Category Archives: course review

St. Mark clubhouse

Four Observations About The Playing Experience At St. Mark Golf Club

St. Mark clubhouse

I started playing St. Mark Golf Club in San Marcos about five years ago when I was a student at the Golf Academy of America. To be honest, though being close by, it wasn’t one of my preferred tracks, largely due to spotty course conditions after years of neglect, including hard greens that often wouldn’t hold approach shots.

I recently returned to St. Mark for the first time in more than two years and am happy to report a greatly improved experience after a major investment in the main course and clubhouse as well an impressive renovation, and really re-invention, of the executive course.

The playing conditions on the main course, including an aesthetic upgrade to the tee boxes, were on par with some of the best in the county and made for a most enjoyable experience re-discovering St. Mark. Kudos to the new management for their vision and execution and for breathing new life into the place. For those who’ve never been, here’s an overview of the playing experience at St. Mark.

No. 1

1. A short course – or is it? – At 6,398 yards from the back tees, I don’t think of St. Mark as a long course – by comparison, that’s the yardage at Maderas Golf Club, one of the long courses in SD, from the white tees. Yet St. Mark has one of the longest holes in the county – the 606-yard par 5 12th – and two long par 4s – the 447-yard 4th and 460-yard 10th – that seem to play longer. A lot of holes here are practically dead straight so they play to their full distance.

You definitely need to hit driver well to score here, but the course is wide open enough that accuracy isn’t an absolute must. In the review world, we call this a course that will test your entire bag, which frankly you don’t see coming from the opening holes. This is where St. Mark throws you enough surprises to keep you on your toes.

2. My Nemesis – Excuse the personal aside here, but I’d be less than forthcoming if I didn’t disclose my struggles with the par 4 4th – and I know I’m not alone. This hole is a 447-yard downhill slight dogleg left that often plays into a Pacific Ocean breeze. This is the classic draw hole where my draw won’t draw and I end up with some sort of crazy recovery behind a tree, from an awkward lie, etc.

And when I do hit the fairway, I always seem to have more golf hole left than I should. Forget birdie or par. I honestly can’t recall if I’ve hit the green in regulation here. If I had, that’d be a victory. I certainly didn’t during my last round, where I revisited my classic struggle and scuffled to a six, the first real blemish on my card.

If you get through 4 and 5 – another downhill par 4 – mostly unscathed you’ve got a real chance to get through the front in good shape. The scoring opportunities are there if you avoid the bogey potholes.

14 tee St. Mark

No. 14

3. 12, 13, 14 – These holes are the heart of the playing experience at St. Mark and frankly a stretch you never see coming given the previous 11 holes. The aforementioned 606-yard par 5 12th, a gradual dogleg left with a tricky green, starts this stretch and I’ve seen the mere sight of a “6” on the yardage sign cause people to come undone on the tee. It has psyched more than a few golfers into a snowman. Duff a drive here and you’ll be playing catch up the whole way – and likely never will.

Then a relatively flat course makes a surprise elevation change to an elevated par 3 with a partially blind approach before the course comes to the figurative and literal apex of your round – the elevated 369-yard par-4 14th. With a pond sitting out there dead ahead at around 260 yards, this hole is the ultimate risk and reward. You’re either going for it or you’re not.

In another state and another climate, this hole make a fine ski slope, but it’ll play like a black diamond to you if you can’t make the carry. If you can, you could almost putt your way to par.

There are a lot of great elevated par 4s in San Diego but I can’t imagine a more unexpected one than 14 at St. Mark because it so deviates from the rest of the course. But in that way, it also makes it a tee shot you anticipate and a thrill if you crush it. There’s something to be said for that. Overall, brute distance and a little local knowledge goes a long way in this stretch.

No. 13

No. 13

4. Nemesis Two – If you get through 12/13/14 in good shape, you’ve got a serious chance to post a number on the back. After that stretch, the course reverts back to more of what you expect.

If you don’t trip on the par 3 17th, which is 210 yards but provides room to miss and recover, you come to No. 18, which is another hole where I have a troubled history.

