November 2013 Southland Golf – Barona Creek
For the most part, Encinitas Ranch is a fairly straightforward golf course. What you see is what you get. The one exception is the par-4 No. 7.
No. 7 is the only truly blind tee shot on the course, and it’s one of those quirky layup holes that’s tough to club right and can be quite penal if you club it wrong.
The tricky tee shot colors how a lot of people view this hole, which is unfortunate since it closes with (besides the ocean) probably the most impressive view on the course – a green ringed by gorgeous trees set against a stunning panoramic view of the valley.
Let’s say this: If it was a par-3, I think people would think more highly of this hole.
Anyway, about that tee shot …
The only thing you see from the tee is a fairway that comes to a plateau. In the middle of the fairway is a tall, red aiming pole.
What you don’t see is a dramatic downslope past the pole that narrows significantly on the left, so much so that if you carry the hill on the left, you’re destined to go OB into a canyon, likely with the help of the cart path.
So we want to be right, right? Yes. And long. Because if you’re short, you’ve got another blind shot for an approach.
So, depending on the wind, you’re looking at about 220-240 yards – the hole plays 365 yards from the blues – to get yourself an approach with a look at the pin. That’s hybrid/long iron for most people. (Note: You’re seriously pushing your luck if you go 3-wood, much less driver, here.)
Anyway, I think the mistake people make here is thinking everything rides on the tee shot. The other day, for instance, I hit a solid hybrid that the wind trapped and sent back down the hill, leaving me 170 yards or so out. I walked up the hill, chose my aim line and then walked back and dropped a 6-iron approach onto the front of the green and made a two-putt par.
I recall another blind approach I hit here that nearly found the hole.
Remember those trees behind the green? They’re your friends. Pick one as your aim line, trust it and hit your shot. But knock off a club for the elevation unless you’re into the wind. I’ve seen people fly approaches into the back traps and that’s not an out you want.
So I guess the moral is, don’t sweat the tee shot, embrace the challenge if your second shot is blind and don’t forget to appreciate the view regardless of what ultimately goes on your scorecard.
You know a golf course has been around a long time when it has a Ben Hogan story. Having been established in 1919, venerable Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles is that type of place.
I played there for a charity event on Monday and was clued in on the lore of Ben Hogan, the ninth hole and the Hollywood sign. The ninth is a 418-yard dogleg-left par-4 that begins with a blind tee shot. Wilshire CC is located in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, which is visible at several points on the course but most prominently on No. 9 because it’s part of the backdrop, as is the sign for the high-rise El Royale apartment building, which you see on the right. The green is visually located beneath the Hollywood sign.
The story I was told by my playing partner actually involves the El Royale sign, but I searched online and found an LA Times story that says it’s actually the Hollywood sign, which makes more sense, but the gist is the same.
Apparently Hogan, the master ball-striker of his time and perhaps all-time, arrived at the ninth tee and was told by his caddie to aim at the Hollywood sign. A few moments passed and Hogan had neither spoke nor addressed his ball. The caddie interjected and asked, “Mr. Hogan, do you have a question?”
“Yes,” Hogan replied. “Which letter?”
A former sportswriter friend once told me a similar Hogan story about him playing a practice round where the sightline involved a water tower. When Hogan played the course the second day, he was reminded about the water tower being the aiming point and said, “Actually, it’s two feet to the left.”
Now that’s precision.
I played No. 9 by hitting my usual draw and hoping it would follow the fairway. It didn’t. We found it on the right side in some very thick rough and I got to chop it out from 175 yards. My approach was left and fortunately found a rare safe landing spot amongst the myriad of bunkers that guard this hole and, for that matter, every hole at Wilshire. It’s the most severely bunkered course I’ve ever played and fortunately the format we played has us rarely playing out of them.
Anyway, after a pitch and a tricky two-putt, I took 5 on No. 9, but walked off happy to have had the experience of following in the footsteps of a golf legend.
Thanks to the staff at Wilshire for being gracious hosts for a quintessential LA golf experience and thanks also to the charity sponsor, Prototypes, which advocates for mothers with children who are going through recovery to keep their children out of foster care. This was their fourth annual tournament. I’ll be providing additional information about the event in a separate post.
For whatever reason, it didn’t dawn on me until about 10 minutes before we teed off at Sherwood on Monday that we’d have caddies. If it had, I would’ve been 10 times more excited than the 10 times more excited I already was than for a normal round of golf.
Caddies are such a great way to experience the game, and a luxury I’ve rarely been afforded, but one that I think would hook more people on the game if they got to experience it even once.
