Category Archives: Nature

palm sun

Photo/Video Post: A Brilliant Sunset At Tourmaline Surf Beach

palm sun

As residents know, California is a winter wonderland not only for its balmy temps but also its sunsets, which tend to be more colorful than the summer variety. Thursday was a prime example. I’ve included a few photos and a video of Thursday’s display. The photo at the end shows you this one’s humble beginnings, but the key was a cloud layer that became an awesome canvas for a natural lightshow after the sun went down. Fascinating stuff.

And would you believe it came from this humble beginning?

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par 3

Photo post: Touring The Fazio Course At Pronghorn Golf Club

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You’ll be reading more about Pronghorn later this week on the site but thought I’d start with this. This is a photo tour of the Fazio Course, the country club (private) side of Pronghorn. I didn’t get to play it, but touring it was a treat unto itself. Everything at Pronghorn is done on a grand scale, and the Fazio Course is certainly no exception. The photo above is of the signature par 3, the 13th, built above a giant lava tube. You’ll find better photos of it than mine online, but you get the idea. The use of the natural landscape at Pronghorn is masterful, and if you truly appreciate course design, this is the candy store of course design quirks and twists – water flowing over cart paths, an awesome stone footbridge, split greens (yes, played to two different greens) on the par 3 17th, etc.

Here’s some of what you find on the Fazio side of the golf played through a Juniper forest.

coure overview

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Fazio 1

stream cart path

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fazio ghost tree

par 3 wider view

Benham

Video/Photo Post: Benham Falls in Bend, Ore.

Benham

On an overcast morning during my stay at Sunriver Resort, just outside of Bend, Ore., I decided to look for a hike instead of a golf course.

I was directed to Benham Falls, the trail for which started just on the edge of the sprawling and heavily forested Sunriver property. It turned out be one of the best travel audibles, and hikes, ever.

The hike begins with a tranquil stroll through the forest over a paved trail until at about the 2-mile mark you cross a wooden bridge over the Deschutes River. This is an optimal place to admire the scenery of central Oregon and even glean a little history of the river. There are educational signs posted along the banks about the discovery of the area, logging, etc.

Once you cross the bridge, it’s about 500 yards to that movie moment where you can hear the falls but not quite see them. In another 100 feet or so, you can get close enough to the river to see it turning turbid. Beyond that, you’re free to follow the beauty and power of natural unleashed for miles through towering canyon falls lined with pine trees and giant logs strewn across the river.

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Not anticipating there’d be so much to follow and actually see (and I did have a later tee time to keep), I only tracked the falls through the first of its few dramatic and scenic turns in the river, but the trails give you some awesome and varied perspectives to do so. Those natural landings and outcroppings allowed for the videos that follow.

This was the first time I’d hiked a falls, and it made it immediately memorable and among the best I’d taken.

The short list of memorable hikes:

Sedona
Sweetheart Rock in Lanai
Torrey Pines
Benham Falls
Smith Rock (same trip – more on this in a later post)

So if you get to central Oregon, definitely hike the falls, and those to follow. It surely will be as memorable for you as it was for me.

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snowman

Photo/Video Post: A Saturday Sunset In Laguna

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This was taken last Saturday in Laguna Beach, near Montage, not far from the beach entrance off PCH for The Ranch at Laguna Beach.

I’ve been sharing this photo during my travels around SoCal this week and it has inspired awe and glowing reviews from a populace used to seeing beautiful sunsets.

I believe it’s one of the five best I’ve ever seen. What makes it special is the thin cloud layer hanging just above the ocean that split the sunset in two before. I’ve seen this awesome effect before – in fact, my first sunset living in CA was one of these – but I’ve never seen it so close to the water. I’m calling this the snowman sunset.

I took these photos and video perched atop a rock in the ocean, which also helped get the shots. Sometimes you sense a sunset scenario early that has the makings of true greatness. This was one of those. It definitely didn’t disappoint.

If you’re staying at The Ranch, know this beach location is just a short golf cart ride and brief beach walk away. How much more awesomely close to awesome can you get? Enjoy and don’t forget to share your photo at @theranchlb.

