The 2023 U.S. Open course and the Playboy Mansion: The wildest of bedfellows
Nick Piastowski and Getty Images
LOS ANGELES — Warning!!!
You’ll be reading about Playboy over the next couple minutes.
And Playboy Playmates. And Hef. There’ll be pictures. And a video. So yeah, the warning is to maybe flag your boss and loved ones about exactly what you’re doing here.
Me, recently, in a Slack note, to my editor: “I probably should give you a heads-up that I’m doing a lot of Googling and clicking on ‘Playboy’ and ‘Playboy Mansion’ and ‘The Girls Next Door’ today and it’s for WORK — in case IT comes knocking.”
My editor, in response: “lollllllll.”
Yes, if you like your U.S. Opens to be a bit risqué, to have a touch of ooh la la, then this week’s, at Los Angeles Country Club, is for you — though it has little to do with LACC itself, which, by all accounts, is flashy, but doesn’t flash. No, no, it’s because of one of its neighbors, which is just a short pitch shot to the left of the 13th green, and immediately to the right of the 14th tee. From the course, it’s nearly fully clothed. (Nearly. But you need to know where to look. More on that to come!)
The Playboy Mansion is right there, complete with 30-some rooms, a grotto and stories that would make even green grass blush. 10236 Charing Cross Road, if you want to mail a Christmas card.
From an L.A. perspective, you barely bat an eye. This is Tinseltown. Hollywood. You can see things here, we’ll say. And LACC is right, smack-dab in the middle of it all. Maybe this says it all: When I told my Uber driver one morning what I was assembling here, he said: “Welcome to L.A., man.” But from the golf viewpoint? Maybe this says it all: Two weeks ago, when asked by the Associated Press’ Doug Ferguson at the Memorial if he was aware of the mansion’s whereabouts, Rory McIlroy said: “Yeah, I’ve heard of it” — then proceeded to giggle like a teen.
So it’s not exactly a secret, though it’s not on the list of LACC membership benefits, either. It’s really something. In this nook of SoCal, you have one of the most prestigious and private golf clubs in the world — and it rubs elbows with the former home of Hugh Hefner, a man who, we’ll say, published a magazine best known for its pictures. Granted, the heyday is likely over, but still, you wonder.
Did golfers peep over?
Did mansion guests do the same? What about Hef? Or the Playmates?
Kinda makes for the most curious of bedfellows, doesn’t it?
What’s it like on the LACC side? That’s where I was Tuesday. Time to start asking the tough questions.
Me to Collin Morikawa, an LACC vet, at his pre-tournament press conference, in front of about 50 people: “I’m curious, in the times you’ve played here, have you heard any strange stories or heard any strange noises near the area near the 14th tee?”
Morikawa to me: [Pauses.] [Smiles.] [Finally speaks.] “No, I haven’t. Have you?”
Me to Morikawa: “I have not yet.”
Hmm. Let’s ask Patrick Cantlay, another LACC vet, at his pre-tournament press conference, in front of about 50 people.
“I’m curious, in the times you’ve been here, have you heard any weird stories — [Cantlay’s face begins to slightly contort] or heard any weird noises in the area to the right of the 14th tee?”
Cantlay: “Yeah, you can hear the monkeys almost every time you go back there. There’s a bunch of other wildlife back there that you can hear occasionally.”
How fun is that!
Let’s walk over. You start to hear things on the 13th fairway. There are sounds from the mansion’s zoo. [More on that in a sec.] Bird chirps and bird squeaks. There are other noises, though. These are from other animals.
“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” a fan shouts out to Aussie Cam Smith.
“Party at the Playboy!”
Smith laughs. So folks here know the legend. Or some do. Let’s cross over to 14. For the players, it’s about a 100-yard walk from the 13th green to the 14th tee — where they’re welcomed by a 20-foot tall, grass-lined fence to the right of the box. But first we stop about 200 yards up the fairway, where there are two police officers.
“I got to ask,” I ask both officers. “Do you know what’s on the other side of the fence?”
“Noooo!” one officer says. “No idea!”
“No way!” one says.
“We were kinda wondering,” says the other. “People have been looking. Thanks for the info!”
