My look at the golf year that was continues with a look at another fantastic trio of par-3s.
No. 3 at Torrey Pines (South Course)
It says it all that when you think of Torrey Pines, this is probably the hole you picture – unless it’s No. 6 on the North Course, which is its equally incredible ocean-view par-3 counterpart.
Both holes give you that spine-tingling dramatic elevation change. Both holes are played to the stunning Pacific Ocean backdrop. Both holes give you that mesmerizing glimpse of La Jolla in the distance. Both holes also play slow because, well, you just have to take a picture. Have to.
No. 3 gets the nod for the blog this year because we’re not debating which is the better hole. Rather, it’s which one was more memorable to me, and for that I have two moments.
The first came during a practice round for the Farmers Insurance Open. I watched pro Darron Stiles nearly ace the hole. He dropped a shot within 6 inches and then simply turned to his caddie and traded an iron for his putter. There may have been a fist bump, but I know the level of celebration didn’t seem to match to moment. I know it’s their job, but still …
Anyway, there was no such lack of celebration when I dropped my tee shot there to 10 feet in November. An easy 9-iron just cleared the lip of that menacing bunker fronting the green and settled in gently below the hole – a perfect birdie opportunity.
My only regret is that my putt stayed a hair outside. If I could use one retro mulligan for my season, I’d burn it there.
If you want a less adventurous route to par, there’s a significant bail-out area to the right. And left or long is OB.
If you don’t club the tee shot right, it can ugly, which would be a shame on such a gorgeous golf hole. Club down one, trust your swing and you could experience that magical combination of a great golf shot meeting a truly great golf hole.
No. 6 at Sherwood Country Club (Thousand Oaks)
I gave this hole its own post during Tiger’s World Challenge, so you can look that up if you want to read even more about this one, but you’ll have to look for No. 15 because that’s what it played as during the tournament.
I won’t repeat all of that post here, but I will add a little post-script to that post from the World Challenge.
You can may recall that this hole took a bite out of the pros on Saturday of the World Challenge. Of the 17 players in the field, 11 found the sizeable water hazard in front of the green that day. It turned into one of those golf TV train wrecks you simply can’t take you eyes off of.
Having been there, I have to say that I never saw that coming, but also the wind didn’t blow there the day we played and the commentators said gusts rushing down the mountain baffled the pros all day.
I believe ball No. 11 going in the drink was followed by one of those “boy, that wind really has these guys fooled today” kind of comments from the booth.
Even without the wind, birdie was hard to come by. This green is one of the slickest at Sherwood.
I knocked a 7-iron into the back of the green and then watched my putt turn into a freight train on the down slope. Bye, bye, birdie. Hello, three-putt bogey.
I didn’t feel so bad when I saw that happen to a couple pros.
The day I played, we were in a scramble format and I played his hole on the latter half of the round. After being stunned and amazed over and over, seeing No. 6 for the first time still took my breath away.
Played to the towering backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains, the way the hole is framed is the complete flip of No. 3 at Torrey, but still entirely awesome.
Several waterfalls feed a group of ponds in the front creating one intricate and fascinating water feature that made the hole an absolute rock star on TV.
I hope I haven’t played this hole for the last time, but if I have, I’ll never forget it.
No. 7 at Wilshire Country Club (Los Angeles)
During a fairly fantastic two-week stretch of golf, I played Sherwood and Wilshire on consecutive Mondays. Played any time, they would be great, but it was even better the way it worked out because it allowed me to really appreciate the contrast.
Whereas Sherwood is new school golf, Wilshire, established in 1919, is decidedly old school. It’s a shorter course that defends itself very aggressively with an army of rugged bunkers placed anyway and everywhere, many in plain sight, but with some hidden in dastardly places. I half expected to find one lurking in the parking lot after I got done.
So, yes, the bunkers get in your head a little.
I had a full-on case of bunker fatigue by the time I arrived at No. 7 near the end of my round (again, scramble format).
The par-3s at Wilshire are all unique – especially the one with the insanely big two-tiered green – but I picked No. 7, again, because it was the most memorable.