I’ve had a few good scorecards turn bad here trying to do too much here. This par 5 plays to 480 yards, which is a tempting enough number to get you dreaming about a big finish – which can be a big mistake.

The tee shot is straight and sets you up for approach that teases you go for it, despite that gigantic bunker on the left, which is really the only trouble on the hole. The other trouble is all in your head, which again is trying to do too much.

The oddest outcome I ever had here was ripping a 3-wood right at the green – and never finding the ball. (I think we mentioned earlier that the greens previously didn’t always hold shots.)

The smarter play is to try to set yourself up with ideal wedge distance for your third – but where’s the fun in that, right?

And there’s the real trick to mastering St. Mark – knowing when to go for it and knowing when to humbly bag the hero shot and play for par or bogey.

The course is at a length that tempts you, but it has a way of taking strokes back that leaves you sometimes feeling you left a better score out there. Thankfully now that you won’t be feeling like the course conditions cheated you and you’ll admire and appreciate the hard work that has gone into recovering and re-creating a great playing and social experience.

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vineyard course

Southland: Steele Canyon Renovation Includes Adding Vineyards

vineyard coursevineyard

A wave of tax-incentivized turf reduction projects swept over Southern California golf courses in 2015 in response to the drought.

Steele Canyon in Jamul was among the last to complete its work, but course management is banking it will be worth the wait.

“We looked at four other courses that did turf removal,” General Manager Colin Radchenko said. “They were all different, and we realized we had to make it fit what we wanted to do.”

What they did was use the opportunity to revamp and upgrade the course while adding a vineyard to a nine-hole stretch they were looking to rebrand. The concept works because grapes qualify as drought-resistant plants, one of the qualifications for receiving turf-reduction funding.

That’s why there are now grape vine shoots sprouting adjacent to tee boxes and greens on a nine Steele Canyon rebranded Vineyard from Meadow, the last of three nines to be built and the one always deemed to be the lesser of the course’s 27 holes by players, according to Steele Canyon CEO Larry Taylor.

“Nobody really wanted to play it,” Taylor said. “It wound through the homes, and it didn’t have the character of the other two nines.

“We wanted to make it on par with the two others.”

Steel color

The vineyards are situated on the reduced turf area around holes 2, 3 and 4. A stone bridge was added to No. 4, a par 4 that involves a creek carry on the second shot, to enhance the hole’s character.

The renovated nine that will eventually yield grapes is currently yielding compliments.

“People love it,” Radchenko said, with Taylor adding, “We accomplished our goal.”

The vineyards currently consist mostly of wire and shoots watered by a drip system. There are 1,200 vines that need nurturing that will eventually annually produce enough grapes to generate 2,400 to 3,600 bottles of syrah and sangiovese.

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Greg Maness, owner of Maness Vineyards in Jamul, is advising on the product, including educating the Steele Canyon maintenance staff on cultivating the grapes. His first task was to help the ownership determine that the land was suitable for growing grapes and then, along with vineyard design partner John Kelly, to assist in determining the angles of the vineyard plots to maximize sun exposure. Maness said the property is ideal for growing grapes largely because of favorable wind conditions.

“It has two real good airflow patterns that are just perfect,” he said. “One is the cool breeze off the Pacific and then the warm breezes from the desert. It’s a double whammy, versus all hot or cold.”

The soil composition was also ideal given 30 years of fertilization as a golf property.

Maness said he’s been approached by course owners over the years about growing grapes but hadn’t had any takers until the drought worsened.

“It’s a novel concept … one that the drought finally put into play,” he said. “It’s innovative thinking, and it increases the property value and gives you usable product at the end.”

The novelty factor and eventual aesthetics are ideal benefits too.

“It’s an elegant low-water plant and the beauty of looking at the vines is captivating to people,” he said.

vine

All that can be seen of the vines at present are a few green leaves peeking out the top of a plastic sleeve that protects them from pests (rabbits, gophers, etc.) and acts as a greenhouse to nurture the vine as well as gives the plant guidance to grow vertically.

“Those plants have to grow in; they’re just getting started,” Radchenko said. “We will for sure have grapes next year, but the real bounty is years three and four.”

