Golf artist Lee Wybranski has created a unique niche for himself: He paints for the majors. You saw his work at Torrey fo the U.S. Open in 2008 and you’ll see it again when the Open returns in 2021. Also of local interest, he’s working on a project for Goat Hill Park in Oceanside. You can read my Southland Golf interview with Lee here: http://www.southlandgolf.com/articles/grinding-617-powers-leg.html
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.”
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 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
One of San Diego’s oldest golf courses was facing its final rounds earlier this year before an unlikely scramble recovery.
Oceanside’s Goat Hill, opened in 1952, had been targeted for redevelopment by the city council. What began as a nine-hole track that was once the Oceanside Carlsbad Country Club was about to become a soccer complex or shopping mall before John Ashworth stepped forward.
Ashworth, the namesake of the golf clothing line, played the course in high school and was still enjoying a weekly round there. He submitted a last-minute bid as something of a lark.
“I was really just trying to save my Friday round,” he jokes.
To Ashworth’s astonishment, his proposal prevailed and that’s how the resurrection of Goat Hill (now Goat Hill Park) began in July of this year.
Ashworth now find himself as golf’s answer to Bob Villa on an episode of “This Old Course” trying to coax a track whose fairways had gone bare back into playable shape. But where many would see a course whose condition more closely resembles a driving range, Ashworth sees ocean views – and potential.
“It’s a cool spot that just needs a little love,” Ashworth says. “It’s got a lot of great views, and it’s a challenging little course. If we had grass, we wouldn’t be able to keep people away.
Ashworth just built a new pro shop, has re-seeded the fairways and has posted public rounds on GolfNow.com.
Goat Hill is a blue-collar course in a blue-collar part of Oceanside, and that’s exactly the audience Ashworth markets to. You don’t have to worry about dress codes here. In fact, Ashworth plays in shorts and a tee shot from his latest clothing line, Linksoul.
Ashworth also plays with persimmon clubs and embraces the histories and values of the game. That, as much as anything, he says is what bothered him about Goat Hill potentially closing.
“It’s sad to see golf courses like this going away across the country,” he says. “It’s a big loss, and I don’t think people even realize it. We need to have courses for kids and beginners, and that’s what this is.”
Ashworth says Goat Hill’s place in the community has been undervalued, and that’s where he sees the true potential.
“We have to get to the course right, but the part I get fired up about is to have a safe haven for the kids in the neighborhood,” he says. “It’s a tough neighborhood, and we want to have after-school programs and a caddy academy. We want to be a positive influence. We want to keep 13- and 14-year-olds out of gangs and off the streets.
“That part is going to be really rewarding. Already is.”
Ashworth wants to see people bond over the game again and be brought together socially, which is why he’s going to encourage leagues, including one for wooden clubs.
Local golfer Dana Albert, who began his golf career as marshal in 1991 when the course was being converted to 18 holes, shares Ashworth’s sentimentality for the course and says his efforts are laudable.
“John’s vision is inclusive to North County,” he says. “It’s a park for everyone.”
As a golfer, Albert also appreciates the challenge the course truly presents.
“You have it to hit uphill, downhill, left to right, right to left, downwind, into the wind, etc… You can hit every club in your bag.”
Ashworth now spends his days alternating between running his clothing company, which has offices nearby, and directing efforts at the course.
Ashworth has reached a point in his career where potentially things should be slowing down, but since taking on Goat Hill, that’s hardly the case, he says.
“The days are crazy. No day is typical. But what else am I going to do? It’s a challenge. And if it saves a couple kids, it’s totally worth it,” Ashworth says.
“For everything the game of golf has given me, I have to give something back.”
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a Q & A with Linksoul founder John Ashworth. You can find part 1, where he talks about the launch, success and future of his new clothing brand, here: http://www.maderasgolf.com/maderas-q-and-a-with-john-ashworth.blog
We now present Part 2 …
Earlier this year, John Ashworth, founder of Linksoul clothing company, purchased the lease to Goat Hill Park, a neglected long-time Oceanside public course that had been targeted for redevelopment.
When he submitted his bid, Ashworth says, half-jokingly, he was simply trying to protect his weekly golf round, but now he find himself as golf’s version of Bob Villa playing “This Old Course” and trying to resurrect the place, which is close to the I-5, with a new vision. At the moment, it’s the Charlie Brown tree of golf courses.
Goat Hill will be the home of the North County Junior Golf Association and, Ashworth hopes, a savior for kids in the area.
Right now, the course is a mix of bare fairways and crab grass, but as we walked nine recently, Ashworth saw beauty where others would only see blight.
To play on a phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the titleholder,” but the more you listen to Ashworth, the more you realize how determined he is to make a go of restoring and preserving the course.
Q. What’s your original connection to Goat Hill?
A. I played it in high school nine-hole matches in the mid 70’s when it was a nine-hole regulation par 36. Then my golf buddies and I started playing there about four or five years ago, and we watched the decline. We heard the city put out an RFP and we we’re afraid they were going to mess with our golf rounds. (Laughing.)
We put together a plan almost as a lark and our proposal was granted. I didn’t think we’d get it, then it was like, “Now what are we going to do?”
Q. What do you see here that others are missing?
It’s a cool spot that just needs a little love. It’s got a lot of great views, and it’s a challenging little course. If we had grass, we wouldn’t be able to keep people away.
Left: One of the course’s tough-to-hit par 3s. Right: An ocean view overlooking I-5.
Q. But going back to the mission of your company, you were dismayed as a golfer that the course might close. Something about that troubled you.
A. It’s sad to see golf courses like this going away across the country. It’s a big loss, and I don’t think people even realize it. We need to have courses for kids and beginners, and that’s what this is.
Q. Beyond making the course playable again, what’s the bigger mission you see for Goat Hill?
A. We have to get to the course right, but the part I get fired up about is to have a safe haven for the kids in the neighborhood. It’s a tough neighborhood, and we want to have after-school programs and a caddy academy. We want to be a positive influence. We want to keep 13- and 14-year-olds out of gangs and off the streets.
That part is going to be really rewarding. Already is.
Q. What else do you want to see?
A. I want to have leagues, lots of leagues, and get the game back to what it’s supposed to be, which is great social outdoor recreation. I want to have couples leagues and senior’s leagues. I just want to get people out there together.
Q. And a persimmon league, correct? Why do you still play wooden clubs? Have you always?
A. I played woods growing up and in college and then changed after. I went back to woods about four or five years ago.
When you hit them good, it’s just so much better. It resonates in your body. I think there’s more of an art to it. You’ve got to swing a little slower, be a little more precise. But the reward is great when you hit it right. It actually feels better than metal.
Q. Your schedule shifts daily between the clothing company and the course now. You’ve got a lot going. Are you the type person who’s only happy when he’s crazy busy?
I didn’t think I was, but maybe I am. But the days are crazy. No day is typical. But what else am I going to do? It’s a challenge. And if it saves a couple kids, it’s totally worth it.
For everything the game of golf has given me, I have to give something back.
No. 18 at Goat Hill Park