Tag Archives: Temecula

Southland: CrossCreek Course Overview

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The “hidden” part of being a hidden gem is literally true when it comes to CrossCreek Golf Club in Temecula.

Located west of Old Town Temecula and its mountain backdrop, one wouldn’t immediately deduce a golf course resides on the other side – but one does, and it’s a beaut.

The course occupies the lowlands between the mountain surrounds and provides a rolling prairie golf type experience, akin to something you might be see in the Midwest. The course winds in and out of a forest and provides a pleasant progression of holes.

While off the beaten path, it’s the type of that one that when golfers discover it, CrossCreek Director of Golf David Garner says, they tend to come back.

“It’s a unique location and a very unique golf course,” he says. “We got a lot of comments where people say they didn’t know we were out here, but they love it when they see it.”

The benefit of the remote location is a secluded, solitary and exclusive golf experience. The drawback, from a marketing standpoint, is the need to advertise a bit more than most to raise the course’s profile against a bevy of courses in the area located off the I-15.

“We try to drive home the message of no homes, no freeways, no noise – just pristine golf,” he says.

One advantage Cross Creek has in the winter, Garner says, is having grass that doesn’t go dormant. That gives the course an edge when competing against courses whose Bermuda has gone brown for the winter.

“Us and Journey at Pechanga are the only ones in the area that don’t go dormant,” he says. “That makes us a great winter course.”

And more than just a local secret, Garner says Cross Creek successfully pulls golfers from Orange County and San Diego who are seeking a unique and affordable golf experience.

Locally, the course tries to catch attention by partnering with and promoting the thriving and rapidly evolving Temecula wine county.

Just as the wineries each have their niches and specialties, so does Cross Creek. Its best asset is a course experience, designed by Arthur Hills, that’s unlike any in the immediate market.

“You’re out in the wilderness and every hole is unique,” Garner said. “There are no copy-cat holes here.”

There layout opens with a pair of forested, mid-length par 4s before coming to a par 3 with a forest-framed green involving a creek carry.

The front is fairly flat, besides the severely elevated par-3 8th, before giving way to a more undulating back nine.

The signature hole is the par 3 17th, another hole featuring a creek carry to a forested-surrounded green that is set off in its own amphitheater. From the blue tees, it’s a pitching wedge approach at most, but the yardages stretches to 170 yards from the blacks.

“It’s probably the best shot on the course,” Garner said, adding that the hole is currently being aesthetically enhanced. “It’s a challenge because the green narrows as it moves to the right, but it’s the most beautiful backdrop on the course.”

There’s room to miss long, making it a bit more forgiving that it might present from the tee, but a birdie putt is the preferred outcome when you cross the wooden bridge to the green. The holes provides a bit of a breather after a challenging pair of par 4s.

The trifecta in that group is No. 18, the closing par 4. It involves a placement tee shot to an elevated fairway to an approach descent that presents challenges gauging distance and line of play for first-timers.

“It frustrates first-timers because they don’t know where to place their tee shot,” he says. “And the last shot is over trees and brush. It’s a great hole to close with a little money on the line.”

And it concludes a round at a course whose quality customer service and pristine play are likely to get you to tee it up again.

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SD Day Trip: Temecula Wine Country

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My relationship with southern SoCal (meaning not LA) began in Temecula. That’s where I was hosted three years ago on what I like to call my new-life shopping trip.

Those are the three weeks I spent in SoCal planning the life I have now. Temecula wine country was a big part of those dreamy days. In particular, I had a couple social Sundays in the wineries meeting locals and gaining valuable advice on the plan for my new life.

But more than that, simply experiencing wine country sold me on SoCal. Where cornfields used to be my vista, now it was vineyards stretching endlessly into the horizon. Talk about a change of scenery.

My wine experience in the Midwest was mostly at the social functions I covered. I gained an appreciation for wine, but never a love. When I told that to people who moved to Omaha for the West Coast, I was assured I wasn’t drinking the good stuff.
Standing in a Temecula tasting room, swirling chardonnay in my glass, I knew this was the good stuff. And this was the good life.

In that respect, Temecula wine country will always be a special place because it helped me dream big dreams. Now it helps me realize them.

With every trip to wine country, my fascination grows as I learn more about the history and the people who gave birth to this magical place and soak in more of the culture and the ambience. Ah, the ambience.

This blog post hopes to capture a little of all the above, but, like the sips your wine card gets you, it’s only a taste of the Temecula experience, which amazingly continues to grow and evolve 40 years after Ely Callaway opened the first winery in 1974.