The question now turns to what can the club become.

The course renovation came after ownership purchased Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, a private course. The two courses are now being cross promoted under a combined premier membership.

Taylor said the Bear Creek purchase also played into the decision to upgrade Steele Canyon.

“We’re trying to create a dual branding where the members here can play there and vice versa. And we wanted to elevate this course to be comparable to Bear Creek.”

The two courses are very different playing experiences. Bear Creek is wooded and tight, while Steele Canyon is much more open and offers dramatic elevation change.

One cool aspect of the pairing is that Bear Creek is a signature Jack Nicklaus course and Steele Canyon is a signature Gary Player design.

“Both courses cater to better players,” Taylor said, “and we consider ourselves very lucky to have two premier golf courses.”

Steele Canyon aspired to be a private club in 1991 when it opened, but it never quite achieve that status. But the renovated and rebranded club has renewed local interest, Taylor said, and memberships are again on the rise.

Radchenko said the club depends on local play, but also benefits from being just 20 minutes east of downtown San Diego.

“We have a strong relationship with the local business community downtown,” he said. “We do a lot of tournament rounds that are from convention business.”

The course’s most popular nine is the Canyon nine, which, as the name suggests, winds between two canyons. It features three stunning and challenging par 3s all involving elevation – up and down.

The Ranch nine also begins with elevation change and plays its way around a working ranch.

Steel elevated

Taylor said holes on both nines were renovated to elevate the playing experience even more. All 94 bunkers on the course were also refilled with Caltega white sand to enhance the visual impact.

The work began last May and was completed in Dec. Taylor said the money spent already has been worth it long before the first cork will pop from the new vineyard.

“On Canyon and Ranch, we took some of the tee boxes up another level. The tees we added really enhanced the visual experience,” he said. “We’re really pleased with what (the construction company) did.”

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Steele Canyon By The Numbers

1991 –
The year it opened as an 18-hole Gary Player signature course

1994 –
The year the third nine (Meadow) was added

35 – Acres of turf removed in 2015

1,200 – Wine vines planted in the reduced area

2,400-3,600 –
Expected eventual annual yield in bottles of wine

2 – Types of grapes being grown

9 – Number of new tees added during the renovation

3 – Number of par 3s on the Canyon nine

behind No. 3

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Southland: Goat Hill Park Overview

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It’s a rare circumstance to be able to review a course with grass and without but alas that’s my opportunity with Goat Hill Park in Oceanside.

In 2014, I was invited to walk nine holes with course savior and new owner John Ashworth shortly after his plan to revive the course had been approved by the city to save the property from redevelopment.

Ashworth’s work at the course had barely begun. The pro shop was in the midst of a remodel, but the course itself, after years of neglect, consisted of little more than spotty greens, hardpan and acres of awaiting hard work. My most memorable shot was an approach to an uphill green. It missed by mere feet – and then came rolling back nearly 100 yards to mine.

I dubbed Goat Hill “the Charlie Brown tree of golf courses.” Ashworth coolly replied that the place simply needed a little love – and a lot of grass seed. He was right.

The turnaround is nothing short of miraculous. Aesthetically, Goat Hill is now a verdant gem dotted by wildflowers and other colorful landscaping, much of it the drought-tolerant variety.

The course now also glows with praise. The Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella in particular has heaped attention and adoration on the project. Last year he called it one of the best stories in golf and he recently rated Goat Hill among the top five short courses in the country.

The positive reviews and community support, which included 60 people showing up for a volunteer course maintenance day, has been gratifying and motivating, Ashworth said.

“People are loving it,” he said. “The response has been pretty overwhelming. We still have things to do, but it has come a long way.”

Goat par 3s

Ashworth wanted to restore the course’s status as a social hub and he’s done that by, among other things, making the course accommodate disk golf as well as real golf. Ironically, the greens are like trying to land on a Frisbee, making it a tough test of target golf. Greens in regulation here are the sign of a true golf marksman.