When you hire a caddie, you’re also hiring a tour guide, a swing coach, a greens guru, a motivational speaker, a cheerleader, a comedian, a personal assistant and more all rolled into one. In my experience, it’s a guaranteed good time, and an always memorable one, on the golf course when you have a caddie.
(And I realize that, for some people, we’re into issues of elitism here and some of people’s other pet issues with golf, but let’s suspend that for a moment, shall we?)
The first time I ever had a caddie was when I played in Jamaica, where Jamaican law requires you to play with a caddie. Our caddy’s name was Devon, and he looked like he could’ve walked right off the course from a 1970s Masters, white coveralls and all.
Anyway, I didn’t totally know what type of experience I was in for with him, but I got a pretty good idea on my first tee shot, which I hooked high into the palm trees on the mountain on the first hole.
Devon dashed off the tee box, shouting, “No worries, mon! I got it! Hit again!”
Cool! Throughout the round, Devon was basically a walking GPS, previewing holes, giving me yardages, reading my putts and at the same time, basically teaching beginner’s golf to my playing partner, all while cleaning our clubs. He balanced it all remarkably well.
Anyway, I recall it being a very relaxed round and so much fun that we went back the next day. And that’s when I hit the shot I recall most.
While playing a long par-3, I carved a 5-wood incredibly close to the hole, or so it looked to me from the tee. Doubt started to creep in though because my caddie, a man with a line for every golf shot under the sun, was silent. Finally, he approached me on the tee, took my 5-wood and handed me my putter.
“They always say the pro walks off the tee carrying his putter,” he told me, making me feel 10 feet tall walking off the box.
It turned out that the putt was much more than a tap-in, but I still saved par, and it was my hole of the trip, largely because Devon made it so.
So when a caddie named Bruce hopped into my cart on Monday, it automatically gave me a good vibe about how the round would go, regardless of the score. And, truth be told, at the beginning, it didn’t go well, but Bruce made that part memorable, too.
On the third hole, I hit a rare slice off the tee and way OB right into the backyard one of the multi-million-dollar homes. As I handed Bruce my club, he provided an interesting piece of course knowledge.
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, that’s the backyard of Britney Spears’ old house,” he said.
“Hey,” I replied, “if you’re going to lose a ball, better it be almost famous, right?”
My round turned around on the fourth hole, where Bruce’s read of a tough uphill breaking putt helped me make birdie, and a great golf day ensued from there.
Sherwood was a spectacular, borderline surreal, golf experience for me, and undoubtedly one of the five best courses I’ve ever played. I would’ve enjoyed the day regardless of how I played, but my scorecard probably would’ve looked drastically different were it not for Bruce’s guidance.
I’ve come to think of a good caddy as being like a good personal trainer: they get that 10 to 15 percent more out of you that’s hard to get out of yourself.
That certainly happened on the back nine, where it felt like Bruce had seen me swing enough to that he knew how to club me and what shots to recommend. I hit an uncommon number of good golf shots over those nine holes, but none better than on the last two.
Our next-to-last hole was a 491-yard par-5 with a green fronted by a creek. The play off the tee was to hit the left side of the fairway and let it roll right. I hit my best tee shot of the day and actually carried it past the suggested landing area.
That left me 230 out, prime yardage to get home in two with my hybrid, and Bruce was giving me the green light all the way. And I was only too willing, largely because I’d botched a similar shot on a previous par-5 off a perfect lie.
This lie, however, wasn’t so perfect. It was a bit of a side hill and especially troublesome for me because it wasn’t conducive for the stanch I needed to hit my draw. Because of this, I couldn’t get comfortable over the shot.
That’s when Bruce stepped in and redirected me.
“Take it off the right side of the bridge,” he said, causing me to focus left instead of right.
This created a dilemma. Hitting where Bruce recommended meant playing a cut, an uncertain outcome from me. Part of the allure of playing right was a bail-out area, where I could still recover for birdie if I didn’t completely pull off the approach.
Seeing I was still debating, Bruce provided the closing argument.
“Trust the read, boss. Hit the shot.”
With that, I settled in on the recommended line, and when I planted my lead leg, it felt solid. And I’d now be swinging more with the slope than against it. I was all in. And I fired.
The ball shot out like a pin-seeking dart. Tracking at the hole all the way, it easily carried the creek, hit short of the flagstick and rolled 15 feet past.
“That’s the best shot you’ve ever hit in your life, bro!” Bruce shouted, and high-fives and fist bumps ensued.
On the green, Bruce guided me to a two-putt birdie and later blamed himself for costing me eagle.
“I should’ve backed you off 20 percent on that stroke. You were a little too amped up there.”
No complaints here, Bruce. That was no gimme.
