How LA Is Becoming the Next Mecca of Golf

To say that golf is big in Los Angeles isn’t much of a news flash. The city is home to prestigious clubs like Riviera Country Club, where the Genesis Invitational has been staged since 1926, and LA Country Club, where the US Open will be held this year. Everyone has cars, making access to golf courses easier compared to somewhere like NYC, and it’s more or less warm year round. All of that is quite easy to understand.

But there’s something else happening in this city known for its fashion, music, art and entertainment. To call oneself a golfer in LA is to identify with that cultured lifestyle rather than to adhere to the traditional archetype of the golfer who plays at all the nicest courses. It’s a lifestyle that prioritizes enjoyment over performance, inclusion over exclusion and expression over conformity. Behind the scenes, there’s a community of creatives working across fashion, music, art and design, all united by irregular working hours and a love of golf. And rather than playing at the Rivieras, LACCs and Bel-Airs of the world, you can find these people using the city’s network of public courses like Roosevelt, Los Feliz, Rancho Park and Penmar just to name a few.

“It’s a really cool place to see the crossover of first time golf consumers that are only on the block to go to Stüssy and UNION. And then all of a sudden they’re walking out with like a [Metalwood] camo hat because it looks cool, not because they play golf.”

One of those people is Cole Young, founder of the brand Metalwood Studio and a former college golfer at Loyola Marymount University. Metalwood has a brick and mortar shop located on La Brea Avenue, one of the hottest shopping districts in LA. Rubbing elbows with other stores like Carhartt WIP and Stone Island, it’s fitting that the lifestyle golf brand should make residence here. “I think it’s a really cool place to see the crossover of first time golf consumers that are only on the block to go to Stüssy and UNION,” says Young. “And they’re like, ‘what the f**k, what is this golf?’ And then all of a sudden they’re walking out with like a camo hat because it looks cool, not because they play golf.”

Metalwood Studio is among the fastest growing streetwear-influenced brands in golf, and its modestly sized retail space houses both Metalwood products as well as a curated selection of vintage golf clubs from Nike, Titleist, PING, MacGregor, Ram and so forth. Think of it as a record store, but for golf. “If you wanted to treat our shop as like an informational kiosk, we could like tell you where to play golf, we could tell you where to avoid,” adds Young. The most coveted finds here are classic sets of blade irons, and those devoted to the brand identity as “bladies.” The store has other functions too — hosting events, offering club repair services and serving as an all around hangout spot for those who want to dip into what Young calls “counter-culture golf.”1 of 5

A typical day at Metalwood Studio on La Brea Avenue. Photos: Metalwood Studio2 of 53 of 54 of 55 of 5

Coincidentally, Young got his start in the golf industry working for Malbon Golf which opened its first store on Fairfax Avenue in 2017. Similar to Metalwood Studio now, the Malbon Golf store functioned like a skate shop where no one was ever pressured into a buying decision and it was perfectly normal to come and spend a few hours. The place remains the stuff of legends, an early hotbed for creatives, artists, skaters and otherwise general hippies in the city’s burgeoning golf scene.

Stephen Malbon was an early pioneer of the culture, and the way the brand has taken off since is proof. Even in the brand’s early days, Eric Koston, Sean Malto, Keith Hufnagel and Jon Buscemi were becoming loyal followers. Says Young: “Malbon did a really good job of like letting you relax, have a beer, talk to like-minded people and never really shying away from someone that wanted to get their foot in the door in the golf space. It was just like a breeding ground for the democratization of golf.”

“You get everything that you need out of golf in two hours…You could be playing with an old Korean couple that has the funniest, coolest story ever. Or you could be playing with like the Supreme skate team.”

But if La Brea Avenue is where the cultured golfer goes to shop in LA, Roosevelt Golf Course is more often than not the place they go to play. It’s a nine hole short course perched high above the city and nestled into Griffith Park, located less than a few good whacks with a driver away from the famous Griffith Observatory. Greens fees are $23 USD on the weekend, $18 USD on a weekday, and all play is walking only. Like all of LA’s public courses, Roosevelt has a rich history, having first opened in 1927 and then relocated in the ’60s to make room for the Los Angeles Zoo.

Young likens it to the famous Max Fish bar in NYC, quite a unique comparison for a golf course. And if you’re at all familiar with the lovably grungy hipster outpost in its heyday, it’s the highest of praise. “It’s just the ultimate. It’s like you get everything that you need out of golf in two hours. It’s a nice walk, you don’t feel like you’re in Los Angeles. You could be playing with an old Korean couple that has the funniest, coolest story ever. Or you could be playing with like the Supreme skate team…Jon Buscemi or Garrett Leight.”

