April 17, 2021 By: Steve McHugh — Our knowledgeable crew of course raters have played golf just about everywhere. Many of those courses you’ve probably heard of, but some are less renowned — at least for most golfers. In Best Course You’ve Never Heard Of, we celebrate those sneaky-good designs.
Soule Park Golf Course, in the Ojai Valley, just inland from Ventura, Calif., is a true hidden gem. The basic bones of the golf course were always good, starting with a William Bell design of 1962, stitched around a wandering barranca that works its way through the wide valley floor. In 2005, a large flood swept across the course, forcing a redesign of Soule Park. For golfers, the natural disaster was a blessing in disguise.
Relatively unknown architects at the time, Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, were brought in to revive the place. With a minimal budget, the course was recreated in the manner of an old-school layout that George Thomas or Billy Bell would have crafted and been proud of. The green complexes are interesting and strategic. Many look and feel like they have been around since the Golden Age. The bunkering is beautiful yet playable. The fairways are wide, sometimes crazy wide, yet the strategic lines can be tight, making for fun and demanding tee shots. Some of the fiercest fairway bunkers have been softened or removed, but the basic design still holds its own quite well. Easy par, hard birdie seems to be the mantra at Soule for the scratch player.
Soule is the kind of place where everyone is welcome. At $30-40 a round, it is a bargain and a great throwback to minimalist strategic design. T-shirts, flip-flops and plus-fours all pass muster with the dress code. The beer you sip after golf won’t drain your wallet either. As Hanse told The Fried Egg, “Good design doesn’t belong to a certain class — it’s for everyone.” Soule Park definitely fits the bill for great golf at a great price, available to all.