Southern California encompasses a large swath of real estate and golf is clearly on the agenda as the weather provides for year round golfing. It is important to point out a number of the key courses are not immediately near one another and its pays major dividends to schedule drive times accordingly - congested freeways can be the norm throughout any day. While there are a number of worthy golf course choices I have narrowed down the focus in Part 2 of the series for quality golf options in and around the major metros areas of San Diego and Orange Counties.
OAK CREEK GOLF CLUB
Orange County has a number of golf course options but few are able to provide what is found at Oak Creek. The layout by Tom Fazio provides both internal beauty plus several holes of note.
It is truly amazing how Oak Creek provides a clear break from the hustle and bustle that engulfs the course.
Oak Creek shows why Tom Fazio has attained a clear status as one of the premier modern course architects in the world. Making the most out of a relatively small site with a quality routing allows for a golf experience worthy of one’s time. Playability is central at Oak Creek - golfers of varying levels can succeed without being overwhelmed. The architecture provides for a functional layout that rewards fine play without being brutish for those who come up just short in doing so.
6,850 Yards / Par-71
72.5 CR / 133 SL
Architect: Tom Fazio
BARONA CREEK GOLF CLUB
Barona Creek drew immediate praise when opening several years ago. Rightly so. The design integrates a range of holes and golfers must be able to both judge ball flight and roll on a number of holes. The fairway grass areas is quite especially low and tight - encouraging a landing golf ball to roll - sometimes appreciable distances.
Todd Eckenrode may not be a household name architect for many golfers but his work at Barona Creek is especially well done and clearly includes several holes of particular note. The long par-3 3rd is a great example - estimating the rollout of the ball upon landing is critical. The other par-3 holes at Barona are all well done with the two on the inner half of holes - numbers 11 and 16 - especially noteworthy for their overall appearance and stout challenge. Try stopping a ball on the 16th when the wind is behind you - no small feat for sure.
The combination of the various par-4’s is also well done - the dog-leg right 12th is another case in point. The tee shot is blind and a right fairway bunker provides some notice to the player. Those who opt to stay away from the bunker will be left with a very demanding approach to a green well-protected on the left side. This is a common design item at Barona Creek - understanding one’s capabilities - selecting the proper club for distance and knowing how to shape shots is a constant item Barona Creek excels in doing.
Gaming resorts with golf course inclusions usually provide for formulaic golf courses. That is far from the case at Barona Creek. The turf quality is generally very good and the placement and overall look of the bunkers is well done. In so many ways - Barona Creek provides for a celebration of classical golf design - often seen elsewhere but Southern California.
There may not be any sure bets when in the adjoining casino - but golfing at Barona Creek is a certain winner.
7,393 Yards / Par-72
75.4 CR / 143 SL
Architect: Todd Eckenrode of Gary Roger Baird Design International
MADERAS GOLF CLUB
In San Diego County Maderas is rightly rated among the very best of golf offerings. Robert Muir Graves and Johnny Miller worked well together in crafting a layout with few weaknesses. The key to playing Maderas is realising what Clint Eastwood said so famously in one of his “Dirty Harry” movies - “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Maderas never surrenders to foolish plays - the key to succeeding is playing the percentage shot whenever possible. Those opting for the riskier play had best deliver on the execution side. Length and placement are both needed at Maderas as the course provides roughly 500 foot of elevation change so knowing how to handle sidehill lies is a common occurrence. Maderas provides above average conditioning and the various putting surfaces are multi-faceted and quite demanding for the contours provided. Best of all, during the winter months the layout plays even firmer and faster than during the summer months. The bounce of the ball needs to be calculated accurately.
The front nine requires proper positioning - avoiding the driver can be the wiser choice in many ways. The long par-4 5th is riveting for its beauty and toughness - the par-5 8th demands careful placement with danger lurking on both sides.
The inner half of holes really ramps up - both from a scenic perspective and challenge. Hats off to Graves and Miller because the routing take you to all corners of the property. The uphill par-5 14th at 552 yards is one of San Diego County’s best holes - public or private. The approach to the green must be well-played because anything short means a near certain end to one’s golf ball. The two following holes - the downhill par-3 15th at 253 yards and par-4 16th at 453 yards really adds to the mixture provided.
The term “must play” is often overused and misapplied - that’s not the case with Maderas.
7,167 Yards / Par-72
75.4 CR / 144 SL
Architect: Robert Muir Graves with Johnny Miller
TORREY PINES GOLF COURSE
The image of Tiger Woods sinking a critical 12-foot putt to tie for the lead after 72 holes of the US Open in 2008 will forever be etched in the memory banks of all golfers. Woods would eventually win his 14th major in a thrilling playoff over Rocco Mediate on the South Course.
In 2021 the national championship of American golf returns. The South Course is a long and testing course. The only blemish comes from the lack of a compelling design that integrates the stellar location being so near to the cliff tops in La Jolla. Being a host site for a US Open clearly has made a name for the South. Be ever mindful of the punishing rough that lines the holes. Architect Rees Jones - tagged the “US Open Doctor” was called in a few years back and clearly added significant muscle to the course. What many people do not realize is that while the South will yield under-par scores to top tier professional who visit each year with the annual PGA Farmer’s Tour stop - the course mandates a steady drill of straight driving.
Fortunately, the championships markers are not available to be played without permission. The closing 18th is likely the best known of the holes on the South - a long par-5 with a fronting water hazard that beckons players to go for the green in two blows when the more prudent play is to lay-up and have a short 3rd shot into the green.
The sister North Course went through a major recent renovation and has since reopened. Tom Weiskopf, the former PGA Tour star and award-winning architect, was selected to enhance a layout that provides a quality setting but was lacking in key updated improvements. Weiskopf reversed the nines in order to bolster the “new” back nine which provides for hillier terrain and a superb view of the Pacific Ocean. Weiskopf expanded the footprint of a number of the putting greens - by roughly 30% which has allowed for even more pin locations. All of the putting surfaces are 100% bent and each of the greens contains a range of vexing contours - with a number of them having corner pin placements which require a truly deft touch to get near the hole.
The total number of bunkers was reduced to just under 50 - but the ones remaining were wisely placed to deal with the enhanced technology found in today’s clubs and balls. Each of the bunkers are also deeper and it’s best to give them wide berth. Getting off to a solid start is a must on the North - three of the holes are long par-4’s - and the uphill 241-yard 3rd is arguably the toughest short hole at Torrey. A number of holes at the North are slightly uphill and approaches must be gauged correctly in a consistent manner.
Total number of rounds played at both courses is just under 170,000 - no misprint. For San Diego residents - it’s truly a plus to have 36-holes located nearby where land and water intersect in a magnificent manner.
North Course - 7,258 Yards / Par-72
75.3 CR / 131 SL
Architect: Billy Bell with Tom Weiskopf 2016 renovation
South Course - 7,628 Yards / Par-72
78.2 CR / 144 SL
Architect: Billy Bell with Rees Jones 2002 renovation
PLACES TO STAY -
*Hotel Irvine (Orange County) - Ideally located just minutes from Oak Creek GC with equal close proximity to John Wayne Airport. First rate accommodations and service levels. www.hotelirvine.com
*The Lodge at Torrey Pines (San Diego County) - Literally just minutes from the 1st tee at either course. Top tier accommodations and customer service with easy access to the fine stores, shops and restaurants within the downtown area of La Jolla. www.lodgetorreypines.com
*Barona Creek Resort & Casino (San Diego County) - Comprehensive offerings in a number of ways - from lodging, food options and gaming. www.barona.com