Highlight Hole: No. 17 at Dove Canyon CC

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I’ve been reflecting on my 2013 golf season a lot recently in preparation for a few year-end golf posts. Naturally, “best holes” is a topic I’m pondering and it got me thinking about all the truly great par-3s I’ve played this year.

Well, I added another one to the list on Tuesday. This is No. 17 at Dove Canyon Country Club, and, yes, that tee shot is as daunting – and fun – as it looks. This is the view from the Nicklaus tees (Nicklaus is the designer) and measures 205 yards. We played it at 162 yards from the Championship tees, but it was still like hitting it off the side of a seven-story building.

Not wanting to be short, I hit an easy 8 iron, which was way too much club. I flew the pin and just barely held the back of the green. I should’ve hit pitching wedge.

Anyway, the tee shot is only half the battle here. There are dramatic drop-offs on the front AND back of this green. I was faced with the latter, which meant putting over a 3-foot ridge in the green that resembles what an emerald wave would look like coming at you on the beach. I cleared the ridge and then watched my putt not slow down one iota and end up on the fringe. Mark me down for a rare three-putt bogey.

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View from back of the green on 17

Played properly this isn’t one of the course’s tougher holes (it’s the No. 18 handicap) but it certainly is one of its more memorable ones. And it’s actually a welcome breather from what is a “Bear” of a back nine. A long elevated par-3 and the tightest par-5 I’ve ever played greet you on the back. Then thick rough makes some shorter holes play longer. My swing was running on fumes when I arrived at 17.

But 17 and 18 – a 389-yard par-4 to a waterfall finish – are a fantastic finishing combo. I probably would’ve made 18 this feature but I was too busy taking deer pictures and making triple bogey. Oh, well. Better luck next time, right?

I’d heard much about Dove before my round and it more than delivered on the anticipation and expectation. It’s certainly among the best courses I’ve played this year and I would love another crack at it.

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 No. 18 at Dove Canyon

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Photo Finish: Deer at Dove Canyon

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I’ll write more about Dove Canyon at a later date, but for now I’ll send you into the holiday weekend with some photos from the end of yesterday’s round.

We had quite a special scene as we played No. 18. There were deer on both the fairway and around the green, probably seven in all. We saw at least 20 total during the round, a record for me, which is more than I could say for my scorecard.

Anyway, here’s a glimpse of the deer who caused me to ponder the question: what’s better than a birdie on 18? Answer: Five deer waiting for you on the green.

Enjoy. And happy holidays.

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Highlight Hole: No. 3 at Oak Creek

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As a group, the par-3s at Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine aren’t among the more memorable holes on the course, but this little gem is the exception amongst its par-3 peers.

The par-3 3rd plays 163 yards from the Gold tees and 154 from the Whites and captures a lot of the character of the course. It’s a mid-length par-3 on a mid-length course played to a highly contoured green protected by a couple sand traps that play tougher than they look. (I, for one, would want no part of that little trap you can barely see off the back.) And obviously water looms short and right, but unless you badly push your tee shot or under club, it shouldn’t come into play.

I hit a soft 7-iron that I expected to hold the middle of the green, but instead my ball trickled off the back into a collection area. From there, I hit a short uphill chip that unfortunately settled above the hole. I ended up lipping out a tricky downhill 5-footer for a frustrating four.

Score aside, I enjoyed this hole and the course, which reminded me a lot of Golf Club of California in Fallbrook in how it looks, plays and feels. Besides length (GCoC is much longer), the biggest difference is the bunkers. The bunkers at Oak Creek are much more severe than anything you’d find at Golf Club of California. Otherwise, the challenge is largely the same.

The greens seemed to be rolling at a merciful speed Monday. At a faster pace, I can see the challenge on the greens here being something like Barona Creek. Some tricky pin placements also accentuated the putting challenge on Monday.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a round in Irvine, check out Oak Creek and come prepared to be tested on and around the greens.

SD Day Trip: The USS Midway

ImageHaving grown up without any real-world exposure to the military or military culture, moving to San Diego has an been an almost daily education for me about our nation and its armed forces, and one I’ve enjoyed immensely.

I still get school-boy giddy when I drive the 5 through Camp Pendleton and the Marines are in the middle of exercises – the more tanks, the better – and I’m only too happy to let veterans tell me stories from their days of service.

That said, I was greatly looking forward to finally touring the USS Midway, the legendary battleship moored in San Diego harbor. That day finally came on Friday, and I was simply awed by everything I saw, heard (they simulate sounds of the ship deployed at sea) and learned during two hours aboard the massive ship.