Having pocketed two birdies for the round, I was more than satisfied with my play for the day, but we still had one hole to go – a 146-yard par-3.
The hole was playing longer because the pin was tucked on the back tier. I was thinking of playing safe, but Bruce handed me my 8 and told me to go right at it. So I did.
Six feet. Another round of cheers broke out, making me suddenly feel like I had my own gallery.
Bruce greeted me at the cart by handing me my Cleveland putter and on the green he provided me with a two-word read on the putt. Straight in. And it was. Birdie!
Four birdies in a round is my record, and it wasn’t on a course nearly the caliber of Sherwood. I walked off the last hole on a golf high and ready to play 18 more. But alas we were done, and it’s probably better that way. You don’t mess with walk-off birdies. That was a first for me.
Anyway, a day like that makes you ponder the possibilities for your game. What if I had a Bruce for every round I played? Dare to dream. Friday it was back to the reality of approaches that just miss the green and birdie putts that don’t quite find the hole.
As we parted in the parking lot on Monday, I joked with Bruce that I’d like to have him in an app. that I could just open and point at the course when I needed a yardage, a read, or even maybe just a little comedic a relief.
Only I wasn’t joking. Move over, Siri. I want Bruce.
I’m not sure this photo quite captures what a cool little hole this really is, but this is one of my favorite par-3s in the area. This is No. 17 at Cross Creek in Temecula. It’s a gem of a hole on a hidden gem of a course. Cross Creek is on the other side of the mountains west of Old Town Temecula, where there’s little reason to suspect a golf course exists.
But one does, and it’s worth checking out. The secluded location and lack of nearby homes makes for a serene golf experience on a course that just seems to roll along the countryside giving you consistently great and unique golf holes one after the next.
You come to No. 17 after a pair of testy par-4s, and this little par-3 is off to the right of the 18th tee box, kind of off in its own little world, framed by the trees and fronted by a creek. It’s got a gently sloping green that provides for multiple challenging pin locations.
The hole plays 170 yards from the tips and a mere 137 yards from the golds. It’s tempting to go pin-seeking here because that’s exactly what the hole’s tempting you to do. But beware that if you clear the creek but end up short, the rough you’re in is ankle-high and no picnic to get out of. On the other hand, go long here and you’ve plenty of room to recover and save par. In other words, when in doubt, take an extra club.
The wind can also tricky on this hole. The day we played, the Santa Ana’s were howling, but the 17 green seemed protected from the wind enough to be unaffected, although we could feel the wind on the tee. But the winds were also coming from an unusual direction that day we were told. Wind behind you can make a big difference here.
Anyway, if anyone reads this who has played this hole and wants to toss in their two cents, feel free, but this is the hole I think of when I think of Cross Creek. I’ve made birdie, par and bogey here and each one has given me a different appreciation for the challenge this hole presents. I look forward to it every time.
I was fortunate enough to be included in a media tournament on Monday at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, where the field for Tiger Woods’ 2013 Northwestern Mutual World Challenge was announced. The tournament, which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation, will host 18 of the world’s top players, including Woods, Rory McIlroy and defending champion Graeme McDowell, on Dec. 2-8. You can find the full field and ticket information here: www.worldchallengegolf.com.
This is the 15th year Sherwood has hosted the event, but Monday was my first time ever experiencing it beyond TV. It’s quite a place to say the least and would be well worth the trip just to bask in the beauty of the surroundings and appreciate Jack Nicklaus’ masterpiece course design, much less to experience elite golf.
I’ll be writing two or three Sherwood-related posts this week, but wanted to start with this because this is what you see first when you emerge from the clubhouse. What a glorious and impressive site it is, and in one snapshot, it captures all the elements that make this course a mesmerizing golf experience: spectacular mountain views, majestic mature trees, strategic use of visually stunning water features. You get incredible and awe-inspiring combinations of the three over and over here. Oh, and views of a bunch of multi-million dollar homes, too. Probably worth mentioning that.
Anyway, No. 18 is a downhill par-4 (we played it at 412 yards, but it’s 446 for the pros) off an elevated tee that plays to a severely sloped green accentuated by a waterfall on the left and fronted by a pond. On your second shot, if you’ve avoided the trees on the right, or the opposite fairway – No. 9 – you’ve likely got a long iron or more into a green that is sloped heavily front to back. The hole has Sherwood’s stately clubhouse as a backdrop. I went driver, 4-iron here and ended up peering down on a front pin with a long, slick downhill put, but I was only too happy to not be in the water. I three-putted, but that the didn’t spoil the fun of executing the approach shots.
No. 18 is a stunning finishing hole, whether you’re looking at it from the fairway or the clubhouse, and a marvelous way to end a truly unique round of golf. I can’t wait to go back in December and watch the pros play it.