As a 65 playing 4,454 from the tips, the course might not sound like much on paper, but you can throw out the stats. There’s plenty of challenge here, including elevated greens with severe slops that can make misses especially penal.
A good example is the par 3 5th, a 139-yard hole with a green guarded by bunkers right and long was well as a severe drop-off on the right. I actually missed left onto a hill. My chip hit the green and ran through into a patch of nearly impossible rough. I took two futile swings and picked up.

The course makes you earn everything you get – and trying to overpower it only seems to invite more trouble. You can basically bag your driver here. A hybrid and some skillful iron and wedge play will take you a long way at Goat Hill.

“It’s a tough course, but it’s playable,” Ashworth said. “We wanted to make it a lot more playable for everybody.”
That’s in skill and comfort level on the course. True to its motto of “World Class, Working Class,” the course has dropped dress codes. That made for the interesting scene of a player putting out in board shorts in a nearby foursome.

As a host to the North County Junior Golf Association, Goat Hill seeks to introduce more young players to the game. Ashworth said the course has succeeded in a being a local catalyst, but its growing reputation and good word of mouth is starting to make it a bit of a tourist draw.

“We definitely have a strong local following, but we are getting more tourists people from San Diego and tourists as they hear about it on things like the Golf Channel.”

Ashworth continues to balance his dual roles of managing the course and running Linksoul, his golf lifestyle clothing brand. Ashworth said balancing the two roles continues to be a challenge, but he truly treasures his time at the course.

“It’s a bit like being a caretaker, but I love the people who work here and who come here, and I meet a lot of new people. I spend a lot of time here because I love it.”

A strong month of play in January has given Ashworth hope the course will be sustainable and profitable sooner than expected.

Ashworth has some remaining projects at the course, but hopes to eventually hold a grand opening, possibly this summer. He said the staff and the community certainly have something to celebrate.

“It’s had its ups and downs, like anything, but for the most part, it’s been a real pleasure,” Ashworth said, “and it’s a real feel-good story for golf.”

Goat tee marker

Goat Hill Park By The Numbers

3/8 – Holes that share a double green, a rarity in American golf

5 – Par 3s on the front nine; the back only has 3

6 – Number of the hole converted from a par 4 to a 3

450 – Length of the course’s only par 5 from the back tees

1952 – Year the course opened as a nine-hole country club

2014 – Year Ashworth took ownership, saving the property from redevelopment

$26-32 – Weekday/weekend green fee without cart

tree par 3

April Southland

Southland: CrossCreek Course Overview

17CC

The “hidden” part of being a hidden gem is literally true when it comes to CrossCreek Golf Club in Temecula.

Located west of Old Town Temecula and its mountain backdrop, one wouldn’t immediately deduce a golf course resides on the other side – but one does, and it’s a beaut.

The course occupies the lowlands between the mountain surrounds and provides a rolling prairie golf type experience, akin to something you might be see in the Midwest. The course winds in and out of a forest and provides a pleasant progression of holes.

While off the beaten path, it’s the type of that one that when golfers discover it, CrossCreek Director of Golf David Garner says, they tend to come back.

“It’s a unique location and a very unique golf course,” he says. “We got a lot of comments where people say they didn’t know we were out here, but they love it when they see it.”

The benefit of the remote location is a secluded, solitary and exclusive golf experience. The drawback, from a marketing standpoint, is the need to advertise a bit more than most to raise the course’s profile against a bevy of courses in the area located off the I-15.

“We try to drive home the message of no homes, no freeways, no noise – just pristine golf,” he says.

One advantage Cross Creek has in the winter, Garner says, is having grass that doesn’t go dormant. That gives the course an edge when competing against courses whose Bermuda has gone brown for the winter.

“Us and Journey at Pechanga are the only ones in the area that don’t go dormant,” he says. “That makes us a great winter course.”

And more than just a local secret, Garner says Cross Creek successfully pulls golfers from Orange County and San Diego who are seeking a unique and affordable golf experience.

Locally, the course tries to catch attention by partnering with and promoting the thriving and rapidly evolving Temecula wine county.

Just as the wineries each have their niches and specialties, so does Cross Creek. Its best asset is a course experience, designed by Arthur Hills, that’s unlike any in the immediate market.