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Lighthouse and arch

SD Day Trip: The Channel Islands

Lighthouse and arch

Catalina Island is one of the glaring incompletes in my list of visited California destinations, largely because it was on the list even before I moved here three years ago, but I took an adventure of a similar nautical nature recently to the Channel Islands.

A camping trip north of LA afford an opportunity to visit the closest islands to the California coast and was absolutely worth the three hours round trip on the ocean, bumpy day and all as it was in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Beyond that they existed, I knew little about the islands before hoping a boat on a whim, but our hosts, Island Packers out of Ventura and Oxnard, were only too happy to educate once we arrived at our destination across the open ocean.

Comprised of five main islands, the Channel Islands exist within a national park and provide sanctuary to a host of marine life and sea birds as well as a giant kelp bed that underpins the island’s ecosystem. (You can read all about the park’s history, geology, etc. at www.nps.gov/chis/index.htm.)

If you’re new to California, a trip to the Channel Islands will be an exciting discovery and glimpse of the uniqueness and beauty of the state. If you live here, it’ll be a reminder of the sheer awesome we’re surrounded by in literally every direction on a daily basis.

Rather than a definitive tell-all, let this post rather be an introduction, as it was for me, through photos and video.

Gateway

This is what awaited us when we boarded in Oxnard.

boat

A this was our boat, which hosted about 30 of us and was manned by a crew of three, who took turns providing instruction and narration throughout the voyage.

seals harbor

And these were the “greeters” who loudly and enthusiastically called out to us as we were headed out to sea.

leaving harbor

The beautiful, tranquil backdrop we left behind …

open ocean

… before subjecting ourselves to the bumps and swells of the open ocean, especially in the transition zone, or shallow water as it was explained to us.

first glimpse

Aside from passing oil platforms that dot the seascape, capturing the natural gas and oil seeps that deposit tar on the beach, our ride out was largely uneventful and devoid of marine life, which was a bit of a bummer. If you’ve ever had a pod of dolphins make a beeline for your boat, you know why.

The islands linger shrouded in fog and haze in the distance until you get close and start to glimpse views like the one above.

This was our intro. to islands. You might be able to hear the narration.

Our cruise largely sailed around Anacapa, an island divided into thirds and home to some sheer cliffs and incredible geologic formations as well as scores of sea birds circling and landing overhead.

kelp

You quickly notice the giant patches of kelp in the water and realize where much of what’s on the beach comes from and why it’s sometimes attached to chunks of volcanic rock.

The only structures on the island are a lighthouse and lodging for the Coast Guard. The rest is raw, unspoiled open sanctuary for animals and birds, many of whom you see gathered in flocks in seemingly precarious perches up above.

Before you come to the lighthouse and the arch on one end of the island, you pass “The Gap,” a separation in two of the islands that you’re told can be traversed on foot when the tide is right. It’s quite an awesome sight.

gap

The narration tells you some 170 shipwrecks have happened near the islands, some, naturally, spawning rumors of lost treasure.

And then you get to the arch.

The much-anticipated seals resided on just the other side …

Including my diver ..

Those were largely the highlights, but the trip left me with a deeper appreciation of the uniqueness and diversity of California and a desire to return and hike the island, as about a dozen people did that day.

For more information about the types of trips to The Channel Islands, and related ocean excursions, you can contact Island Packers at www.islandpackers.com or 805.642.1393.

I’ve not had an experience like it in California and anticipate this won’t be my last.

Road Trip: Hiking in Sedona

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The first time I ever heard about Sedona, Ariz., was when I had my original monthly magazine, the one that covered Warren Buffett and the charity scene in Omaha.

That magazine had a travel section that ran largely on the travels of my friends. It was the most popular part of the magazine and begat my love of travel writing. One of the five best pieces we ever published was a story about Sedona.

One of my best travel writers was going there and pitched a story to me before she left on her trip, providing minimal detail. What popped into my inbox later absolutely floored me. The photos of the red rocks and vistas in Sedona were stunning and even in our newsprint format leapt off the page.

I made a note right then and there that I had to get to Sedona one day. Well, it finally happened. And what a place it is.