You’re welcome! Let’s go to the tee box. Above the grass fence there are two security cameras. That’s interesting. Players can wait here. They can talk. They can — well, let’s ask a worker here what he’s seen and heard today. He says he knows what’s on the other side of the fence.
“What’s the strangest reaction someone’s had to, uh, what’s over there?”
“Do you want the safe-for-work version, or the not-so-safe?”
“I want them both! I’m with Golf Magazine, and I know how to keep it clean.” [You can laugh here.]
“Maybe it’s best that I don’t remember the name, but they were all going up to the tower [the TV tower behind the 13th green], because that’s the bird’s-eye view, and they’re like, ‘Where are all the women at?’”
Ooh, here comes Justin Suh. He’s from San Jose. Went to USC. He hits. We walk. This is wonderful.
“Do you know what’s on the other side of that fence?”
“Yeah, the Playboy Mansion.”
“Is that the weirdest thing you’ve seen on a golf course?”
“No, not really.”
“I think this one course had a shoot for Triple X. [What?] Yeah, you see some wild stuff around here.”
Really! And Suh is off.
Ooh, here comes Bryson DeChambeau. He’s from Modesto, which is in the middle of the state. He hits. We walk. This is great.
“Do you know what’s on the other side of the fence there?”
“Playboy Mansion, right?” he says.
“Is that the weirdest neighbor to a golf course you’ve ever seen?”
“Oh absolutely. I mean, so many things have gone on in that place.”
And he is off.
As for LACC itself? Unsurprisingly, they kept their feelings close to the vest. I called the club, was eventually referred to a strategic communications firm and was later rejected. I thanked a woman named Lisa for trying. But there are still some stories out there.
And LACC does have the words “Playboy Mansion” on its website.
Just click here, scroll down a bit — then scroll up a bit on the map. The directions tab shows you the proximity.
That’s where I tried to go later Tuesday.
From both sides of the fence.
What’s it like on the mansion side? To get there from my spot at LACC — the club is at 10101 Wilshire Blvd, if you want to send fan mail — I started on Comstock Avenue, walked past the Armand Hammer par-3 course, turned right on South Beverly Glen Boulevard, turned right on Charing Cross Road, turned left on South Mapleton Drive, turned right on Charing Cross Road again and walked about a quarter-mile. I was greeted by, from left to right, a brown boulder that appears to have once been an intercom system [I snuck under some yellow tape and tried to ring the bell, but it was broken], a black gate, 24 construction signs and a dug-up driveway.
Indeed. The mansion is having some work done.
Hefner died in 2017, though one year earlier, he sold his 20,000-square-foot home for somewhere just north of nine figures to his next-door neighbor, Daren Metropoulos. [Notably, as a condition of the sale, Hefner continued to live in the house until his death.] Metropoulos is a principal at Metropoulos & Co., an investment firm, and he can afford things. He’s restoring the home. Or most of it. According to a Wall Street Journal story written in 2016 by Laura Kusisto and Candace Taylor, Metropoulos said in a statement “he is less interested in the fame the mansion earned over the past four decades as a playground for Playboy bunnies and more interested in preserving its architectural pedigree.”
For this story, I tried to get in touch with Metropoulos, but didn’t get a response back — but man, you should have seen the fancy black cars that would occasionally pass the mansion on Tuesday. But the party’s probably over. Of course, saying that is also suggestive, and yes, the Hef mansion had its run, and yes, there are stories, and yes, we’ll leave it mostly at that. Mostly. Because we’ve heard a couple golf stories, too, and they may paint the mansion-LACC relationship, if not the overall vibe, should you also be curious about the libidinous lifestyle that started when Hef bought the pad in 1971 for just over a $1 million.
So what’s the story with the animal noises? The mansion had a zoo license, and according to a New York Post story written in 2017 by Francesca Bacardi, there were “monkeys, cockatoos, peacocks, African cranes, parrots, toucans, pelicans and doves.” (The Post also reported animals may stay under Metropoulos, so maybe not everything will go away.) Are they a distraction? On Tuesday, Cantlay said he wasn’t bothered. But what about members over the years? Likely not. But there is this story, written Tuesday by the New York Post’s Mark Cannizzaro. Hefner had wanted to build a helipad. The club said no. Hefner said he would become a member if it helped LACC. The club said no. So he built the zoo. There’s more.