Playing a shade over 140 yards, No. 7 is the shortest of the bunch, but it might be the toughest to birdie. Even with a solid tee shot, the green proved nearly impossible to one-putt.
But to back up a bit to the tee shot, I recall hitting a solid pitching wedge and then absolutely holding my breath during the ball flight, which seemed to last forever. I could tell the caddie and I where thinking the same thing: back bunker.
Instead, my ball hit the back fringe and stuck like it had hit flypaper. Whew!!
That left me a downhill 8-foot slider that was the working definition of touchy. I barely tapped the ball and it never even thought about stopping at the hole. It’s one of those sneaky little putts where if you hit it five times, you might make one. Might.
My three-putt bogey was a bummer, but at least I was spared waging war with the bunkers, unlike my playing partners.
Wilshire is a great course, but it never lets you rest. It made me work for every par that day and only surrendered one birdie despite a bunch of great looks, like on No. 7.
But at least I got to see the Hollywood sign from the course, which certainly ranks as one of the year’s best moments. Hopefully I get to do that again next year.
My par-3 series will conclude with part III, likely on Thursday.
I’ll write more about Dove Canyon at a later date, but for now I’ll send you into the holiday weekend with some photos from the end of yesterday’s round.
We had quite a special scene as we played No. 18. There were deer on both the fairway and around the green, probably seven in all. We saw at least 20 total during the round, a record for me, which is more than I could say for my scorecard.
Anyway, here’s a glimpse of the deer who caused me to ponder the question: what’s better than a birdie on 18? Answer: Five deer waiting for you on the green.
Enjoy. And happy holidays.
The view from the fairway of No. 3
The first time I played the Stonehouse nine at Temecula Creek Inn last year, I remember arriving at the first tee and feeling like I’d been transported to another state.
The mountains. The pine trees. The elevation changes. It immediately evoked feelings of trips I’d taken to Boulder, Colo.
And that’s how I describe Stonehouse. It’s like a little manicured piece of Colorado landed in California.
If you’ve not been to Temecula Creek Inn (TCI), it’s the 27-hole resort course you see while traveling the 15 south of the first Temecula exit. It’s actually Stonehouse you see from the Interstate. The landscaped “TCI” is the No. 3 fairway.
If you’ve played TCI and haven’t played Stonehouse, well, you’ve missed out. The other two nines – Creek and Oaks – are essentially the same nine. Stonehouse is a drastically different experience and for me is a treat to play for a number of reasons.
Once you learn to negotiate the two blind tee shots here, Stonehouse should be a scoreable nine for you, no matter your skill level. It’s more aesthetics than challenge that draws me to Stonehouse, though it does have by far the toughest hole on the course – the downhill par-4 6th, which we’ll delve into later in this post.
As much as anything, I just like the feel of Stonehouse, probably because it speaks to my Midwestern soul, even when it’s 82 degrees in November as it was on Thursday.
Also, the more I play Stonehouse, the more I appreciate how over nine holes it embodies the sound design principals of what you want in a great 18.
It’s eases you in with an easy (if you know where you’re going) par-5 and short par-4 (I watched someone with a very limited tee game par both) and then gradually gets tougher while also revealing increasingly interesting holes in a pleasing evolution.
Before fast-forwarding to No. 6 to highlight the home stretch of Stonehouse, I’ll simply offer this shot advice on the preceding holes, though you have to play them to understand.
The tee shot on No. 1 is bewildering to first-timers. I’ll just say swing away and don’t sweat it. You don’t need to be perfect and can recover here, even if you find the bunkers on the right off the tee, as I did Thursday.
On the blind, short par-4 No. 4 – there’s a complex of bunkers you don’t see on the left that you can’t possible account for without having played it. The first time, lay up to 220 yards or so and then try to bite off the whole 331, which can be done, next time. If there won’t be a next time, favor the right side, and good luck.
On the dead uphill 180-yard par-3 5th – the locals say it plays two clubs up. I don’t disagree, though it’s a bear to chip back if you go long. There’s nothing wrong with being a little short here and taking an easy par.
