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San Diego, California Course Guide
24 Jun 2014
see also: Aviara Golf Club, All Course Reviews

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As part of AmateurGolf.com's ongoing look at the best places to play in some of the country's hottest golf regions, we present -- thanks to AmateurGolf.com Player Staff member Greg Austin -- this in-depth look at the course offerings in the San Diego, Calif. area.

Courses to Play on a Budget

The Vineyard at Escondido: The Vineyard golf course in Escondido, CA is a great course in North County San Diego where the golfer can find great deals and a challenging layout. The Vineyard is a par 70 golf course that stretches out to 6531 yards from the back tees. The course is kept in very good shape and will generally be found very green while maybe a bit wet and soft. Tee times need to be booked at least a few days in advance, as the Vineyard does get quite a bit of traffic. Rates at the course range from $30 to $65, but the course often offers email specials and other discounts. Golf carts with a basic GPS system (no graphics) are included in the greens fees.

The Vineyard is a challenging course but still offers several very scoreable holes. The course is laid out between Lake Hodges, a winery and vineyards and some agricultural areas (bring your bug spray). You will only see houses on a small portion of the 18 holes, which is a nice break from most of the courses in the area. The front 9 and the back 9 play like two different courses. The front 9 plays a little tighter and has more hazards. The first tee shot is a difficult par 4 that requires the golfer to not stray too far left or right as hazards line both sides. The second hole is a short par 4 that doglegs left around a pond, while the 3rd hole is a very short par 3 (125 yards from the back tees) which requires a carry over a pond, but penalizes a long shot with a bunker behind the green and a hazard beyond that. Unfortunately, the penalizing hazards on the 1st three holes of the course tend to result in a very slow pace of play to start your day. Quite often the course has delays on the first tee and a backup on the 2nd tee. Luckily the course starts to open up some after that and play generally starts to move pretty well from there. The driveable, par 4, 7th hole forces the golfer to consider a risk/reward tee shot. While playing 295 yards on the card, the hole is a slight dogleg left and requires about a 260 yard carry from the tips to reach the putting surface. Beware of the hazard that runs the length of the hole on the right though. Many players will choose to layup and have a short wedge shot in, but make sure to stay out of the fairway bunkers long and left. But if you’re looking to challenge yourself, pull out the big stick, and maybe you’ll get an eagle. The first eagle I ever had was on this hole! The front 9 finishes with a reachable par 5 and another chance for a birdie.

The back 9 plays a little more open after you get past the 10th hole. Water comes into play on the par 3, 12th and par 4, 14th. Don’t bank on a birdie on the only par 5 on the back 9, as the 15th hole plays to 550 yards and is generally not reachable in two due to the prevailing headwind and slight uphill approach shot. The golfer doesn’t get a break on the number 1 handicap, 453 yard, par 4, 16th hole as the tee shot is straight up a hill, leaving a long iron approach shot to an undulating green. Enjoy your last hole on the course though as the 18th offers great views from the elevated tee box and a great scoring opportunity. The 411 yard, par 4 plays much shorter as your tee shot will drop 30 to 40 yards down to the landing zone, leaving a short iron or wedge shot into a very large green that slopes quite a bit from front to back. Stay below the hole and drain your birdie putt.

If you’re looking for a challenging but fair course for a decent rate, the Vineyard in Escondido is a great option. You won’t set any records on pace of play due to the amount of traffic the course gets with the rates they offer, but you will get the chance to score some birdies to offset the lost balls.

Oaks North Golf Course: The Oaks North Golf Course is an executive course in the Rancho Bernardo area of North County San Diego. Oaks North offers three 9-hole courses (North, South and East) with an extremely affordable rate and the option to walk or ride. This course is a great option for the golfer looking for a quick round after work, a beginner looking for a low stress course to learn to play on, or anyone looking for some great practice with your irons and putting. Oaks North has a full driving range, putting green and small short game area. They also offer lessons and the perfect spot to work on your game.

Each of the nines wind through a residential area in Rancho Bernardo, but the homes aren’t too close to the course and don’t generally come into play. Each nine includes three par 4’s and 6 par 3’s, so you do have the opportunity to pull out a 3 wood or driver at least once or twice if you want. Some of the par 4’s are straightforward, but most of them offer a substantial amount of risk when attempting to drive the green. The variety of yardages on the par 3’s also allows the golfer to use most their irons up and down through their bag.

If you’re looking for a quick round of golf that will challenge your iron shots and help you hone your golf game, head to Oaks North in Rancho Bernardo. This is also a great location to consider for practice sessions, as they have a better practice area than many of the full-length courses in the area.