Had you heard about how Hefner offered Playboy Bunny appearances to LACC? Golf interested Hefner. Remember the par-3 we passed by on the way to the mansion? According to an article written in 2016 by J.I.B. Jones of the Golf Historical Society, the then-Holmby Park Golf Course was “threatened with closure, due to a city of Los Angeles budget crisis, but was saved at the last minute by neighbors Hugh Hefner of Playboy Mansion West and Occidental Petroleum billionaire Armand Hammer, whose name now adorns the course.” Hefner owned properties, too. According to Fox6, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, a 36-hole facility located southwest of the city of Milwaukee, originally opened in 1968 as the Lake Geneva Playboy Club Hotel. And Great Gorge golf course, a track in Vernon Township, N.J., was opened in 1970 by Hefner and operated as the golf course for the Great Gorge Playboy Club. (Notably, according to a club spokesman, the course shut down for two years, but has recently been revitalized — and its restaurant is called Hef’s Hut.)
But the man wanted in to LACC. According to a Golf Digest story written in 2016 by John Strege: “Hefner wanted to install a gate along the back fence, linking his yard to the course, and asked Los Angeles CC for permission to do so. He was said to have offered up an occasional appearance by a Playboy Bunny as an incentive to get the club to agree. Needless to say, no gate was ever built.” We’ll add no more to that. There’s more.
Had you heard about the April Fool’s prank? Oh, this is good. GOLF fell for it. And Golf Digest. And CBS Sports. And Vanity Fair. In 2015, Hefner’s website published an article entitled: “So, There Were Tunnels to Celebrity Homes Below the Playboy Mansion.” The story described blueprints for tunnels from the Playboy Mansion “to the homes of ‘Mr. J. Nicholson,’ ‘Mr. W. Beatty,’ ‘Mr. K. Douglas’ and ‘Mr. J. Caan ‘” — and those tunnels ran underneath LACC. Whoa! So GOLF published a story. The others did too. Unfortunately, no one read to the bottom of the original story — which said: “Check the date of this article. Happy April Fools’, friends!” [I tried to reach out to Playboy, too, but didn’t get a response back — which, in this case, may be a good thing.]
There’s one more story. Had you heard about how that grass fence wasn’t always there? And that you could see, uh, stuff? Here’s this from a story written in 1995 by Alan Shipnuck for Sports Illustrated: “‘You used to be able to see straight into the backyard,’ says Biff Naylor, an LACC member since 1964. ‘Early tee times Sunday morning were quite popular, because you could look in on all of Saturday night’s partiers passed out by the pool. And occasionally there was even a scantily clad lady to be seen.’”
Heyyyy, heyyyy. There’s the ooh la la.
Then again …
Maybe you can still see inside the mansion.
Back to the 14th tee on Tuesday. The worker there told me more.
“If you go straight down this path,” he said, pointing to a barely recognizable spot behind the 14th tee, “you see all the spider monkeys in their cages.”
“Yeah, there’s like six or seven of them. And they’re like, ‘Coo, coo, coo, coo, coo.”
And players went down there?
“Oh, yeah, there’s like six or seven of them.”
Oh really? I went too. Had to. It’s a downhill, winding path. I saw thorns. I saw snake holes. Then it’s back up a short upslope, among trees and weeds. But there were the tiny monkeys. Maybe about 15 in all. I asked them all who was going to win this week. I did get one monkey to applaud. I’m not sure what that meant. Rory? Brooks? Phil? Let’s continue.
I recorded it all.
And I showed it to DeChambeau.
“Do you know about the secret path behind the 14th tee?”
“Do you want to see it? I got video.”
He did. The video played.
“Oh, that’s so cool,” DeChambeau said. “Look at the monkeys. That’s amazing.”
I showed the video to Suh, too.
“Do you know about the secret path behind the 14th hole?”
“I heard about it,” he said.
“Do you want to see what’s back there?”
I showed him my phone.
“Oh, I heard about the monkeys. … Oh, they’re still there. Wow! Jesus.
“They look healthy, too.”
They sure did.