It’s been a long wait to tee off at the 18th hole at Westchester Golf Course.
And for that matter, at the 16th and 17th holes as well.
For more than two decades, golf play has ended at the 15th green at this neighborhood course near Los Angeles International Airport, leaving golfers with a shortened game and eager for more.
Playing on what it is believed to be the only 15-hole course in the U.S. and Canada, golfers at Westchester have had to fill out an incomplete scorecard for a regulation round of 18 holes.
But that is all about to change as Westchester Golf Course has finally gotten back the three missing holes to return it to the complete 18-hole facility it once was. After more than five months of construction, the new holes located east of the southern half of the course are scheduled to be open for public play Friday, February 19th.
Avid golfers who remember playing the former regulation size course and have continued coming out to the shortened facility over the years, say they are more than ready to test out the new addition.
“I’m excited as hell; I can’t wait for it,” Don Brandt, the Southern California Golf Association representative for Westchester who has played there for 25 years, said of the full course opening. “It’s going to be spectacular.”
Westchester resident Richard Allen, 70, who has been playing golf since high school, recalls when the neighborhood course was much closer to LAX. He noted that golfers weren’t getting a complete game with the 15-hole design and called the restored course “a big improvement.”
“We’ve been anticipating this for 15 years or so,” he said.
Julius Ruttenburg, 90, who is the oldest player in the course’s senior league, says the shortened course has been enjoyable and presents its challenges, but he too, is looking forward to the lengthened version.
Westchester Golf Course opened in 1969 with the standard 18 greens but it was transformed into a 15-hole course when the airport took some land to construct Westchester Parkway. Longtime course player and Westchester resident Bill Skura, 77, explained that when the parkway was being constructed, airport officials at the time pledged to the community that the removed holes would be restored, along with other improvements.
Skura actively pushed to have the airport deliver on its word and he credits recent management at LAX among those who helped fulfill the long-term commitment to the community.
“I now can see the fruits of my endeavor as this generation of management is now honoring the commitment made years ago,” Skura said. “I’m glad they put (the holes) back because it makes for a more competitive course and one we can be proud of.”
The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners initiated the restoration of the Westchester course in June by awarding a ten-year lease, including a 20-year extension option, to American Golf for the operation and maintenance of the facility. The agreement enabled the construction of three new holes on 23 acres of vacant airport land near Westchester Parkway.
American Golf has conducted additional improvements for the opening, such as snack bar renovations, leveling of the tee boxes and new cart paths.
“Our hope is to cater to the community; that’s what we’re here for,” Warren Leary, American Golf regional director, said of the upgrades.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who said he was determined to have airport officials act on completing the longtime pledge to the neighboring community, called the course opening a “great moment.”
“This shows good faith to the community that the airport is listening to their desires to have the holes back and it gives golfers a real golf course. It also creates more trust between LAWA (Los Angeles World Airports) and the Westchester community,” the councilman said.
Course General Manager Jim Vaughn agreed, saying, “I do think the community will see this as a combination between American Golf and LAWA making good on their word.”
As the new fairways get set for play, course representatives expressed excitement for the enhancements they will bring. The newly designed holes feature a par 5 — which has previously not been contested at Westchester — at the 15th hole, a par 3 at the 16th, and a par 4 at the 17th. The new 18th hole is the former 15th and it was extended into a par 4.
Vaughn said the new section turned out better than expected, adding that avid golfers will have the opportunity to work on their shot-making skills on the back four holes.
“It’s almost like entering into a new golf course,” Vaughn, who has served as manager for over three years, said of the improvements. “It definitely makes us a more sophisticated course.”
Leary of American Golf added, “We think the holes came out wonderfully. The whole facility is going to be better and we think it will be the premiere facility in this area.”
Skura lauded the efforts of American Golf to finish construction of the holes in less than six months and he agreed with Vaughn that the addition will “make it an entirely different course now.”
Like other Westchester regulars, Skura is hopeful that the new course layout will allow them to get lower scores on the longer holes. While he is longing for an eagle on the par 5, Skura knows that the fact that the holes exist is an achievement in itself.
“I’m going to go out, have a ball in hand, and say ‘we made it,’” Skura described of his first time playing on the completed course.