Carmel Highland Golf Resort (formerly Doubletree Golf Resort): Carmel Highland Golf Resort is a 6,428 yard, par 72 course that is easily accessible from the inland areas of central / north county San Diego. The course was formerly known as the Doubletree Golf Resort, but recently changed management while still being associated with the on-site hotel and spa. Green fees range from $35 to $69 but online discounts are often available.

The course offers a very playable layout that will generally allow the player to recover from an errant shot. The course is laid out between a residential area and an Interstate, so the views won’t blow you away, but it is easily accessible. There aren’t many flat holes on the course due to the undulating terrain that the course was built on. Palm trees on each fairway mark the 150 yard distance to the green. Course conditions are generally ok, with the greens being in very good shape. Due to the drought conditions in California, the fairways are being kept firm and fast. The course has a short game practice facility with bunkers and chipping areas and a grass hitting area for wedge shots and short irons. For longer shots, they only offer a hitting area off of mats into nets. There is a usage fee to access the practice area, similar to buying a bucket of balls at a range. There is also a practice putting green outside of the practice area.

The first tee shot is an uphill shot that is blind to the landing area, but a well-struck shot will leave a short iron shot to the green. The course is very straightforward though, and what you see is what you get. The course only features water on a couple of holes, and has a different layout with only one par 5 and one par 3 on the back 9. Back to back par 5’s on the front 9 are reachable with two good shots, but the approach shot on number 6 is over water. The 10th and 11th holes are tantalizingly short and tempt you to try to drive the green. But actually getting there is difficult and a wayward tee shot will guarantee a bogey or worse. The par 3 16th hole is the only other “blind” tee shot on the course after number 1. Due to the elevated green, you can’t see where exactly your ball ends up. This is a bit of a bummer when I was present for the only hole in one that I’ve seen, and we didn’t realize it until we looked in the cup for the missing ball! Recent storms in the past couple of years resulted in the removal of a giant Eucalyptus tree from the 18th fairway which makes the hole considerably easier by not punishing a tee shot on the right side of the fairway.

While the Carmel Highland Golf Resort is not the best manicured facility or most interesting layout in the area, it is an easily accessible location with decent rates and a forgiving layout. After you learn to adjust for the slopes of the fairways, and play the putts to break toward the freeway, you will have plenty of opportunities to post good scores.

Courses with the Best Value

The Crossings Golf Club: The Crossings Golf Course in Carlsbad, CA is one of the most polarizing golf courses in San Diego County. Golfers either love the 6,835 yard, par 72 course for the views, layout and challenges, or they loathe the course for the undulations and difficulties of some of the holes. The Crossings at Carlsbad is located only a mile or two from the ocean and offers great views on many holes. Due to the proximity to the ocean, temperatures remain mild year-round, and ocean breezes will definitely influence your shots. The course winds through open space in the Carlsbad area, so there are no houses on the course. There is plenty of brush to swallow up errant tee shots though. Course conditions are usually excellent and the course features beautiful landscaping and water features. The signature landmarks of the course are several bridges, or “crossings” built into the course while traversing from one hole to the next. Due to the distance between a few holes, the course does not allow walkers. Golf carts with a well-functioning GPS system are included in your greens fees. There is a very nice short game area for chipping and bunker practice, a large putting green, and a full driving range with lights at an additional charge. You can expect to receive a high level of service at the Crossings, starting with a staffed bag drop where they will take your bag down to the cart area and load it up for you. The restaurant and other facilities on site are excellent for anything from after-golf pub and grub to a group event or nice dinner. Green fees range from $60 to $110 with occasional deals available, but this course delivers a high level of service, challenging layout, great course conditions and ocean views for much less than many other high-end courses in the area.

Your day on the tee will start right away with a taste for what’s to come – a forced carry over a canyon to a fairway with well- placed bunkers, elevation changes and decisions on which club and line to take. Your trip to the 2nd tee will take you over your first bridge, but rewards you with a short par 4 and a good chance at birdie. The par 3, 4th tee box has taken you away from the ocean but up in elevation, so the views are excellent. The par 5 5th hole requires another forced carry but then heads downhill to the green. If you catch the speed-slot, you may be able to have a go at the green. The par 5 7th hole is a well-designed hole that tempts you with the ability to go for the green in two, but will require a carry over water. Try not to get distracted by the flowers and waterfalls next to the green – it’s not where you want your ball to end up. The course continues with several short par 4’s that are also very narrow with hazards ready to catch your ball if you aren’t straight, several long par 4’s that require a good drive and mid iron to the green, and a couple of short par 3’s. The par 5’s on the back 9 are back to back, but they are very different. The first requires a blind tee shot to a sloping and dog-legged fairway. You must stay much farther left than you could ever imagine. The hazard on the right comes in very quickly. The green is very elevated and extremely undulating. Being in the correct portion of the green is very important. The last par 5 on the course has a downhill tee shot that could result in the option to play a blind 2nd shot into the green, or a sensible layup to a wedge position. The last two holes on the course will test you greatly. The par 3 17th hole plays 30 feet downhill but into the prevailing wind with a hazard to the right and into a green with plenty of slope. The par 4 18th doesn’t look difficult on the card at only 407 yards, but plenty of danger awaits. The approach shot is especially difficult with essentially an island green. The course did re-design the 18th green to soften the undulations and make the hole a little less penal, but it will still test you and a closing par is a good score.