And fittingly our virtual tour begins at Callaway Winery. This is the recounting of my recent experience, but it’s only one. With nearly 50 wineries now, the ways to experience wine country are vast and growing every day. Not to be the Temecula Chamber of Commerce, but if you haven’t been, you need to go. It really is a magical place.

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One of the ways to experience wine country is via the Grapeline, a wine country shuttle service. Besides eliminating driving, the Grapeline provides a guided tour and plans your itinerary. Ours included stops at five wineries and lunch, which we’ll get to a minute. We were a band of 10, but the Grapeline can shut as many as groups of 30 or 40.

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Our tour began at Callaway with a wine tour, which is a tour of the winery that takes you through the process of wine making. Many of the wineries offer these and if you ask around, you’ll find out which are some of the better ones. As a far kid, I like to know where things come from so this is fascinating stuff for me. You learn what climates produce certain grapes, what the process is and then all sort of fun wine facts such as how many bottles of wine are in a barrel (300). I highly recommend a tour if you are a first-timer.

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About those grapes … We were told Temecula grows 24 varietals, nearly twice as many of most wine-making regions. Which means you really can experience it all here, and each winery has its own specialty or niche. That’s part of the joy of discovery of getting to know each one.

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This is the enterance to Callaway’s restaurant, but you can also see the vineyards in the background. Each property has a different make up. Some just make wine. Many have tasting rooms. Some have restaurants. Increasingly some have hotels. And many hosting weddings. Temecula is a very popular destination for that, and the wedding pics are phenomenal.

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The Callaway restaurant. How would you like that view for lunch? Stunning.

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You learn on the that roses serve as guardian plants for the grape vines. If there’s disease, it’ll show up on the roses first. Again, stuff like this speaks to my inner farm boy. These are the vines are Lorimar.

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What can you make out of wine corks? Temecula makes you realize seemingly infinite possibilities. And they repurpose wine barrels like crazy too. If you’re a huge home décor person, you’ll be in heaven here.

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This was lunch, staged in the barrel room of Cougar Vineyard and Winery. After a club sandwich, a fresh salad and a delicious brown with chocolate chunks inside, we were primed to continue tasting, which we, of course, also did with lunch.

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This is the view at Cougar. Like looking at the ocean, these views just never get old.

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Our last stop was at Temecula’s newest tasting room, Robert Renzoni Vineyards. This is a stunning property with a spacious tasting room and incredible views in every direction. I was a bit bummed we only had 30 minutes here. I wanted to stay and experience it much longer. Looks like I’m going back.

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The view at Renzoni. Tired of looking at these yet? I didn’t think so. Well, in the insert of blog brevity, I’m going to end the post here, but it could go on and on, and I re-do this post with different wineries and experiences every day for the rest of the experience. But this at least gives you a glimpse of what’s there to discover and do, especially at this time of year. Harvest is a festive time in wine country, and harvest started early this year due to the drought.
But if you’re planning in a trip in the next few months, know the wineries plan concerts and other events, such as grape stomping, around harvest. I have yet to experience that, but I want to this year.

And if I do, well, I expect to keep you “posted.” Cheers.


The Year in Par-3s, Part I

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No. 5 at Kapalua’s Bay Course

If you’ve paid somewhat close attention to the blog since it started four months ago, you may have noticed a slight bias toward par-3s.

This isn’t because the blog likes par-4s or 5s any less; it’s more of a visual thing. The overall goal of providing quality content on the blog includes visuals (golf’s a visual game, and perhaps the most visual game, right?), and par-3s just happen to be largely easier to photograph. That’s not to say you can’t make good or even great photos of some 4s and 5s (you can), but par-3s are just a little easier and even the most novice photographer can grasp why.

Anyway, one thing I’ve also noticed about courses is that great ones almost always have great par-3s. When reflecting on my golf season, that’s one thing that occurred to me. I tried to think of my favorite courses throughout the year and in nearly every instance I could easily recall at least one truly outstanding par-3.

And, as we know, par-3s in golf come in all shapes and sizes (legal limit being 275 yards, I believe) and beauty or appreciation can often be in the eye of the beholder (I’ll take a one-stroke cliché penalty there) with an obvious birdie/bogey bias. We don’t tend to the love the holes (or courses) that don’t love us back.

Well, regardless of what ended up on my card, I can say I love all the par-3s I’m about to list.

Since golf is a game of nines, here are nine of my favorite par-3s from the year that, I think, represent the range of what has undoubtedly been the best golf year of my life. I’m going to simply give course, hole number and reflection on these unless the exact yardages are really necessary. I’d like this to be a visual joy ride as much as anything. And there is no attempt to rank here, although my No. 1 is hardly a mystery.

