In a town where relationships are everything, Los Angeles' ultra-exclusive golf clubs reign as some of the top spots for power-networking. The fairways of the city's private golf clubs are also where Hollywood's boys club -- yes, it is 99 percent boys -- is most unabashedly on display.
It's a tightly controlled world of acceptances, rejections and wait lists. Getting in takes big bucks (the top initiation fee, Riviera Country Club's, is a whopping $250,000) and good words from powerful friends; even Mark Wahlberg needed to make calls to get into Riviera.
But no matter how much money or influence they have, entertainment types still find it nearly impossible to get into certain places. The Wilshire Country Club and the Los Angeles Country Club historically did not admit Jewish members, who then formed Hillcrest Country Club and, later, Brentwood. A bastion of bankers and corporate execs, LACC remains hands-down the most clannish and is known for shunning entertainment types in general.
"What I think is funny is that all of us who drive in and out of Beverly Hills drive right past L.A. Country Club," says an entertainment-world golfer. "We can sit in the front row of anything we want, but those gates are closed to us."
That has made the concentration of entertainment types at other courses more pronounced. But many players say it's a misconception that deals go down on the course. "People think a lot of Hollywood business is being conducted, but very little gets discussed," says a member at Bel-Air Country Club.
The game "can also be relationship-killing," says producer Neal H. Moritz, a Brentwood member who plays regularly with Modern Family's Steve Levitan and CAA's Dan Aloni. Explains a Riviera member: "The guy who throws his clubs is not going to convince you off the course that he's not a hothead. People can really size you up, your best traits to your worst."
► Hillcrest Country Club
10000 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles | HCC-la.com
Initiation Fee $185,000 (The country clubs would not comment on fees; THR's figures were confirmed independently.)
Members Sidney Poitier, Warner Bros. TV's Bruce Rosenblum, Jerry Weintraub and CAA's Rob Light, who is said to have recently won membership at Georgia's legendarily hard-to-breach Augusta National, home of the Masters. "That's quite an accomplishment," says an envious fellow player. The membership, though, is graying. "The average age is 80," one local golfer says.
The Course Some consider it the fourth-best club of the seven, after Riviera, Bel-Air and Sherwood, though it's also known for its food.
The Hole "The par-3 16th is one of the best in Southern California, and my wife, Jen, always birdies it," says member Ben Silverman, who often takes work lunches there.
Hollywood History Danny Thomas was the first gentile admitted to the once exclusively Jewish club, to which Groucho Marx and Milton Berle belonged; Jack Benny quipped that if they were going to admit a gentile, they should at least let one in who looked like a gentile.
► Sherwood Country Club
320 W. Stafford Road, Thousand Oaks | SherwoodCountryClub.com
Initiation Fee $160,000
Members Justin Timberlake (also a member at Lakeside), Will Smith, ICM's Ted Chervin (engaged to pro golfer Anna Rawson), Jonathan Dolgen and Mel Gibson. According to Sony TV's Steve Mosko, Kevin James (also a member at El Caballero) formed relationships early in his run on The King of Queens with Will Smith and Adam Sandler when the three played tournaments at Sherwood. "It got Kevin going in his film career," says Mosko. James' first two movies were 50 First Dates and Hitch.
The Course The Jack Nicklaus-designed course, considered one of the area's best, sits on an expansive oak tree-dotted site set against the Santa Monica Mountains. Compared to clubs on the Westside, "you don't see a lot of holes from other holes," says one member.
The Hole Mosko calls the 459-yard, dogleg 13th -- a par 4 with water along the right side -- the course's most challenging.
► Riviera Country Club
1250 Capri Drive, Pacific Palisades | TheRivieraCountryClub.com
Initiation Fee $250,000
Members The Riv, as it is often called, is challenged only by Bel-Air when it comes to attracting the most high-powered industry players, boasting the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Adam Sandler, Dennis Quaid, Luke Wilson, producer David Friendly, Lionsgate's Jon Feltheimer, Lloyd Braun, UTA's Jay Sures and WME's Ari Emanuel. WME's Nick Stevens (1.4 handicap) is perhaps the best player in the biz, with actor and Bel-Air member Jack Wagner (1.9 handicap) up there with him. One regular Saturday morning trio is composed of producers Mark Canton and Art Linson and Summit's Rob Friedman; another group includes TV producer Jeff Ross, film producer Craig Baumgarten and the Collective manager Michael Green, a 4 handicap ("Once I divulge my handicap to people, they joke I'm not working enough," he says). Larry David, adds one member, "wins most improved golfer" and is an 11 handicap. During one of Curb Your Enthusiasm's golf scenes, David notes that the owners of the show's fictional course are Japanese, a reference to the management at Riviera.
The Course Consistently ranked by national golf publications as one of the best and toughest courses in the U.S., Riviera plays host every February to the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open, once known as the L.A. Open. The venue is notable for its serious players, cooling ocean breezes, challenging South African kikuyu grass fairways and an intimidating elevated first tee box, smack dab in front of the clubhouse. "You're really on display," says one member. The club allows phones out on the course ("People just can't be MIA on Saturdays and Sundays when the grosses come out," a member says) but not in the dining room or near the first tee. Tiger Woods has never won here and has apparently scratched it off his list; he hasn't played at Riviera since 2006.
Hollywood History The clubhouse walls are lined with pictures of such Hollywood greats as Mary Pickford, Gregory Peck and a foursome of Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and Bing Crosby.
