I seldom travel without my golf clubs. But the last time I visited Southern California’s Catalina Island, it was for an overnight trip with my wife (as if that’s ever stopped me) and I didn’t think the island’s nine holer would be worth the trouble.
On my latest trip, I didn't make the same mistake. And in fact, as the oldest continually operating course in the Western United States the Catalina Island Golf Club, which dates back to 1894, is a little slice of heaven.
The layout is short, but the five par 4s and four par 3s are definitely not all pushovers. I made it fun and easy by packing eight clubs in a Sunday bag -- no driver required as the longest par 4 is 320 yards. Loading them onto the Catalina Island Express Ferry from Dana Point was a piece of cake. No travel bag required.
Catalina Island G.C. is a short walk from the popular Avalon hotels. I arrived early and had the course to myself. The first hole caught my interest quickly, with a tee box perched next to the proshop and a flat fairway some 50 or so feet below. A ditch that crosses the fairway necessitates a layup tee shot; the approach is to an elevated green tucked into a canyon. The 2nd is a par 3 of 125 yards, just a wedge or 9-iron to a small green. Holes 3-5 are fairly straightforward (albeit tight) par 4s.
The finish is the strongest part of the course. After hopefully making a quick birdie on the 6th -- a well bunkered short par 3 -- it’s a short uphill walk to the 7th tee for a view of Catalina’s strongest par 3. At 197 yards, with a sharp drop-off behind the green, the front edge is a good leave here. The 8th is another short par 4 and the 9th a 177 yard par 3 that finishes right in front of one of my new favorite golf course establishments - The Sand Trap.
Here you’ll find a place that’s as laid back as the golf course -- $1 tacos for happy hour and outdoor seating under a big tent. I finished early and had breakfast there, then came back later for lunch. If the Catalina Express didn’t leave at 5:40 pm, I can’t think of a better place to hang out and enjoy the sunset after a late round.
I should mention that the golf course is in nice condition, the mostly kikuyu fairways are cut short and easy to hit from, the small greens weren’t overly fast, but were fine to putt on. Improvements to the tee boxes and other areas of the course should make it even better.
At $35 for nine or $49 for eighteen, I wouldn’t hesitate to go around twice if you have time.