Situated about two hours north of Phoenix, Sedona is a hiker’s and nature lover’s paradise. I only explored the Bambi slopes of trails there, but I enjoyed every second of it. And if you don’t hike, the drove alone to Sedona is worth it. The red rock mountains you see on the way into the city are even more awesome than the mountains surrounding it. I’ve never seen anything like it.

With a population of just under 25,000, Sedona is a perfect getaway destination. It’s a quiet and friendly place to bond with nature and marvel at a most unique and inspiring part of our national landscape.

That said, I’ll let the photos take over from here, with minimal commentary from me. Sedona is a continual feast for the eyes, and your feet the passport to one visual adventure after the next. Enjoy.

sedona second

This photo and the one above were taken in the final hour of the trip, with a storm approaching. It was incredible to watch the approaching gray-and-black clouds provide a contrast that intensified the natural color of the rocks and highlighted the mountains’ features. I was so hoping for a storm and we finally got one.

fountain

This was my hello to Sedona. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was our first stop. This famous church is situated with an impeccable view of the valley and from there you can see the rocks known as Courthouse (on the left) and Bell (on the right). I don’t know all the names, but I tried to master the major ones.

chimneyrock

And this is Chimney Rock, which is situated close to Thunder Mountain, the biggest mountain in the valley and my new No. 1 seed of mountain names.

sedona sunset

As in California, sunrise and sunset are events in Sedona.

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But unlike CA, where the sunset over the ocean is singular the visual event, there’s a 360 effect in Sedona to appreciate. There’s something to notice in every direction as the sun is setting.

red clouds

Like red clouds …

sunrise

To view sunset the next morning, we climbed atop a rock and joined a group of about 20 at 6 a.m. who were appreciating and documenting the start of another beautiful day in Sedona.

train marker

The trails in Sedona are well marked and were very easy to follow. That said, we hardly attempted any lengthy or complicated hikes, as not getting lost was high on my list of hiking priorities. And, yes, we did see spiders and snakes, which we avoided entirely. Not visiting the ER was also on my hiking wish list.

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This view is from the “Sedona View” trail we hiked off Airport Road. We hiked on both sides of the city, giving us two different and completely cool perspectives on how the town is situated and the reverse view of the literally hundreds of cool patio views in the city.

cool cactus

You not only see the widest variety of cactus I’ve ever seen here, you see them growing in the coolest places, but you don’t see the giant saguaros here. Those are the closer to Phoenix and particularly plentiful off the interstate.

thundersplit

This is Thunder Mountain up close. From afar you have no idea it’s split, but it is. And you only realize that when you let you feet take you on an adventure. It’s amazing in how Sedona how a few extra feet can completely change your perspective and understanding.

rock stack

You see rock stacking frequently on the trails. Some of it is done just for fun, but Sedona is also a very spiritual place and some of it is done with religious intent. Be prepared to be exposed to a lot of different beliefs in Sedona and faith in mystical forces.

sunday sunrise

This was the second sunrise in Sedona, which was observed from a completely different perspective than the first. This is the sun rising over Thunder Mountain.

Sedona

Thunder Mountain is the right. Fabulous contrast between the two mountains. When you venture out of Sedona, it’s an entirely different landscape, more similar to Thunder Mountain.

rain

This was literally the last photo of Sedona on my phone. I didn’t realize until later I’d captured a rain shower. What a great way to go out and yet another wonderful way to appreciate the awesome landscape of Sedona.


SD Day Trip: Temecula Wine Country

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My relationship with southern SoCal (meaning not LA) began in Temecula. That’s where I was hosted three years ago on what I like to call my new-life shopping trip.

Those are the three weeks I spent in SoCal planning the life I have now. Temecula wine country was a big part of those dreamy days. In particular, I had a couple social Sundays in the wineries meeting locals and gaining valuable advice on the plan for my new life.

But more than that, simply experiencing wine country sold me on SoCal. Where cornfields used to be my vista, now it was vineyards stretching endlessly into the horizon. Talk about a change of scenery.

My wine experience in the Midwest was mostly at the social functions I covered. I gained an appreciation for wine, but never a love. When I told that to people who moved to Omaha for the West Coast, I was assured I wasn’t drinking the good stuff.
Standing in a Temecula tasting room, swirling chardonnay in my glass, I knew this was the good stuff. And this was the good life.

