Editor’s note: This got dropped from the printed draft, but I wanted to mention it because I think it’s a telling detail about playing Pala Mesa for the first time. My playing partner, Tony Starks, with me caddying him in his first round there, struck the ball fairly flawlessly tee to green on most of the front nine – and didn’t make a birdie (though he did hole out for par on No. 9 and gave a club flip for the ages). The greens here are notoriously touchy and tough to master. If you don’t end up shaking your head over putts here, your last name just might end in Spieth. But the putts, and course, are fun to get to learn. Just don’t expect to get it the first time.)
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When it opened in 1964 in Fallbrook, Pala Mesa set the standard for golf in the area and along the I-15 corridor.
More than 50 years later, its classic California layout remains untouched, but that’s about to change.
To offset the distance gains in club and ball technology, and to stay relevant on the tournament circuit, Pala Mesa is looking to extend the tees on eight holes of the 6,500-yard layout to push it past 7,000, a target distance for tournaments.
Pala Mesa General Manager Kevin Poorbaugh says the course is fortunate to have the room to grow.
“We want to put in some tournament black tees – like on 9; take that back about 50 yards (to 468 from the tips),” he says, referring to the straight away par 4 adjacent to the driving range. “And we’ll build some new tees boxes on the other holes.”
Pala Mesa Golf Sales Manager Mark Mittlehauser says the course is being proactive with the move to maintain a strong tournament business.
“The tournaments haven’t specifically asked for that, but we can broaden our opportunity if we do,” he says. “We’re going to stretch it as much as can. Every little bit will help.”
Four holes on each side have been targeted for extension on a course that has a mix of driving holes and tight strategy holes.
The added distance will add challenge to Pala Mesa, but the true challenge – its signature slippery greens – will be unchanged.
The day I played, my playing partner hit the ball flawlessly tee to green on the front nine in his first round ever at Pala Mesa … and didn’t make a birdie.
Time and again, he watched short- and medium-range putts dodge the hole.
That’s the classic Pala Mesa experience and one of two reasons people who judge the course by its scorecard underestimate it, Mittlehauser says.
“The course isn’t super long but it plays longer due to some uphill shots. But the real test is on the greens, no doubt.”
Nos. 4 and No. 7, both par 3s
The course’s strength is its par 3s, each of which prove a par 3 doesn’t have to be 200-yard behemoth to be challenging. The longest is only 166 yards from the blues. But finding the green off the tee on a par 3 at Pala Mesa is no guarantee of anything.
Undulating greens and strategically defensive pin placements have coaxed many a three-putt on the par 3s. But they are fun to play nonetheless and score-able with solid iron play and a steady putter.
Overall, course management is a premium to score well at Pala Mesa, Poorbaugh says.
“It’s a very favorable course,” he says. “It rewards goods shots. A But the ones that aren’t as good will penalize you.”
With the closing of San Luis Rey Downs in nearby Bonsall, Pala Mesa is experiencing something of a renaissance by inheriting many of those players. Its weekly men’s league has more than doubled to 80 players.
A course that normally hosts around 47,000 rounds already surpassed that mark in July.
That patronage and the drilling of a second well all bode well for the future of Pala Mesa as does the opening of college residences for Palomar College nearby in three years.
“It’ll be great because we’ll be able to introduce a bunch of college kids to golf,” Poorbaugh says.
That’s already happening of a junior level at Pala Mesa, which hosted the Future Champions tour in July as part of the Junior Worlds.
By the time the college students arrive, Pala Mesa will have undergone a management change and a renovation to its course and resort. The property is in the process of becoming a Hilton Doubletree.
The resort has 133 rooms, which at 400-square feet are large by industry standards, but out of date.
The rooms will be refreshened, Poorbaugh says, which will only increase the lure of the property and boost its already thriving wedding business.
The property currently hosts 70 to 80 weddings a year.
Besides golf and weddings, Pala Mesa has found additional ways to utilize its space and introduce people to the property.
The course hosts an annual vintage car show which draws around 20,000 people and a country music festival.
Even with golf and weddings thriving, Poorbaugh says the staff is constantly considering innovative ways to introduce people to the Pala Mesa experience.
“It all gives us exposure.”
Pala By The Numbers
8 – Number of holes to be lengthened for tournament play
50 – Number of yards to be added to the par 4 9th, which currently plays to 418 from the tips
80 – Golfers in its men’s club, more than double from a year ago
47,000 – Past annual rounds for Pala Mesa, a number it has already surpassed in 2015
1964 – Year the course opened