The Crossings at Carlsbad is a must-play for any golfer travelling to the area due to the challenge provided, the course conditions and the coastal views and temperatures.

Arrowood Golf Course: Arrowood Golf Course is an 18 hole, par 71, 6,721 yard public course tucked away in the hills of Oceanside California. The course is close enough to the ocean to enjoy a temperate climate year-round, but the views are of the North County hills, not the ocean. Arrowood is a challenging course that is laid out through some homes in the area, but they are set back from the course far enough to not intrude on the experience. The golfer isn’t as at-risk of going OB into someone’s backyard, as he is at-risk of losing a ball in the natural habitat lining most holes. The natural elevation changes, ocean breezes, firm and fast conditions and difficult layout make this a fair but challenging experience for all golfers.

The first hole starts out with a somewhat challenging drive to a downhill approach to a par 4. The green is severely sloped from back to front but is receptive to a good approach shot. The fun starts in earnest on the 622 yard, par 5 2nd hole. The player needs to avoid missing to the right on the downhill tee shot, as the ball tends to bounce to the right into the hazard. Some short par 4’s coming up at 5, 6 and 7 allow you to recover some shots though. The 282 yard, par 4 6th is easily reachable to a shallow but wide green, but going long will result in a ball in the hazard. And coming up short results in a challenging bunker shot from a large bunker. The downhill, 465 yard, par 4 16th hole is one of the most challenging holes in the county. A solid downhill tee shot to a blind landing area will still leave the player a long iron over water to a large green. It will require 2 great shots and a solid putting stroke to leave this hole with a par. The short par 4 18th allows the player a chance to get a shot back coming into the clubhouse as long as you avoid the fairway bunkers and the lake fronting the green.

Due to the somewhat remote location, this course gets slightly less traffic than other courses in the area, but is an excellent location to test your game. The driving range, short game area and large putting green are perfect areas to warm up before a round or work on your game on an off day. The views, conditions, and food and drink at the bar will keep you coming back even if you lost a few balls along the way.

The Golf Club of California: The Golf Club of California is in Fallbrook, CA which is the avocado capital of California. Avocado trees can grow in rough, hilly terrain as can great golf courses. While bordering some residential areas, the course is surrounded by natural areas of oak, sycamore and eucalyptus trees. The Golf Club of California is a semi-private, par 72 course that stretches out to 6,888 yards from the black tees. Fallbrook is a quick drive from most areas of San Diego, and will transport the golfer from a big city to a small town feel surrounded by tree and brush filled areas.

The course rewards good tee shots with manageable short to mid-iron shots to greens. The 2nd hole is a 547 yard, double dogleg right, par 5 with the approach over a brush- filled dry creek. A great drive will result in a chance to go for the green in two, but will require a long approach shot over trees to an elevated green. A layup to a wedge approach is generally the best plan. The par 3, 5th hole is a well landscaped area with a running stream down to a small pond short of the green. The uphill, 596 yard, par 5, 6th hole requires three well-struck shots to reach an undulated green that will test your putter. After surviving that test, the golfer is greeted by an extremely elevated tee box to a par 3 green with a bunker in the middle of the green. Don’t miss to the opposite side of the green or you will be chipping from the green surface, or hoping for a 3-putt.

The back nine brings more risk-reward holes like the reachable, but treacherous, par 5 10th, or the short 333 yard par 4 12th. The 12th can be driveable, but a left to right sloping fairway will funnel balls to the water that runs the length of the hole on the right. If you’re hoping for a low score on the day, try to get your birdies in before the finishing holes. The 435 yard, par-4 17th and the 238 yard, par-3 18th will test your mettle.

The championship layout, serene setting, and private-course level of service will keep you wanting to come back for more. The restaurant, bar and views make this a prime wedding spot in the area. And the bartenders are experts at pouring the 19th hole refreshments.