► Brentwood Country Club
590 S. Burlingame Ave., Los Angeles | Brentwoodcc.net
Founded 1941 Initiation Fee $180,000
Members David Hoberman, Joe Roth, NBC's Marc Graboff, Warner Bros.' Jeff Robinov, producers Marty Adelstein and Larry Gordon, 30 Rock writer-producer Ron Weiner, Dan Aloni, Neal H. Moritz, Steve Levitan and producer Jack Rapke.
The Course Moritz calls it "deceptively challenging," but some players at Riviera are snooty about Brentwood, saying it's the most playable course in town. Along with Hillcrest, it's also known for its good food and family atmosphere, with a beautiful swimming pool and tennis courts. It was founded as an alternative to Hillcrest because it was so tough to get into.
The Hole The 356-yard, par-4 fourth, well-guarded by sand traps, is one of the most challenging.
► Bel-Air Country Club
10768 Bellagio Road, Bel-Air | Bel-AirCC.org
Initiation Fee $150,000
Members Often described as the most clubby of the seven, Bel-Air boasts Jack Nicholson (who also belongs to Lakeside), Roger Birnbaum, Quaid, Luke Wilson, Leslie Moonves, WME's Patrick Whitesell, Kelsey Grammer, Jack Wagner, Chuck Lorre, CBS' Armando Nunez, Tom Rothman, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise (who's known for his $100 tips). "It's a nice environment. The guys all like each other. Some of us at Riviera are envious of it, but we love our golf course," says a Riviera member.
The Course Bel-Air is renowned for its verdant grounds and a creatively routed layout (because of its canyon site) that makes for a variety of approach shots and takes players across one bridge, through four tunnels and on two elevators. No shorts may be worn -- the club is long pants only. And there's also a strict policy against cell phones anywhere, even in the parking lot. As at Riviera, the first hole is quite visible from the clubhouse, so much so that one Hollywood mogul is said never to have played it when he was first learning the game out of fear of embarrassment.
Hollywood History Howard Hughes famously landed his plane there when he was late for a golf date with Katharine Hepburn. After the club towed the plane and handed him the bill, he refused to pay and resigned his membership. Past members have included Ronald Reagan, Bing Crosby, Richard Nixon, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Fred Astaire and Spencer Tracy.
► El Caballero Country Club
18300 Tarzana Drive, Tarzana | ElCaballeroCC.com
Initiation Fee $45,000
Members Kevin James, Ray Romano (also a member at Lakeside), Tom Sherak, Irving Azoff and James Caan.
The Course El Cab is quietly challenging (better be sharp on your short game), its links gently sloping along the Santa Monica Mountains foothills. But some Westsiders won't play in the summer because of scorching Valley temperatures.
The Hole "I have a nemesis hole, No. 2, that could be the hardest par 4 I've ever played. Your first shot is a driver; you've gotta be pretty straight. Then it doglegs, and you've still gotta hit another 190 yards to a well-protected green," said Romano at the recent SAG Foundation Golf Classic, held at El Cab, which raised nearly $200,000 for the nonprofit's Catastrophic Health Fund.
► Lakeside Country Club
4500 Lakeside Drive, Burbank | LakesideGoldClub.com
Initiation Fee $80,000
Members Sam Gores, George Lopez, Ray Romano, Gary Lucchesi and Timberlake (serious players often belong to multiple clubs). Nicholson and Joe Pesci play there, too. "I love playing with Pesh," Nicholson told Golf Digest in 2007. "That's a day's entertainment. You can sprain your neck just watching Pesh's practice swing." Along with Bel-Air, it's historically one of the clubs most favored by the Hollywood elite, having counted as members Gene Autry and Frank Sinatra, but some golfers at other clubs claim it's lost some of its industry clout.
The Course Lakeside is known for its traditional layout and small, quick greens.
The Hole "One of the toughest is No. 8," says member Andy Garcia. "It's a long par 4. There are no bunkers, but you're carrying a green that's very hard to hold. A lot of balls roll off back down the hills."
► HOW THE INDUSTRY PLAYERS RANK: Actor Jack Wagner and WME's Nick Stevens are practically scratch golfers, while Viacom's Philippe Dauman is a duffer. Here are some of the biz's A-list players by handicap, as of June 20. (See photos here.)
Top of the Game
- Nick Stevens: 1.4
- Jack Wagner: 1.9
- Matt Lauer: 3.6
- Samuel L. Jackson: 3.7
- Ari Emanuel: 4.0
- Donald Trump: 4.0
- Lloyd Braun: 4.1
- Steve Mosko: 4.1
- Dennis Quaid: 4.8
- Justin Timberlake: 5.4
- David Friendly: 5.7
- Jay Sures: 8.6
- Patick Whitesell: 9.5
- Rob Light: 9.7
- Jeff Ross: 10.0
Par For the Course
- Sean McManus: 10.6
- Sam Gores: 10.8
- George Lopez: 11.1
- Ben Silverman: 12.6
- Jon Feltheimer: 12.8
- Ray Romano: 13.6
- Roger Birnbaum: 14.0
- Jerry Weintraub: 14.5
- Jack Nicholson: 14.7
- Chuck Lorre: 15.1
Back of the Pack
- Jeff Zucker: 16.6
- Leslie Moonves: 16.8
- Rob Friedman: 17.0
- Mark Canton: 17.0
- Clint Eastwood: 17.7
- Joel Surnow: 19.6
- Joe Roth: 22.5
- Mel Gibson: 23.6
- Tom Rothman: 27.2
- Phillipe Dauman: 28.4