Thanks to the U.S. Open being played at Chambers Bay, links golf has enjoyed an unusual amount of time in the spotlight in 2015.
One course hoping to capitalize is Salt Creek Golf Club in Chula Vista, the most links-like course in San Diego.
Located 15 minutes south of downtown, Salt Creek arrives at its 15th anniversary in the wake of changes in ownership, its clubhouse and its course setup.
The Salt Creek staff is hoping those changes and a month of promotion of links golf turn more people on to the experience. But General Manager Armando Najera and Director of Golf Marco Ochoa know links golf will never be for everyone.
“We have a lot of people who really love it, and then there are some people who it’s just not their thing,” Najera says. “But the people who love it like that it’s a different golf course every day. You can hit the same spot in the fairway two straights days and end up in two different spots because of the wind.”
Getting people to that second round can be tricky, Ochoa says, on a course with multiple blind tee shots and layout quirks to master.
“You get a feel for the golf course after about three to five rounds,” Ochoa says. “But the problem is that a lot of people don’t give it that second chance because it’s not what they’re used to.”
That said, Salt Creek has tried to use exposure of the U.S. and British opens as teachable moments and founder players, especially younger ones, receptive.
“We had our biggest summer attendance ever this summer at our (five-day) golf camps,” Ochoa says. “We’re doing our part to grow the game.”
The learning curve with links golf is something you saw play out in real time at Chambers Bay as the pros played it for the first time.
“When you fight links golf, you only get in more trouble,” Najera says. “You’ve got to adapt to the style of the golf course.”
That means good shots won’t always have good outcomes, but bad ones can also get good breaks.
“The course is firm and quick with rolling and sloping hills,” Ochoa says.
But that terrain also for creative play, Ochoa says, especially in the short game.
“It’s bump and run, or we’ll have people putt from 50 yards out,” he says. “You can do that here.”
It takes a similar mix of creativity and club selection off the tee.
“You’ve got to play from the fairway here and sometimes that means taking iron or hybrid or 3-wood off the tee,” Najera says. “It’s not a course where you want to take driver every hole.”
The course is 6,900 yards from the tips, but usually plays shorter due to the terrain, depending on the wind.
“There’s a breeze every day,” Ochoa says, “but when we have Santa Anas, the course can play 500 yards longer.”
To enhance to the links look and feel of Salt Creek, the new ownership group, Pacific Hospitality Group, gave the clubhouse a faux finish resembling the clubhouses in Scotland.
It also added a deck that can accommodate 80 people and now overlooks the 18th hole, which used to be No. 2. Swapping the par 5s has improved aesthetics and demeanors, Najera says.
“It gives the course a more traditional feel,” he says, “and it’s an easier par 5 so more people leave the course smiling now.”
Keeping locals coming back and attractive new players from players such as Arizona and Canada is crucial to Salt Creek’s success, but Ochoa says the added exposure and appreciation for links golf in 2015 can only help.
“We’re a much different golf experience than anything you find in San Diego,” he says. “It’s what sets us apart.”
Salt Creek By The Numbers
2 – Meals you can get out of the BLT, the par 5 of BLTs
14 – The hole closest to Mexico, which you can see from the green
15 – Time in minutes south from downtown San Diego
2000 – Year the course opened
2012 – Year the course came under new ownership
90 – Drive in minutes between Salt Creek and its sister course, Warner Springs