“You’re out in the wilderness and every hole is unique,” Garner said. “There are no copy-cat holes here.”

There layout opens with a pair of forested, mid-length par 4s before coming to a par 3 with a forest-framed green involving a creek carry.

The front is fairly flat, besides the severely elevated par-3 8th, before giving way to a more undulating back nine.

The signature hole is the par 3 17th, another hole featuring a creek carry to a forested-surrounded green that is set off in its own amphitheater. From the blue tees, it’s a pitching wedge approach at most, but the yardages stretches to 170 yards from the blacks.

“It’s probably the best shot on the course,” Garner said, adding that the hole is currently being aesthetically enhanced. “It’s a challenge because the green narrows as it moves to the right, but it’s the most beautiful backdrop on the course.”

There’s room to miss long, making it a bit more forgiving that it might present from the tee, but a birdie putt is the preferred outcome when you cross the wooden bridge to the green. The holes provides a bit of a breather after a challenging pair of par 4s.

The trifecta in that group is No. 18, the closing par 4. It involves a placement tee shot to an elevated fairway to an approach descent that presents challenges gauging distance and line of play for first-timers.

“It frustrates first-timers because they don’t know where to place their tee shot,” he says. “And the last shot is over trees and brush. It’s a great hole to close with a little money on the line.”

And it concludes a round at a course whose quality customer service and pristine play are likely to get you to tee it up again.

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Golf Channel’s Top 5 In San Diego

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In case you’re looking for a round during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey … a pretty strong list, but we’re obviously fairly partial to No. 2.

But there’s certainly fodder for debate here amongst San Diego golfers. Let the debate begin …

Torrey

torrey art

Maderas

Maderas__09B_7-15-Edit-smart-copy-Edit

The Grand

grand No. 1

Aviara

Aviara Golf Club

Aviara Golf Club

Coronado

Coronado

Photo: www.golfcoronado.com

WV7

Southland: Woods Valley Joins JC Golf

Jan. Southland

www.southlandgolf.com/articles/location-304-north-northern.html

Tucked away in Valley Center, in northern San Diego County, Woods Valley Golf Club has quietly remained a local favorite since opening in the early 2000s. JC Golf is looking to turn up the volume of players discovering, and talking about, the course.

JC Golf added Woods Valley to its popular JC Players Card in November and is hoping it entices more of its golfers to make the trek north.

JC Golf Director of Operations Erik Johnson said the initial response from players has been enthusiastic and positive.

“As soon as we announced it, it was really amazing to see how many new golfers showed up,” Johnson said. “It’s a great golf course that’s been around for over 10 years, and we are excited to use the JC brand to broad their exposure in the San Diego golf market.”

A boost in play would complete a year that has seen a remarkable improvement in the course conditions at Woods Valley, Johnson said, despite the drought. He credits superintendent John Martinez, who formerly oversaw Journey at Pechanga, for coaxing the course to its peak.

“It’s in great condition,” he said. “It’s up to the standard we expect for all of our courses.”

As the name suggests, the course is indeed tree-lined, but the layout alternates between being tight and open, somewhat akin to another JC course, Twin Oaks in San Marcos.

The front nine is more open and receptive to scoring. Then the course ups the ante on the challenge on the back with what many regard as one of the strongest back nines in in the region.

“It’s one of the best back-nine layouts in all of San Diego,” Johnson said. “It goes in and out of the woods so there’s a lot of visual effect.”

The stretch begins with one of the more daunting tee shots in San Diego. The par-4 10th has an elevated tee with water on the left and a wooded out of bounds right. There’s a narrowing landing area to hit to position yourself for an uphill approach. The wind often comes from your right, which makes the tee shot even more demanding.

Perhaps the most picturesque hole is the 15th, a strategic short par 4 with a sharp dog-leg right played from an elevated tee that offers a gorgeous overview of the valley and mountain surroundings. Carrying the dogleg with a driver brings the green into play, although the more sensible play is a hybrid or long iron aimed at the turn to set up a wedge approach.