In that respect, Temecula wine country will always be a special place because it helped me dream big dreams. Now it helps me realize them.

With every trip to wine country, my fascination grows as I learn more about the history and the people who gave birth to this magical place and soak in more of the culture and the ambience. Ah, the ambience.

This blog post hopes to capture a little of all the above, but, like the sips your wine card gets you, it’s only a taste of the Temecula experience, which amazingly continues to grow and evolve 40 years after Ely Callaway opened the first winery in 1974.

And fittingly our virtual tour begins at Callaway Winery. This is the recounting of my recent experience, but it’s only one. With nearly 50 wineries now, the ways to experience wine country are vast and growing every day. Not to be the Temecula Chamber of Commerce, but if you haven’t been, you need to go. It really is a magical place.

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One of the ways to experience wine country is via the Grapeline, a wine country shuttle service. Besides eliminating driving, the Grapeline provides a guided tour and plans your itinerary. Ours included stops at five wineries and lunch, which we’ll get to a minute. We were a band of 10, but the Grapeline can shut as many as groups of 30 or 40.

equipment

Our tour began at Callaway with a wine tour, which is a tour of the winery that takes you through the process of wine making. Many of the wineries offer these and if you ask around, you’ll find out which are some of the better ones. As a far kid, I like to know where things come from so this is fascinating stuff for me. You learn what climates produce certain grapes, what the process is and then all sort of fun wine facts such as how many bottles of wine are in a barrel (300). I highly recommend a tour if you are a first-timer.

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About those grapes … We were told Temecula grows 24 varietals, nearly twice as many of most wine-making regions. Which means you really can experience it all here, and each winery has its own specialty or niche. That’s part of the joy of discovery of getting to know each one.

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This is the enterance to Callaway’s restaurant, but you can also see the vineyards in the background. Each property has a different make up. Some just make wine. Many have tasting rooms. Some have restaurants. Increasingly some have hotels. And many hosting weddings. Temecula is a very popular destination for that, and the wedding pics are phenomenal.

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The Callaway restaurant. How would you like that view for lunch? Stunning.

roses

You learn on the that roses serve as guardian plants for the grape vines. If there’s disease, it’ll show up on the roses first. Again, stuff like this speaks to my inner farm boy. These are the vines are Lorimar.

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What can you make out of wine corks? Temecula makes you realize seemingly infinite possibilities. And they repurpose wine barrels like crazy too. If you’re a huge home décor person, you’ll be in heaven here.

cougar

This was lunch, staged in the barrel room of Cougar Vineyard and Winery. After a club sandwich, a fresh salad and a delicious brown with chocolate chunks inside, we were primed to continue tasting, which we, of course, also did with lunch.

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This is the view at Cougar. Like looking at the ocean, these views just never get old.

renzoni

Our last stop was at Temecula’s newest tasting room, Robert Renzoni Vineyards. This is a stunning property with a spacious tasting room and incredible views in every direction. I was a bit bummed we only had 30 minutes here. I wanted to stay and experience it much longer. Looks like I’m going back.

vista

The view at Renzoni. Tired of looking at these yet? I didn’t think so. Well, in the insert of blog brevity, I’m going to end the post here, but it could go on and on, and I re-do this post with different wineries and experiences every day for the rest of the experience. But this at least gives you a glimpse of what’s there to discover and do, especially at this time of year. Harvest is a festive time in wine country, and harvest started early this year due to the drought.
But if you’re planning in a trip in the next few months, know the wineries plan concerts and other events, such as grape stomping, around harvest. I have yet to experience that, but I want to this year.

And if I do, well, I expect to keep you “posted.” Cheers.


Road Trip: Portland in Pictures

Hood

Photo of Mt. Hood taken by Sally Lickliter

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I recently visited Portland on the sequel to my initial trip to the city two years ago during its annual craft beer festival, Brewfest.

The festival, and getting together with my friends who work in the food and beverage industry, is the reason for the gathering but only one of many reasons to visit what has quickly become one of my favorite cities.

The beers flow freely in Portland, especially during Brewfest, but so does the creativity. In that regard, this city inspires me like no other. In that sense, we are creative kindred spirits. I love Portland’s ability to put a slight genius twist on something ordinary.