Penmar Social Club hosts an event at its new clubhouse in Marina Del Rey. Photo: Ryan Thomas Murray

Coincidentally, Buscemi rents out a design studio right next door to Metalwood, while eyewear brand GLCO is just a few doors down on the opposite side of the street. Leight is a big golfer himself, and his brand has executed collaborations with FootJoy, Malbon Golf and obviously Metalwood. Like Young, Leight is leading the charge in creating a community around public golf in the city, connecting like minded individuals across fashion, music and entertainment.

“The landscape [used to be] very much similar to other landscapes where you have these incredible, aspirational kind of private clubs like Riviera or Sherwood,” says Leight. “But they didn’t resonate with a city that has a really interesting creative crowd of people who maybe just don’t make enough money to be at those caliber of clubs.”

Leight’s solution to this was Penmar Social Club (PSC). Named after Penmar Golf Course in Venice, the club’s logo is a single engine plane, referencing the close proximity to Santa Monica Airport. PSC is one of a number of non-real estate golf clubs that are part of the Southern California Golf Association, or SCGA. As opposed to a traditional country club where memberships cost in the tens of thousands, dues for SCGA clubs are mostly around $100 to $200 USD. These fees go towards trophies, posters and golf outings that are hosted at any number of SoCal public courses.1 of 7

Penmar Golf Course in Venice Beach has quickly become one of the most vibrant golf hangouts in the city. Photos: Joshua Spencer2 of 73 of 74 of 75 of 76 of 77 of 7

In many ways PSC is responsible for making Penmar Golf Course one of the coolest golf hangouts in the city, simply by association. It wasn’t long ago that the course was frequented by a more traditional golf crowd, but this has shifted dramatically. “By creating the club around this golf course that’s in a very creative community ultimately we gathered the coolest crowd of 25 to 45 year old men and women to have this club,” explains Leight.

Nowadays, a typical day at Penmar is a reflection of Los Angeles’s diversity — families, couples, seniors, working professionals. Like Roosevelt, the course is walking only and measures a modest 2,582 yards from the back tees. Groups of five are allowed, and playing music is commonly accepted. As long as your fun isn’t coming at the expense of someone else, you’ll be left alone.

And the restaurant is an attraction in its own right, with many people coming by just to grab a beer and order staples like the Penmar dog, an LA street dog covered with onions, peppers, jalapeños, bacon, etc. The course continues to take off in the summer when live music is spotlighted every week for Wednesday Sunset Sessions.1 of 3

Radda Golf co-founder Jason Fields is a former SCGA Junior golfer, and now his brand is supporting the next generation of golfers. Photos: Radda Golf2 of 33 of 3

Another recently formed SCGA club is called Play Date, started by Bradford Wilson. Wilson has a lot of different projects on his plate. Apart from being an adidas Golf ambassador and co-hosting the podcast Group Golf Therapy, he also has a YouTube show with the SCGA called Bradford Plays, while also sitting on the organization’s scholarship committee and mentoring junior golfers. For Wilson, it’s all about backing up the phrase “grow the game” with actions.

“The kids…who I follow on social media, they’re always posting in their Radda hats and their Metalwood bags. And they love it.”

This feeling of community around golf is further strengthened with the support of the SCGA by SoCal-based brands. There are two specifically, the aforementioned Metalwood as well as Radda Golf, that contribute directly to the SCGA Junior foundation’s scholarship fund. Both Cole Young and Radda Golf co-founder Jason Fields grew up in the area and were part of the junior program as kids, and now they’re paying that support forward to the next generation of golfers. “The kids themselves who I follow on social media, they’re always posting in their Radda hats and their Metalwood bags,” says Wilson. “And they love it, they love the support that they’re getting and they love the visibility that the junior foundation is getting too.” It’s a full circle moment for the LA golf community as it aims to push the sport into the next era.

And on the other end of the spectrum, come June the golf world will descend on Los Angeles for the US Open for the first time in 26 years. Inevitably there will be talk about Tiger, PGA TOUR versus LIV and Matt Fitzpatrick defending his US Open title. There will a ton of glitzy events around the city, and as Sunday afternoon arrives a new champion will be crowned. But the following morning will be a return to business as usual. Cole Young will be back at his storefront on La Brea, re-gripping an old Nike driver and welcoming new customers. Golfers will roll into the parking lot at Roosevelt, hoping to squeeze in a quick nine before work. And Bradford Wilson and Garrett Leight will already be planning their next outings.
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