Weddington Golf: Portrait of a Valley Icon

The final approach.

  • Category
    People
  • Written by
    Bob Buttitta
  • Photographed by
    Shane O’Donnell

Well before George Lopez became a prominent member at Lakeside Golf Club, the actor/comedian honed his golf skills at Weddington Golf & Tennis, a 16-acre facility nestled between Whitsett Avenue and the Los Angeles River, home to a 9-hole golf course and a 24-stall practice range.

Longtime Weddington golf professional Ron Del Barrio, who serves as Lopez’s instructor, says Lopez once told him that there was a time when he thought the only way someone like him of Mexican-American descent would be on a golf course was on the back of a lawnmower.

The welcoming atmosphere that permeates Weddington helped Lopez fall in love with the game and the people who call the Studio City course home.

But Lopez is far from the only person who has fallen in love with golf as a result of Weddington’s charms. Since opening in 1955 (under another name; it was sold and renamed in the ’70s), the course has welcomed hundreds of thousands of golfers—from newcomers to veteran players—to practice and play.

That includes Del Barrio, who first came to Weddington when he was 15 years old and living in Van Nuys. Del Barrio played many sports, but when his older brother asked him to go hit golf balls with him at Weddington, his first response was: Why?

“To me, golf was a sport for very old guys who wore ugly clothing, but that all changed as soon as I walked onto the course,” Del Barrio says. “There were young people and older people. Everyone was so nice and welcoming and treated me great. We hit balls and I was horrible, but I got the bug—not because of the sport but because of the environment at Weddington.”

Weddington’s friendly environment has been part of its draw since the course’s inception. Former actor Joe Kirkwood Jr. opened the course in 1956 and ran it until selling it to George McCallister Sr. and Art Anderson.

McCallister, who at one time was the teaching pro at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York, helped bring new golfers to the course by giving lessons at the discount rate of 50 cents. He also had the idea to offer lessons to women, and the idea caught fire, giving women from around Southern California a place to come learn the game without any scrutiny. (Even today, on some private golf courses, women still face restricted playing hours.)

Having a top-notch practice facility and a 911-yard, 9-hole golf course allows Weddington to appeal to and serve a wide variety of players.

For 23-year-old Price Stephens, Weddington was just part of growing up in Studio City.

“The first time I went I was about 8 years old. I remember thinking—even back then—that the retro design of the space was super cool,” Stephens shares. “I’ve always loved the driving range. My buddies and I would go on weekends and sometimes after high school classes at Notre Dame. You’d walk in, buy some golf balls and then just find an open space. There would be serious golfers with cameras and computers monitoring their swings and also terrible golfers like myself learning how to correctly hit a ball. There was never any sort of pretension there.”

“The camaraderie and sense of community is something I will never forget.”

The course is often frequented by local school golf coaches and their teams. 24-year-old Tomas Crowe started playing at Weddington when he was on the eigth-grade golf team at The Wesley School. “It is where I developed my confidence and my short game,” he says, adding, “and it is still my number one place to play in Los Angeles. You don’t have to commit to a whole day or make a reservation. You can just go out there on the spur of the moment and spend a few hours.”

Encino resident John Rucci was looking for a place to get his 8-year-old son, Sam, some on-course experience when he heard about Weddington from a friend. Sam is still learning how to play the game and conduct himself on the course.

“We needed a place where we could come and have Sam hit balls, putt, hit off the tee and out of the rough and get a feel for the game,” Rucci says. “If we went out to my (private) club, I would feel a lot of stress because you worry about holding other members up. Here there is none of that pressure or stress. The distances are manageable (the longest hole is 135 yards) and a lot of the players out here are new to the sport, so there’s no pressure.”

While the 9-hole course is the body of the facility, the lighted driving range (open daily until 11 p.m.) is its heart, serving not only as a place for golfers to work on their game, but a spot where members of the community gather to sit, talk and enjoy the camaraderie that the place inspires.

For decades, the legendary Bob Hope would amble over from his home in Toluca Lake on Sunday nights to hit golf balls. Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and Sylvester Stallone have all been spotted on the property numerous times. Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David is a longtime member at Riviera Country Club, but still comes to the Weddington range twice a week to practice.

And then there are those enthusiasts who can no longer play the game but still like to come out and watch others practice, enjoying the sights and sounds that make Weddington such a popular hangout.

Studio City resident Stephen Stettler has been a regular for more than 20 years.

“Even when I lived in Glendale for 18 years, I drove across town to hit balls here because it’s in such great condition—better balls, better mats—it’s just a great place to work on my game,” Stettler explains. “I only use the range, but it’s great having a golf course like this where newcomers can learn how to play and how to act on the golf course. I don’t think a regulation-size championship golf course works for that. We need these kinds of places to help bring new players into golf.”

Over the years Weddington has spawned countless multigenerational golf families. That includes the greenkeeping staff. Zeke Avila was the original groundskeeper for the course in 1957. His son Zeke Avila Jr. took over when his dad retired, and currently his grandsons also work at Weddington.

Growing up in Studio City, Matt Shuman often played golf with his father, Phil, the FOX-11 newscaster, at Weddington. The course became a second home for Matt, who eventually played high school golf at Campbell Hall and collegiate golf at Claremont McKenna College in Pomona. As a sophomore, he was part of Claremont’s NCAA Division III National Championship team.

“I don’t think there are many places I have spent more time or had such a big impact on me than Weddington,” Shuman says. “Even though when I was there I was in my own little bubble working on my game, I could not help noticing the people who would be there all day sitting on the bench, having a cup of coffee and watching me hit balls. The camaraderie and sense of community is something I will never forget.”

The days of Weddington serving as a community gathering spot may be coming to an end. In 2017, the golf course was sold to Harvard Westlake School for a reported $40 million. The school has announced plans to shut down and bulldoze the golf course, replacing it with “state-of-the-art athletic facilities” that would stretch across the site, which is less than a mile from the school’s campus.

A local resident group is fighting the school’s plans, but with such a mighty, deep-pocketed opponent, it is an uphill battle.

That’s a bitter pill for many Weddington players.

“I’ll be super bummed if it shuts down, because there is just nothing else like it in LA,” says Tomas Crowe. “Sure, one day I’d love to join a private golf club. But I’m a 24-year-old entrepreneur with a cocktail brand startup (Dezo) and it’s going to be a long, long time before I can ever afford those kind of membership fees.”

Matt Shuman saw the golf course he played in college shut down and replaced with apartments. He hates the thought of losing Weddington, too.

“I have a few friends I have known since kindergarten and some of our best memories are the time we spent at Weddington,” Shuman says. “There is such a big community around golf, and it’s intertwined with a facility like Weddington. If it does close, it will leave a huge void in the community.”

Though its fate is uncertain, life continues at Weddington. On any given day, the driving range is bustling with swings—and misses—and golfers are queuing up for a few hours of sun and sport, just as they have for a half-century.

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