Tag Archives: La Jolla

The Year in Par-3s, Part II

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My look at the golf year that was continues with a look at another fantastic trio of par-3s.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Taste of Torrey: Taking the Test of the South Course

ImageNo. 12 at Torrey Pines (South)

Seventeen months after unpacking my golf clubs in Southern California, I finally realized one of the tee times of my dreams on Tuesday: the South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla.

The South, site of the 2008 U.S. Open and the annual PGA event, is where you come to walk in the footsteps of the pros and test yourself against the best.

As much as I had wanted to play this round soon after I moved out, I was cautioned to be leery of the challenge and really wait until my game was ready, or, I was told, it’d be like booking a luxury cruise and spending the entire time fighting sea sickness.

So I waited and let destiny decide the day, which finally arrived when I was invited to play the media event for the PGA’s Farmer’s Insurance Open, which takes place Jan. 23-26.

The day before my round, I recalled the speech I gave in golf school about the history of Torrey Pines. After my presentation, I asked for a show of hands from people who’d played the course. Six hands went up, which was reduced to two when I asked about the South.

Having not even walked the course, but plenty aware of its reputation, I asked what made it so tough.

The greens? “No, not any more severe than many country clubs you’ll play,” I was told. OK.

The sand? “Plentiful, but not impossible and avoidable with smart play,” I was told. OK.

The rough? “Can be a little tough,” they conceded.

OK, what is it then, I asked.

“The par-4s.”

I looked up the scorecard for Torrey and immediately understood. I saw par-4 blue tee yardages of 467, 445, 462 and 422 and grasped what they meant. More or less, make friends with your hybrids and long irons before you go because you’ll be playing them often on your second shots.

Per the set up of my event, I played the whites on Tuesday, which spared me about 400 yards and I figured would mitigate the challenges and make the course manageable.  That proved correct on the par-3s and par-5s, but some of the par-4s still proved beastly hard.

When we arrived at the first tee, we were cautioned about the thickness of the rough due to recent overseeding and told to make sure to track our shot “or you probably won’t find it.” In other words, it was the starter’s way of saying, “Good luck.”

When I got out on the course, I discovered the rough to be about like after a good five-day rain in the Midwest. Uncommonly thick for California, the rough, combined with the narrow fairways, proved to be the real challenge of the round.

Having played the beautiful, but more benign, North Course back in May, the South felt familiar, but it didn’t take long to realize I was in a very different place than just the other side of the course, although my game certainly held its own in the early going.

ImageNo. 3 at Torrey Pines (South)

Highlighted by a par on the iconic No. 3, the par-3 with the postcard-perfect view of the ocean and La Jolla in the distance, I actually carded a respectable opening nine (even on the par-5s, one-over on the par-3s) and finished the front with the type of momentum that had me expecting the best was ahead on the back. I’m here to report that didn’t happen.

Rather than bore you with a hole-by-hole breakdown of my closing bogey-fest, I’d like to walk you through a hole to give you an idea of what it’s like to be caught in the clutches of the South course.

For that, I submit my experience at the 12th, a gorgeous uphill 443-yard par-4 played back toward the ocean into a gentle breeze. Save for the length and the standard bunker cluster and tree trouble on the right, the hole looks manageable from the tee and might be if you hit the narrow fairway, which I didn’t. Instead, I pushed my tee shot right, about 20 yards into the thickest rough on the course.

After a lengthy search, during which I discovered two other balls before my own, I found my drive and was pleased to discover it was actually plenty long, just misplaced. I was 210  yards out, but a tree and the rough made a shot at the green impossible. It was a classic punch-out scenario, so I took my 4-iron and tried to muscle it out of ankle-high rough about 150 yards back in the fairway. I watched the ball shoot out low, hit the rough 5 feet before the fairway and … stop. Sigh.

I was 81 yards out but at the mercy of the rough I’d had already hacked out of too often. And this is where the course starts to work on you. Fearing the thick rough muting my shot, I hit a full gap wedge. I caught it clean and carried the green, with my ball, ignoring my pleas, just barely disappearing off the back. Ugh.

I found my ball just where I’d expected: five feet off the putting surface in thick rough, chipping back to a downhill. You probably can guess what came next. Trying to be too precise, I flubbed my chip four feet, leaving myself another nightmare chip. This time, naturally, the ball whizzed past the pin, leaving me a 25-footer.

I two-putted for a seven. The same scenario had basically played out on the two long par-4s on the front. As I was told, that’s where the course gets you.

Anyway, when you come to Torrey and are faced with deciding North vs. South, if you chose South, expect this to be you at some point. It’s part of the whole risk-reward thing, but, challenge aside, the rewards are many. A peaceful, awe-inspiring, historic setting. Birdies you truly will cherish if you are so lucky (I really would have loved to sink that 10-footer on No. 3). And a challenge that lets you know where your game really stands in the great golf universe.

The only question now is if you’re ready to hear the answer.