For instance, when I visited two years ago, I came across a poster promoting the state’s annual bike ride. My home state has an annual bike ride. What my home state doesn’t have is a poster promoting the ride in which the state is outlined in a bicycle chain. Smart.

That’s Portland. From the names of its beers (I actually drank a beer called control/alt/delete) to the names of its pizza places (Sizzle Pie anyone?) to wisdom painted on an outdoor mural (“Chocolate Is the Answer – Who Cares What the Question Is), at nearly every turn Portland has the ability to make you think, laugh or simply smile. It’s a city whose sense of humor is a mix of one-liners and inside jokes coming at you rapid fire. Blink and you might miss something.

Anyway, the Brewfest is held on the river with a vista of snow-capped Mount Hood on the horizon. The photo at top was not taken at Brewfest, but rather by a friend I met who snapped it a day later on her camping trip.

I’ve showed that photo to several people (it’s now the wallpaper on my phone) and it’s been greeted with a mix of appropriate awe and wonder. Oregon is truly a beautiful state, as my window seat home doubly confirmed.
However, perhaps my favorite reaction to the photo was from a Portlander working at our hotel. He looked at the photo and exclaimed, “Hey, it’s Trillium Lake!” Um, yes. In front of that majestic mountain there is a body of water and we all now know its name, in case you didn’t (I didn’t).

I’ve decided to recount this trip in photo essay form, so it’s only light reading and some pretty pictures ahead. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did the trip.

bfest

This was the 27th year of Brewfest, aka the Oregon Brewers Festival. The only craft brewery market bigger than San Diego is Portland. IF you’ve never been, you can read all about Brewfest at www.oregonbrewfest.com.

watermelon

See what I mean? A watermelon as a keg? Just a prop, but to quote an old Guinness commercial, “Brilliant!” And not a bad beer, either.

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SoCal is well represented at Brewfest. I was way too late to be Carlsbad’s push-pin delegate.

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Besides Brewfest, our troop makes it a point to visit some of the local breweries, largely because they are each so interesting and cool. Each seems to be its own little Cheers for its neighborhood. This one was called Base Camp and had a mountaineering theme.

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See, Portland’s doing that thing again. See? See?

s'more

A S’more beer, not just some more beer. And with your S’more beer you can …

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Sit on the back patio and roast the marshmallow in your S’more kit.

chocolate

This isn’t Base Camp, but is a wall of wisdom at an outdoor food court comprised entirely of food trucks. Besides craft beers, Portland is the food truck capital as well. I would love to be Anthony Bourdain’s wingman on a Portland episode. Yo, Tony. A little love for the blog?

pedicab

There goes Portland doing its Portland thing again. You may have had a pedicab ride before, but have you had one from a girl wearing bicycle glasses? In Portland, such a thing is totally possible.

river

Portland is also known for its bridges. This photo is the poor man’s poor man’s version of what a good photo of the bridges would look like.

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And on the flight home …

mountain

Like I said, I couldn’t speak more highly of this city and especially the friendliness of its people. Cheers, Portland. Thanks another epic week. Let’s do it again soon. Does in another 360 days or so work for you? Just say, “Chocolate.”


JC Golf: Carmel Mountain Ranch Joins the JC Golf Family

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The signature par-3 11th

          JC Golf is proud to announce the latest addition to its golf family: Carmel Mountain Ranch.

         Situated just 25 minutes from downtown San Diego, Carmel Mountain Ranch has been serving golfers from all over San Diego County and beyond since 1984. In the past, it has even hosted U.S. Open qualifying as well as a variety of other tournaments and events.

At 6,599 yards (from the back tees), Carmel Mountain is a mid-length course that requires a good deal of strategy but also has a fair amount of holes that allow big hitters to let it fly.

Prior reviews of the course have called it “a true shot-maker’s course,” and it is that, especially on some of its short par-4s, which take a few rounds to learn.

Carmel Mountain General Manager Kevin Hwang says the course has a reputation for being rough for first-timers.

“The course has a reputation for being tough, but we’re in the process of trying to ease that burden for people,” Hwang says.

That’s mostly by managing speeds on the course’s undulating greens. Hwang says the course’s tiered greens can yield a bevy of three-putts if not managed properly.