Must-Play Courses

Aviara Golf Course: For the golfer looking for a top of the line, 5-star resort level experience with beautiful floral landscaping, California coastal weather and championship level golf course, the Aviara Golf Course in Carlsbad, CA is the place to go. The 7,007-yard, Arnold Palmer designed, par- 72 golf course is one of the most beautifully landscaped and developed courses that you will ever play while maintaining the natural surroundings and views of the Batiquitos lagoon off the Pacific Ocean. The home of the LPGA Kia Classic tests the professional women and the discerning golfer alike. Start your day with attentive service and an apple from the starter and end it with great golf course attendants and a fresh cookie. Sometimes the little things make a big difference – just ask my wife!

The par 3’s on this course are some of the most beautiful holes in the country, while the 18th hole may be the hardest finishing hole in Southern California. The day starts with a short par 4, but the golfer must avoid the OB left. A ball in the fairway could result in a putt for birdie. The short par 3, 3rd hole will distract the golfer from the task at hand with the wildflowers, running water and birds. But beware that an accurate tee shot is required, or you will be reaching for a second ball to drop next to the hazards surrounding the green. The par 4 9th and par 5 10th are scoreable holes, but require accurate shots from the golfer. The tee shot on 10 requires a choice of club, angle and amount of water that the golfer wants to cut off. The hole opens up from there but leads to a very large but relatively flat green. The par 4 13th may be short, but the extremely uphill approach requires an accurate shot to be on the correct side of the slopes and ridges. The green on the downhill, par 3, 14th is very visible but requires the golfer to pull the correct club for the downhill shot and the breeze. The narrow tee shot on the par 5 17th hole is intimidating and penal if you miss left or right. Three good shots are required to reach the green and attempt a birdie putt before heading for home. With water along the right, and OB left of the fairway bunkers on this dogleg right finishing hole, the golfer may wish he was in the lagoon or ocean that are visible from the tee box. Your troubles aren’t over after navigating the tough tee shot, since the fairway continues to pinch in all the way to the green with water right and OB left. A finishing par is a great reward that you can celebrate with your fresh cookie. My wife says she gets to take two.

The service, landscaping and conditions are unparalleled at Aviara Golf Club. When you’re ready to splurge and be rewarded throughout the day, head over to Aviara.

Maderas Golf Course: The Maderas Golf Course in Poway, CA was designed by Johnny Miller. Just like his announcing style, people either love or hate his golf course design. Only the extremely brave, talented or stupid will attempt to tame this course all the way from the back tees at 7,167 yards with a 75.4/144 rating on the par 72 course. For me, 6,856 yards from the green tees is enough. Surprisingly though, this course has a set of tees that is very fair for the women at 4,967 yards or 5,393 yards.

Maderas is a semi-private course with a very high level of service and excellent conditions. They did have some issues recently with the grass on their tee boxes, but they have recovered and returned to their normal condition. The fairways and greens are generally kept in extremely firm and fast conditions allowing the course to play even more difficult.

The first tee box offers a seemingly benign par 4, but it requires most people to lay up with a 3 wood since there is a creek crossing about 100 yards from the green. This water continues along the right side of the green and will catch any balls that stray too far right. The second hole introduces the golfer quickly to the undulations and elevation changes that will be seen all day. This is a short par 4 that plays extremely uphill to a green that will break much more than it appears. A pin up front will often result in a 3 putt for any approach shot above the hole. The 3rd hole will take you back down the hill with a tantalizing par 5 that seems to be reachable. But trouble left and right down the length of the hole will swallow many balls. The driveable par 4 6th gives the golfer a chance to score before getting to the very difficult, dogleg right, par 5 8th.

Strategic play is required all day, as every hole is lined by water hazards or natural brush hazards. The back 9 offers a 1-2-3 punch to the gut combination on holes 14-16. The par 5 14th seems reachable, but the green is extremely elevated with a large canyon swallowing most balls that attempt to go for the green in two. Long is always better than short on 14, as a large bank behind the green will usually funnel a long shot back to the putting surface. The downhill par 3 15th stretches out over 230 yards with hazards left and right. A slight miss right will funnel down to the green though. The par 4 16th is not my favorite hole. The golfer will tee off perched up on the side of the mountain and will have to hit to a fairway running away diagonally left to right. What looks like a good shot will often run through the left side of the fairway and into the hazard. This forces the golfer to aim to a blind area right, but any left to right movement on the ball could keep the ball from ever covering any land in play. Luckily, a very short par 3 and a fun par 5 finishing hole await. Finish your day in style and head to the great restaurant and bar on site.

Maderas also has some of the best practice facilities in the county, with a full grass range, bunker and short game areas. Practice balls are included in your green fees.
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