The course has a few drivable par 4s and reachable par 5s that bring low numbers – and also usually risk – into play.
Johnson said the myriad shot options give the course a high degree of repeat playability.

“You could play this course several times a month and not get bored.”

Throw in some eye-pleasing and playable par 3s and you have a layout that offers something for everyone but has flown under the radar despite being 15 minutes from Escondido and the I-15.

JC Golf’s mission is to let the secret out and invite more golfers to the experience.

“Golf courses can be challenged in a lot of ways, but with Woods Valley it’s simply getting the word out, because it’s a great product,” Johnson said. “With our marketing and the JC brand, we’re expecting the course to see sizable growth in rounds (in 2016).”

Woods Valley is also unique, Johnson said, in that it’s a pure playing experience, meaning there’s no attached resort or additional amenities, making it a great place to escape to work on your game.

The course has an all-grass driving range – “They don’t even own mats” – and boasts the current Southern California PGA San Diego Chapter 2015 Player of the Year, Grant Strobel, as its head golf professional.

A personal word of advice for first-timers at Woods: You’ll look at the overall length (6,291 from the blues; 6,670 from the blacks) and want to step back. Play the course once before you do. That decision really hits home on the back, where you’ll want to see the holes once before you take on the extra distance.

“It’s a really unique place to play,” Johnson said, “If we get people here once, they’re definitely going to come back.”

By The Numbers

2003 – Year Woods Valley opened as a nine-hole course

2004 – Year it expanded to 18

2015 – Year it was added to the JC Golf Players Card

15 – Number of minutes it takes to reach the course from the I-15

6,670 – Number of yards from the back tees

0 – Number of practice mats the club owns; the range is all grass

$59/$79 – Public weekday/weekend rate

MGClayout

More Fun W/Instagram Course Layout Pages

Last week, I added a new tool to my social media toolbox when I began dabbling with the new Layout feature on Instagram.

For those aren’t familiar, Layout, as it suggests, arranges your photos into layout templates that you can manipulate to create collages. Those who know me know this is the kind of thing that can send me down a creative rabbit hole for hours – or days – and it did. I’m still experimenting and exploring as the possibilities became apparent.

My immediate application was for my golf course photos. I’ve received many compliments on them in the history of the blog – thank you – and sometimes for how I present them on social. Well, here’s the best way yet. The possibilities are far beyond just what I’m showing you here, but here are some samples for courses you should recognize from golfing in San Diego and following the blog.

What I immediately love about this is that when someone asks me about a local course, I can kick them one of these layouts because I think they capture the experience between than a single shot or series can.

Hope you like these. Get used to them because I can see manifest uses for this feature to enhance the visual presentation of the blog.

In case you aren’t following at Instagram: @socalgolfblog. I already have a veritable trove of videos and photos over there – and much more to come.

Maderas

MGClayout

The Ranch at Laguna Beach

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Aviara Golf Club

Aviara insta

Torrey South

Torrey

Links At Petco

LAP

Hawaii – Kapalua and Manele Bay

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Manele Bay Golf at Four Seasons Lanai

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Callaway Petco

The Links At Petco: A Home Run For Golf

Callaway Petco

If you love golf and you love Petco Park, Callaway Golf has designed your field of dreams on Tony Gwynn Drive.

On Wednesday, Callaway unveiled the Links at Petco, a nine-hole par-3 golf fun house set up inside the stadium giving you shots you thought you might only ever see on a video game. Seriously, who ever thought the fly balls at Petco one day would be golf balls?

Well, obviously, Callaway did.

In a genius dual use of a beloved sports venue, Callaway has given the game a much-need shot of creativity and pure golf fun under the sunny San Diego sky.

Our group teed off a little before 8 a.m. and was initially relieved to see the whole concept hadn’t been turned into a giant water hazard by the previous night’s deluge. What we discovered instead was an urban golf oasis set inside the familiar confines of a major league baseball stadium.

course closeup

The course includes a “Happy Gilmore” hole

Looking out toward center field, painted targets, flags and palms tree now stood where you’d otherwise find a pitcher and his defenders. Golf gloves replaced baseball gloves and mitts. And “Play ball” meant tee it up and discover an unprecedented day for golf.