“The greens are a little tricky, which is why don’t let them run too fast,” he says.

The course has many unique holes, but the signature is the beautifully landscaped par-3 11th, which plays to 158 yards and involves a carry over a pond and waterfall. The pin was front right the day I played and I just missed having my tee shot pull back to the hole on the undulating green.

“It’s actually our shortest par-3. It’s a lot fun to play,” Hwang says.

The following is a look at few more things you can look forward to during future rounds at Carmel Mountain Ranch.

1. Great Driving Holes – If you’re striping it off the tee to start, you can really take advantage of the first two holes, both of which are downhill par-4s. You’re set up for a similarly strong start on the back with the downhill par-5 10th and then there’s another dramatic downhill on the par-4 14th.

The par-5 10th is most definitely reachable in two with a solid drive, and the wide fairway offers multiple angles of attack as long as you avoid the bunkers on the right. The large, receptive green makes a great opportunity to kick off your back nine with a birdie. This used to be the starting hole, by the way, until the nines were reversed. So if you haven’t played the course for a while, be aware of that.

2. Unique Views – Having beautiful mountain vistas as a backdrop is common in this part of Southern California, but what is a bit uncommon is how much the course’s design incorporates its surroundings.

For instance, on the drive to the par-4 14th, you’re greeted by a field of huge boulders and actually drive between two of them to reach the tee box. It’s stunning every time you experience it, but particularly the first time.

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You’ll find similarly sized stones in fairways and sand traps throughout the course.

Also unique to the area are the hawks and falcons you’ll see soaring and circling above, riding the breeze and giving you a glimpse of nature’s wonders at work.

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The par-4 7th

3. Unique Holes – Because the course was designed to maximize course exposure for the homes, many holes are set off in their own amphitheater.

The product of that design is an uncommonly unique layout.

“We’re definitely not parallel fairways,” Hwang says. “And you don’t see two holes that look the same.”

Two of the most talked about, and unique, holes on the course are two short and highly strategic par-4s.

The first is No. 7, which plays to 311 yards from an elevated tee. The number probably already has many of you ready to pull driver, but hold that thought.

There’s a huge boulder surrounded by a sand trap lurking about 280 yards out. If you don’t make the carry, your ball could hit the boulder and bound OB or leave you in some other tricky predicament.

An iron or rescue to a comfortable second-shot yard is the preferred play, but doesn’t dissuade many from going for the green.

Driver isn’t an option, however, on the 325-yard par-4 17th. Front by a sizable pond, this short par-4 is a true two-shot hole.

Carrying the water on the second shot has been many players’ undoing, Hwang says.

“There’s no running it up there. You’ve got to hit a shot.”

And to a somewhat smallish green. I played the hole 7-iron, 6-iron, which was more than I wanted on my second shot, but I still managed the land the ball on the fringe and make a two-putt par.

It may take you a few rounds to learn the best way for you to club No. 17, but you’ll find par to be a plenty good score there.

4. Practice bunker/short game area – As someone whose greenside sand game tends to be inconsistent, I find it a relief any time there’s a practice bunker available. Carmel Mountain Ranch has one is its sizable short-game area.

I practiced sands shots for about 15 minutes and it saved me a few strokes during my round. The bunker is a bit benign in that it doesn’t have steep walls, but it’s enough to get in some solid practice.

There’s a separate green designated for chipping as well.

All the pros say the fastest way to shave strokes is around the green. For your round, arrive early and make use of this valuable practice resource.

The course used to have a driving range, but a virtual range has replaced it.

5. The Clubhouse – As you wind your wind up Carmel Ridge Road, you’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a stately Colonial-style clubhouse.

The building gives a country-club presence to the course.

“We’ve got great curb appeal,” Hwang says.

Besides the pro shop, there’s a bar and grill/lounge area and an upstairs banquet facility with a patio.

Feel free to stick around after your round and relax with a beverage and join us in a symbolic toast to the newest member of the JC Golf family.

Carmel Mountain Ranch officially becomes a part of JC Golf on April 1, thus benefits for JC Players card members begin on that date. To book a tee time, please call 858.487.9224, ext. 1.