Also, for the purposes of being blog-friendly, we’ll do this in three parts throughout the week.

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No. 5 at the Bay Course, Kapalua (Maui/Hawaii)

We’ll start with the hole of the year, regardless of par or score. The pinnacle of my golf season was standing on this tee box in Maui in July.

No. 5 is the second of the consecutive ocean holes on the front nine and the epitome of golfing on the ocean.

The name Kapalua means “arms embracing the sea” and you rather feel the sea embracing you on this stretch – or trying to blow you off the island depending on the day. Playing out and back on an emerald peninsula, you are completely surrounded by the ocean.

We had a gentle breeze the day we played, and I could’ve stood on this tee box for days. It’s golf heaven, as I currently know it.

If you’ve ever been, or have golfed in a similar tropical scenario, just viewing the photo probably already has transported you there.

But for those who haven’t been …

Yes, the water is that clear, and waves are crashing all around. You may need to zoom in a little to clearly see the pin, but it was in the front of an undulating green where the wacky physics of Hawaii golf are fully in play.

Arnold Palmer did some fabulous work here. I’ve never seen a hole that fits my eye more, and possibly perhaps a little too much.

The seductive quality of the hole, and the lack of a guarantee you’ll ever get back here, makes you want to go for broke and chase the ace of your dreams, risking water or crashing on the rocks into a very serene OB.

My playing partner, who had played here before, thankfully talked me out of it.

“You don’t need to go for the green,” he said. “Play it out left and let gravity take over.”

That proved to be some wise caddying. I hit a smooth 7-iron and watched my ball find the fairway and track right to the fringe of the green. I walked off perfectly content with a two-putt par.

We played a lot of great golf over three rounds in Hawaii, but I didn’t play a more beautiful golf hole than this. It speaks to your golf soul and you spend the rest of your round playing blissfully with your head in the clouds. Bogeys couldn’t dent me the rest of the day.

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No. 17 at Journey at Pechanga (Temecula)

And now for an entirely different kind of “awe” … as in awe-fully hard.

This is the monster par-3 that waits two holes from the finish at Journey at Pechanga. This was the hardest golf hole I played all year, made all the more so by playing it from the tips – 200 yards, all carry, into a mid-afternoon gust. Gulp.

A fairly solidly struck 3-wood never had a chance, although my playing partner, a former teaching pro, reached the horizontal oblong green with a terrific Rescue that just caught the right side.

A course staff member confided that he’ll go here most days and hit one from the back just to see if he can “get lucky.” Yes, this is what a golf lottery shot looks like.

Understandably, this is one of the holes that gives Pechanga its fearsome reputation, but difficulty aside, it’s also one of the holes that gives you views unlike many other places. The four “view” holes on the course highlight a course that is still pretty great when it brings you down from the mountains.

If you descend with a par at 17, you’ll have bragging rights in the bar and grill because it’s doubtful you’ll have much scorecard company.

I need another run at 17 in 2014 and to try it from the blue tees. Put a par here on my wish list for the New Year.

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No. 8 at Royal Links (Las Vegas)

I played Royal Links in February, thus the dormancy, and I was quite stoked to do so.

At the time, I was taking my Golf Course Landscape and Design class at golf school and we had just studied links courses. Royal Links, for those unfamiliar, is a replica course with holes modeled after those in the British Open rotation, all routed around a clubhouse that is built like a castle.

I had played links-like golf before but nothing that aimed to so closely recreate the British experience. I loved this place and walked away with a major appreciation for links-style golf. I can’t wait to do it again.

Until you stand on the tee box of a par-4 with a yardage book in hand that shows 10 scattered fairway pot bunkers, and you see none, you can’t truly grasp the challenge of this style of golf.

The more you know your British Open history, the more you can appreciate Royal Links. For those who don’t know, the stone hole markers that are designed like books are only too happy to clue you in.

This is No. 8, the par-3 taken from Royal Troon nicknamed “The Postage Stamp.” Played at a mere 153 yards from the tips, this is where Gene Sarazen made ace at age 71 in his final British Open appearance.

The photo doesn’t quite do this one justice, but what it doesn’t show is a square bunker off the right side of the green. I recall it clearly because I was in it.

It wasn’t the jail that many British Open bunkers can be, but it was challenge nonetheless, so for a score, let’s just go with “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” shall we?

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         Stay tuned for parts II and III of my par-3 series throughout the week.

        

Golf Day Trip: Stonehouse at TCI

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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.

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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.

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          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.

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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.

Highlight hole: No. 17 at Cross Creek

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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.