The routing was nine tee shots scattered throughout the stadium – eight being from the concourse – toward targets painted on the field. Greens were outlined with a circle drawn around each pin. A ball on the green equaled a par. A ball in the circle equaled a birdie. Anything else was a bogey. And put your putter away. No one’s holing out here. Tee shots only. And this isn’t BYOC. You can leave your sticks in the car. Callaway’s got you.

At each tee box, a Callaway bag offered your options. The selections broke down into right- and left-handed clubs for men and women within the appropriate range of options for the distance.

I will tell you up front, this is a tough track, especially with the wind blowing in.

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Our group got off the No. 1 tee, behind home plate, in good shape, but then came the elevation change. Hitting from the upper deck toward the outfield, we quickly discovered the Pacific offers up about a three-club wind when it decides to blow.

The goal of getting a hole-in-one to instantly win a new Callaway drive suddenly seemed a little more daunting.
But the real prize was nine holes of pure fun and, for me, discovering Petco Park in a way I never had before. From warming up in the batting cages (our on-deck circle) to actually being at field level, it was a day at Petco unlike any other.

The familiarities of the game soon settled into the new venue. When a tee shot found the brown strip of dirt short of the outfield fence, appropriate ribbing about having warning-track power ensued.

As we were escorted around the course by our female caddie, Heather, the competitive juices soon began to flow and the desire to pull off a golf shot grew as we realized the true challenge the course offered.

Our group eventually racked up a respectable number of pars and even a few birdies on holes ranging from 45 yards to, with the wind, up to about 140. You never went deeper in your bag than an 8 iron.

hockey

But I did, indeed, hit an 8 on No. 9, a lengthy hole played toward a green in deep center flanked by a palm tree – and I crushed it. Granted, wind was at my back, but I put one in the cheap seats, an outcome I relished and celebrated on the tee. You can keep your birdie. I just went deep at Petco. I dug that long ball.

But if ever there was a day you wished for a little slow play, this was it. It was over too soon, but given the success (the event sold out in hours at $50 a player) you’d have to imagine it’ll be back after it ends its run on Monday.

And who knows? Maybe it’ll be coming to other big-league stadiums. Who’s up for a West Coast swing? For now, Petco is the Pebble of major league baseball stadium golf courses.

I’m glad I crossed this one off my bucket list, but then again, who would ever thought it would exist.

Congrats to Callaway on an excellent concept and execution. What a great place to play through. Let’s do it again – soon.

petco

Playing Nine At … Petco Park?

petco

I’m participating in Callaway’s Links at Petco nine-hole golf event today. To get my updates, please follow me on Instagram @socalgolfblog. The blog will be updated later, but Instagram is your best bet for instant images and impressions of an event that has generated a lot of curiosity and interest. Looking forward to it … just hope they had the tarp on last night.

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Southland: Warner Springs Ranch Overview

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The digital draft on the Southland Golf site is available here: www.southlandgolf.com/articles/let-225-cousin-time.html

If you’ve ever seen a golf course that’s been let go, you know it’s not a pretty sight.

Well-maintained grass and greens revert to a pasture/prairie state quickly as the course becomes an unkempt cousin of its former self.

Re-taming what the wild has taken back takes time. How much time?

“In the golf business, for about every year you let a course go, it takes you three years to get it back,” said Byron Casper, Corporate Golf Director and Golf Professional recently re-opened Warner Springs Ranch Golf Club. “This course was let go for the better part of almost three years. I think we’re ahead of the game by getting it in this condition this early.”

Using Casper’s calculation, that’d be nine years of regression for Warner Springs, which closed in 2012 amid bankruptcy proceedings for the course and adjoining resort and hot springs. Pacific Hospitality Group, led by Chairman, William H. McWethy, Jr. and President Fred Grand, claimed the property and hired Casper to oversee the course renovation.

The course is now open three days a week while under renovation and is being targeted for a grand opening around November.

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While the course remains rough around the edges, Casper said the progress made in 18 months, especially amid the state’s prevailing drought, is rather remarkable.

