeps you coming back for more. Even a bad day at Rustic is at the very least interesting. More often than not, it's actually quite fun.
Rustic Canyon Golf Course Details
Rustic Canyon Golf Course Photos (11)
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #1 Tee
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #6 Green
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #13 Fairway
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #8 Tee
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #5 Green
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #7 Green
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #11 Tee
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #13 Tee
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #16 Tee
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #14 Green
Rustic Canyon Golf Course: Hole #14 Tee