ImageVIew from the 17th fairway (South), looking back toward ocean and the North Course.

Discovering the Wild Side of Torrey Pines

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When I moved out to California last year, I was looking forward to taking up hiking. I’d done it on previous vacations and found it an exhilarating way to explore the boundless beauty of our state in its many forms.

I stuck to my plan for the first two weeks of my move, hiking Roy Rogers State Park and The Pallisades in LA, but then I got down coast and something (OK, tee times) distracted me from my goal.

I’m not big on resolutions, but I’ve made hiking more one of them for 2014. Even though I live here now, I’ve tried to maintain a vacation’s curiosity about California, and hiking is a one of the healthiest and most cost-effective ways outlets for that.

To renew my resolve and seek some inspiration and motivation, I recently undertook the first hike that was recommended to me when I moved out – the state park at Torrey Pines.

I’ve walked both of Torrey’s golf courses and each time I looked at the ocean views and the vistas and wondered how much the landscape had in common with the state park. It turns out, not surprisingly, quite a bit, although the state park has many unique and wonderful surprises of its own.

I ventured out on a day in September when the marine layer lingered long into the afternoon, which kept the temperature ideal for a hike. I drove the PCH down to the park entrance just north of La Jolla and the golf course, paid my $15, grabbed a map and went exploring with water bottle in hand.

I discovered that the park consists of 2,000 acres that is best navigated by six trails of varying difficulty, distance and destinations. For instance, the Beach Trail takes you to the beach, while High Point Trail leads you to a viewing area with a panoramic view of the ocean and the reserve itself.

I didn’t walk all six trails so if you’re looking for a definitive trail guide, you’re better off going to the state’s online trail guide at www.torreypine.org. I wanted to keep my hike to two hours and leave some of the park to explore later.

The first trail you encounter is the Guy Fleming Trail, which is supposedly the easiest of the hikes and consists of a 2/3-mile loop through the forest and along ocean bluffs. Considering it’s the most easily accessible trail, I left that one for another day when I might not have as much time to explore available to me.

I chose the Beach Trail, although I experienced other trails on the way there and the way back, including a portion of the hike where I wasn’t totally sure where I was. The trails are marked quite well on the way down and not quite as well on the way back, although the fault was probably entirely mine. If you know me at all, you know I could get lost in my driveway without a GPS. I had a map, but a map only helps if you can absolutely ascertain where you are.

Anyway, in a roundabout way, I guess what I’m saying is that if it’s your first time, I’d recommended taking a hiking partner, although you can’t certainly do it on your own, even if you’re directionally challenged like me. I encountered several experienced fellow hikers who were only too happy to point me in the right direction.

Now back to our regularly scheduled hike …

One of the first things you encounter on your hike is a display explaining how the park came to be. The story I’ve inserted below tells the story, so I won’t bother repeating it, but it’s obviously quite a vision she had and a contribution that Ellen Browning Scripps made to have this land set aside and protected from development to ensure that future generations can enjoy this scenic and unique portion of the California coast line.

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         After learning the story of the park, I set out to experience it, and after about 45 minutes of a slow, winding decent down sandy trails and through desert scape, I arrived at my desired destination – the beach, or at least the area overlooking it.

You actually experience the beach from the several viewpoints, and each of them gives you a different appreciation for this area is and how it came to be. And this is the major difference from the golf course, where you occasionally overlook the ocean, the beach and La Jolla, but you don’t come nearly this close. At the reserve, you can actually walk on the beach.

The first close-up view of the beach I got was from maybe a few hundred feet above. You can see all along the coastline and look down on the giant black rock formation that seems a destination unto itself for many hikers.

While taking in the view, a fellow hiker informed me that this area represents the best opportunity to view dolphins in the park, he said, and, for that matter, along the entire coastline. Apparently there’s a kelp bed that hosts a huge fish population, which draws the dolphins to feed.

Unfortunately, on the day of my hike we didn’t see dolphins, but that didn’t stop me from looking for a good half hour or so. When they are there, this has to be one of the best ways to experience them. I can’t imagine too many better vantage points.

From that perch, the trail continues to spiral down to the beach, and you eventually pass a part of the trail where you have to traverse a small sand dune. This is actually new beach being created, a slow and steady erosion process that the park’s helpful signs explain.

I’ll let my photos speak for my experience here, but I’ll just say I can only imagine how awesome this area is around dusk or sunset, although you wouldn’t want to be there, given that you’d be hiking back for a good 45 minutes in the dark.

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Image         If you’ve walked the golf course, the bluffs, vistas and topography in general will be familiar to you, but it’s presented in a less manicured and entirely native way that gives you a new appreciation of the area. I, for one, am glad I traded my golf spikes for tennis shoes to experience it and can’t wait to go back. I’m not sure how many other golfers do the same, but I absolutely recommend it.

It’s a little more arduous than, say, looping the North Course, but it’s a rewarding walk all of its own and one I look forward to taking again very soon.