“This course was let go for the better part of almost three years. I think we’re ahead of the game by getting it in this condition this early,” Casper said.

During a September visit, several cart paths remained to be laid and the course had more than its share of bare spots, but the sizeable greens were rounding into shape and most of the par 3s played as fairly finished golf holes.
Casper said the detail work that would catch up the rest of the course was just ahead.

“If it’s 80 percent ready (right now), that remaining 20 percent is the most important part,” he said. “That 20 percent is the aesthetic beauty that people want. That’s what everybody sees. It’s the part that makes a course look like a proper golf course. And we’re at that level of detail right now.”

“When I open this course for the grand opening, I don’t expect a weed to be out of place or a pond to be unfilled, etc. All of that will be taken care of.”

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That would complete a most remarkable transformation of a course that Casper said was in a dilapidated state when he first toured it, presenting him a challenge unprecedented in his career.

“I’ve opened golf courses from scratch, but I’ve never taken one over. This was a huge challenge, and that appealed to me,” he said. “But I liked the ownership group and wanted to take this on.”

Amidst the neglect, the thing that gave Casper hope were the course’s many stands of old-growth trees, which were still healthy and had given the course its character since it opened in 1984.

“The infrastructure was absolutely perfect. I thought we could have a pristine, desert-type course that looked like we just naturally dropped it in. That’s what this looks like.”

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Casper and the ownership team have taken a classic parkland-style layout and added bunkers and, on the par-4 8th, even a pond on the right side that stretches from the fairway and to near the green. Casper says that’s now one of his favorite holes.

“I love No. 8 since we added the lake,” he said. “It’s a great risk-reward hole. If you rip it, you’re looking at having a wedge in your hand into a green that’s front to back. But if you fade your drive, you’re in the lake. In a tournament scenario, you’re probably taking a 3-wood, hybrid or long iron there. It becomes a placement hole.”

While it puts some teeth into the hole, Casper said the intent remains within the guidelines of those handed down to him by his famous father and mentor, Tour Hall of Famer Billy Casper.

“He always said that you don’t make a course for Tour players. You make it for the average golfer. That’s a 17-handicap.”

The course is open three days a week during its renovation partly so Casper can capture the play and opinions of those players whom he sees as vital to returning the course to its place as a recreational and social hub for the community.

“I wanted something people could respond to, and I’m getting some great comments and feedback,” he said. “But when you’re letting people play a course at this stage, you’ve got to be in constant communication about the things you’re still working on.”

Casper’s father passed shortly after he took on the project, but he gave his blessing to his son’s involvement and commended him for continuing the family legacy of maintaining and preserving the game.

Like most teenagers, Byron Casper and his father didn’t always see eye to eye; however, as the two grew older, they found a mutual appreciation for each other and worked closely for several years before his father passed. Casper said striking out on his own and working overseas, including a stint as the head pro at St. Andrews, earned his father’s respect.

“It changed the dynamic,” Casper said. “The last seven years, he became so much more than a father to me – a coach, a friend, religious advisor, etc. – as well as my dad.”

In that regard, Casper said Warner Springs has unintentionally turned into a legacy project, which only bolsters his dedication to the outcome.

The course – and actually any golf course – is a constant reminder of his father’s memory and influence, one that is unavoidable for Casper.

In some ways, Casper said that’s forced him to face and quickly reconcile his feelings for his father.

“My dad thought I was good enough for the Tour and good enough to teach. He sent all his friends to me,” said Casper, who intends to make Warner Springs a destination for coaching and teaching.

“At the end, you either feel like you had enough time or you didn’t. I felt I had enough. I would’ve loved more, but I felt like we had enough.”

“I don’t have any regrets. When my father died, I knew he was proud of me and he knew how much I loved him. And he knew I’d do the job he’d wanted it terms of the family legacy.”

Warner Springs Ranch Golf Club By The Numbers

3 – Number of years the course was closed

8 – The hole undergoing the biggest change. A lake has been added.

2012 – Year the course closed

2014 – Year Pacific Hospitality Group claimed the course and resort out of bankruptcy

18 – Months of renovation put into the course since then

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