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
Left: Photo by theaposition.com
As golf souls go, John Ashworth is decidedly an old one. He favors persimmon clubs, relishes golf history books, is renovating an old Oceanside golf course (more on that later) and prefers walk to riding.
He relates to the game this way because it speaks to his soul, and the embodiment of those belief is his new clothing brand, Linksoul.
Launched three years ago, Linksoul speaks to golf culture and surf culture and creates common ground in a clothing line that has quickly populated pro shops in Southern California, including Maderas Golf Club, and nationwide and recently went international.
Linksoul is the third evolution of Ashworth’s apparel career, the most notable being the clothing line of his namesake now owned by TaylorMade-Adidas.
After a brief break from the corporate world, Ashworth decided to spin a new line off of the Linksoul name he had trademarked years earlier and set out on his own.
Ashworth set up shop in Oceanside and has been happily re-conquering the world of golf apparel in a new way ever since. These days Ashworth seem to enjoy designing for the game as much as he does playing it.
“We’re very lucky to design for the golf market. It feels like we’re off the grid from the real world,” he says. “It’s great when coming to work feels like getting away with something.”
At age 55 and at a time when his career could be winding down, Ashworth is perhaps busier than ever. Besides launching his clothing brand, Ashworth is restoring Oceanside’s neglected Goat Hill Park golf course, which is just a mile from his office.
The goals of Ashworth’s twin passion projects are to get ahead and give back. He recently took some time to talk about both.
Q. What’s the history of the Linksoul name?
A. I used it on t-shirts with Ashworth and trademarked it. I always liked the name and what it stood for. I thought if I ever did another brand that’s what it’d be because it has a real deep meaning to me. It’s true and it’s real, and that’s what you want in a brand.
The timing was right three years ago to make it a brand with its own personality, culture and thumbprint.
Q. What is the origin and meaning?
A. I came up with it when I was playing a lot of links golf in Scotland. I was also reading Michael Murphy’s, “The Kingdom of Shivas Irons,” in which he wrote, “Golf is what links the flesh to the soul.” I always liked that. And that’s how it started.
Q. How does that apply to the brand?
A. The true definition of links is, “The sandy dunes land that links the land to the sea,” and we’re trying to link the land to the sea by linking the golf culture and the surf culture.
From that point of view, it’s perfect for what we’re trying to do from a clothing and culture standpoint. And “soul” is the spiritual essence of the human body. And golf has a spiritual competent.
Four guys from different parts of the world can show up on a tee box and have their souls linked through golf.
Q. How much do surfing and golf have in common?
A. A lot. You can surf with a group, but ultimate you’re in charge of your own game, just like golf. And they’ve both tough to learn.
They are very similar in a lot of ways, and both very soulful.
Q. Growing up in California (Escondido), did you golf or surf more as a kid?
A. I was a range rat as a kid. My parents would drop me off at the course and I’d be there all day. But I had buddies who were surfers.
Q. When and why did you take up surfing?
A. I surfed a little as a kid, but didn’t really get into again until my 30s when I lived right near the beach. I had just had my first kid, and I wanted to learn how to surf because I wanted my kids to surf.”
It’s a tough sport. There’s a huge learning curve.
It took me a least a month to feel like I could go surfing and actually catch a wave. And that was after going every day.
Q. Which is tougher: Golf or surfing?
A. Well, land doesn’t move. (Laughing.)
Q. Three years in, how do you feel about the growth of the company?
A. I like where we’re positioned. I like the quality of our clothing and our look. We’ve got a full line, but we do a lot of cool graphic t-shirts. And we’ve got a board walker short that is a board short you can swim in. Guys love it. It’s super comfortable.
In our golf shirts, we use mostly natural fabrics with some very special treatments so they don’t shrink, fade and are very soft and comfortable with easy care finish for and no ironing needed. Guys love them.
We mostly want to come into the golf industry and give people a choice. And a lot of people are choosing us.
Q. Geographically, where has the brand had its best success?
A. Obviously, California, but we’ve done well in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. We’re better on the coasts, though we’ve gotten a great response in places like Denver.
We’ve had requests from all over the word, back when we didn’t ship internationally. We’ve just now started that, which is awesome.
But we have fans called Linksouldiers – they call themselves that. They’re really into it. They like the clothing and what we stand for.
Q. That includes Geoff Ogilvy, John Merrick and Lucas Glover, the guys who wear your gear on Tour. How did those relationships start?
A. They all came to us so we sent them some stuff, and that’s how it started. It’s nice to have somebody wearing it unpaid and just because they like it. They’ve become good friends and are really behind what we’re doing.
It does help (to have Tour presence). We’re so lucky, because we couldn’t pay to get that. But the way the world is now, you’ve got to have a presence to have that credibility in the golf world.
Q. How is the business challenge most different for you this time?
A. The interesting thing about this go-around is the Web. That really wasn’t a factor starting in starting my businesses before. This time around, it’s crazy how everything has changed. We decided from the beginning we had to have our own web store and to make that our own TV station so to speak.
Q. Do you feel like you’re at the top of your game professionally?
A. I’m 10,000 hours in (editor’s note: reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of a professional) and I finally feel like I kinda know what I’m doing. But you still can’t take anything for granted because the business changes every day.
In part II of our conversation, Ashworth will talk about his Goat Hill project and his affinity for wooden golf clubs.