Thanks to the folks at the Tiger Woods Foundation and Sherwood for being first-rate hosts, and thanks to my boss at Southland Golf for thinking to include me. My appreciation goes out to all of you.
If your push your tee shot right on No. 2 at Costa Mesa County Club’s Los Lagos course, this could be your view. This stunning palm accents the hole on this par-5. Palm trees and the way they grow fascinates me. This one is unique because it’s the only one like it on the course.
Anyway, my motto of there being 100 ways to enjoy a round of golf includes discovering an amazing natural wonder like this.
No. 16 at Pala Mesa
This post was originally going to be about the same experience I’ve had – or witnessed – on two of Pala Mesa’s par 3s that I’ve never seen or heard of happening anywhere else. But then I played the course again and realized nothing about any of Pala Mesa’s par-3s is easy so I thought I’d just go ahead and profile them all.
But first, let’s talk about the Pala Mesa par-3 phenomenon involving errant shots, gravity and cart paths. A story to illustrate:
No. 16 is the shortest par 3 on the course. From the blues, it plays 143 yards, albeit uphill. When you look at the hole, you see a steep face bunker on the front left and a face bunker back right, with the green sandwiched in the middle. What you don’t pay attention to is the cart path snaking to the left and then out of view. It ends up uncommonly close to the green.
While playing in a tournament last year, a player in our group pulled his tee shot left on this hole. He then walked to the side of the tee box and stood there.
I asked him, “What are you doing?”
His reply: “Waiting for my ball.”
Sure enough, about 30 seconds later, his ball came bounding back on the cart path, following a winding path with uncanny consistency. The golfer grabbed the ball and put it in his pocket, choosing to take the max strokes on the hole rather than recover from a negative tee shot. Yes, the ball was going to end up behind the tee box.
Anyway, I’ve heard this is a fairly common occurrence, and I saw the same thing happen on the par-3 No. 3 as well the first time I ever played the course. Crazy stuff. So when I write full review of Pala Mesa, right on No. 3 and left on No. 16 will be prime “Do NOT Hit it Here” material.
As a group, though, the Pala Mesa par 3s are all tough and show that you don’t have to stretch a par 3 to 200 yards to make it difficult. Even from the tips, the longest par 3 is only 189 yards. The blues measure 166, 159, 151 and 143.
But what they lack in distance, they make up for in difficulty by being tough to club due to the wind and even tougher to putt, with slick, undulating greens. And wicked sand traps guard part of the fronts of all of them.
We’ve already talked about 16 in-depth. Here are the hole details on the other three (using yardages from the blues).
No. 3, 166 yards – This is the longest of the four and plays into a narrow, oblong green with heavy mounding off the left side.
The hole often plays into the wind, making club selection tricky and bringing the traps into play for a very tough recovery if you miss short. But if you go long, you’re likely OB as there’s not much room. It’s a one-club green, and you’ve got to pick the right one.
Anyway, missing right here would be a good miss, save for the cart path repercussions we discussed. Miss really right and you avoid the path and have a safe chip, especially since the pin is often on that side of the two-tiered green.
I parred this hole the first time I played it. I haven’t been so fortunate since.
No. 7, 159 yards – Another narrow, sloping green with sand traps short that get a lot of play. And if you miss short right AND miss the trap, your ball runs into a ravine, where you may be blocked by a tree. Also, long is gone again. So hit the green or look at a killer up-and-down.
I’m always short here so I’m going to suggest the hole plays long. I can’t recall ever making a good number here.
No. 14, 151 yards – Plays uphill and to a crosswind, so take an extra club. Many don’t and are left to fight there way out of a huge bunker complex. This green is deeper than the other two, so you’ve got room if you go a little long. And left is an OK bailout.
When you reach this green, putting again becomes the issue. I get the yips just thinking about some of the green speeds I’ve seen on this course. Makes it tough to charge the hole, even for birdie. In fact, that’s how birdies become bogies here. Remember, par is always a good score on these par 3s.
If you haven’t played Pala Mesa, it’s just off the 76 in Fallbrook. If you go, get ready for a test. I first played here my first week at the Golf Academy. I shot well over 100 and seriously doubted if I’d ever have the game to match this course.
Well, I broke 90 the other day, so, yes, I can now play this course competently, but the green speeds were off. When they’re fast, this course can be very tough.
Even when I’ve hit well, I haven’t made putts here, and that tends to wear you down over a round and eats at your confidence.
Take one hole at a time here and over time hopefully you’ll come to appreciate, as I have, the good test of golf that Pala Mesa offers. But if you hit the cart paths, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.