Now a hole-by-hole of the final four.
No. 6, par-4, 416 yards (blues), 396 (whites) – Take in the view, because you won’t find many like it, save for at Journey at Pechanga just down the road (which you can actually see from the No. 5 tee and green and probably the No. 6 tee as well).
Like a Colorado ski slope, No. 6 is dead downhill but played to a mountainous backdrop with traffic on the 15 streaming by (noiselessly, I might add).
The fairway is actually quite wide, but the complicating factors here are wind, dead into you, and slope. The fairway slopes right, so favor the left side off the tee. It’s a tough shot, one of I’ve mostly failed at it. But if you catch one here, savor it, because it’ll look postcard pretty, soaring above the mountain peak before nestling in the fairway.
The second shot is again downhill to an undulating green placed amongst dense woods. Even with the wind, club down here as second shots are prone to going long and you’re playing for par anyway. It’s a tough hole, the No. 1 handicap.
Especially stay out of the right woods, which is a hunting expedition for your ball followed by a beastly recovery.
Make par here and I’ll like your odds of walking off Stonehouse with a nice number.
No. 7, par-4, 351, 333 – A subtle dogleg right that seems to play downwind, but, given the yardage, hardly requires a monster tee shot. Lay up to the turn and it should be an easy par. I, however, hit a draw 290 over the trees on the right with a 3-wood and made an easy bird, so obviously I’ve favorable to that approach. My ball settled in next to the third green and made for easy access to the seventh green.
On the green of this secluded hole, you see get an unexpected surprise by discovering the course’s quaint event area centered a little cottage. Part of me wishes this was a brewpub and you could stop for just one and savor the experience. The first time I encountered it, the area was lit by lights and truly gave off a special aura.
But alas, pace of play demands you press on.
No. 8, par-3, 165, 153 – Like the cottage, quaint could also describe this hole, a rather harmless par-3 that’s a prime birdie opportunity with a well-placed tee shot. Just don’t miss right into the woods and there’s little to trip you up here.
No. 9, par-5, 555, 540 – Negotiating a tight tee shot is the biggest obstacle here, but it’s a three-shotter (though I did reach in two with a rescue once), so mostly hit what you’re most confident with and stay in play.
The green is essentially an inland, fronted by ponds and a waterfall with landscape accents. It’s a fabulous finish, especially if your approach finds the green and you walk off with a four or a five on your card.
The tiered green is smallish, also making reaching in two tricky, and is best approached from an angle as far down the fairway as possible. If you’re still 200 out, hit and pray. If you’re much closer, just know you can’t go over or there’s cart path and OB.
The view of No. 9
When I played it on Thursday, Stonehouse was in the best shape I’ve seen it and draped in fall accents. It evoked feelings of fall in the Midwest, except better because it was mid-November and I was golfing.
If you make it to TCI, make sure to include Stonehouse in your loop and enjoy a golf experience you don’t find in California every day.
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.
Martin Hall gave a tip on the Golf Channel’s School of Golf recently that I’ve been reminding myself of a lot lately so I thought I’d pass it along.
The episode was about driving the ball farther and went on to give a lot of good tips for gaining more distance off the tee. (By the way, swinging harder wasn’t one of them.)
The tip I noticed that he gave, and one that has really helped me, was about setting your shoulder tilt. Shoulder tilt is critical for every swing but especially the driver swing because the optimal attack angle for a driver is one degree up. That’s hard to achieve if your shoulders are level, and impossible if you’ve dipped your front shoulder.
Where I go wrong in my setup sometimes is having my shoulders too level, and I know immediately when it has happened because my right shoulder will roll over on my follow through and I’ll hit a huge pull right.
When this has happened, I know I need to go back to a very simple drill to set myself right. All I do is reach down and touch my right knee. (Obviously, it’s your left if you’re a lefty.)
That simple act sets my shoulders at the proper angle to deliver the slightly ascending blow critical for driver distance.
Remember this the next time your drives are going awry, and especially if you’re taking a divot or striking the ground, because it might be the reason why.
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.