I will say upfront that two hours is an inadequate amount to devote to touring the Midway, so what you’re about to read is more impressions about the tour than a definitive guide. Just getting through the ship , which spans 18 decks and 1,000 feet, is a workout unto itself, much less trying to take in all the educational accents – speakers, flight simulators, artifacts, signage, etc. – that make this such an exquisite education about the Midway, our military, our country and our history.

And you’re doing all this while climbing what amounts to a giant floating jungle gym. You’re always stepping over something, climbing up or down something, or ducking under something while you’re navigating the Midway. That’s just one of many ways in which you get a sense of what life was like on the Midway for the men who were deployed on it for up to six months at a time.

The tour itself is heavy on education about what a military lifestyle was like aboard the ship, but it ends with what for me was a surprising and unexpected look at what it really was like during combat. The war room is set up circa the Persian Gulf War, with war plans and targeting equipment still locked on Iraq. It’s a giant dose of modern history that is made very real by the veterans staffing the ship.

It’s every navy military movie you’ve ever seen come to life and largely how you’d expect it. It’s a powerful way to end the tour and could be one almost unto itself. The map could say, “If you want to go the Persian Gulf War now, report directly to flight deck control.”

But before we throw down on Iraq again, let’s look briefly at the history of the Midway and take a minute to appreciate one of the true marvels of our military.

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Anytime you tour something as massive and complex as the Midway, you can expect to be hit with a veritable avalanche of mind-boggling facts and stats. The Midway doesn’t disappoint in that regard, but lets at least cover the basics.

The Midway was launched in 1945 and saw action in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf and basically toured the world, including the Arctic, until it was decommissioned in 1992. It now serves as a military museum for a million tourists annually.

The ship weighs 69,000 tons (20 ton in just anchors), is 1,001 feet long, has a four-acre flight deck, consists of 2,000 compartments spread over 18 decks and was home to a crew of 4,500. It was reportedly the first ship to be too big to fit through the Panama Canal.

The program and tour delivers as many of these facts as you could ever want, but to channel my pastor, the master of simplification, let’s just say this: it’s a really big ship.

The enormity of the Midway, of course, is what first strikes you, before you ever board the ship, but your world gets very small very quickly once you enter the vessel. This is not a tour for claustrophobics.

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One of your first stops is the cramped sleeping quarters for the crew, and as your progress through the ship, you realize there’s a direct ratio between rank and sleeping space and even proximity of your bed to light. In other words, it’s good to be an admiral.

The lowest bunk looks barely big enough to host a guitar case much less a person, but that’s how many sailors slept aboard the Midway.

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In this sailing city, there’s a lot of space devoted to sleeping and eating, and when you’re not in a bedroom, you’re likely in a kitchen or dining room for much of the first legs of the tour, although one of the early stops is the area where they stowed the anchors.

On the audio tour, which is excellent, a seaman shares a story about the ship’s “anchor pool” that tells how when the anchor would drop, the entire crew would look at their watches. What minute and second the anchor dropped mattered in that crew members each had a time reserved in a pool and the corresponding times resulted in more funds for shore leave for the winners.

You quickly get a sense of how crew members passed the time – lots of it – at sea when they weren’t participating in the ship’s day-to-day operations.

And the days had to have been long. For one thing, on the tour, save for a glimpse through a porthole here and there, you rarely see the sun or the ocean. Just think how disorienting that alone must’ve been.

And if you worked in, say, the engine room, the laundry room or another steamy area in the inner bowls of the ship, well, it probably felt a lot like another hellaciously warm place.

We’ll just say that after 15 or 20 minutes below deck on the tour, it’s a relief when you “surface.” Now imagine spending entire days, weeks and months like that.

While seclusion and boredom abounded aboard so did danger, and the danger on the ship lurked much more within than from beyond. As one veteran imparts on the audio tour, “A battleship is an accident looking for a place to happen.”

Beyond the handling and transport of tons of military ordinance and the perilous landing of planes on the ship’s flight deck, the very storing of elements critical to the ship’s operation presented a danger and, in fact, nearly inflicted a mortal wound on the Midway.

While at sea near Japan in 1990, a compressed oxygen explosion killed three crew members and injured eight others. The oxygen plant on the tour was on the same level as the cargo hold, where old photos shot you tons of stored ordinance as well as dozens of aircraft.

It seems like a small detail when the audio tour diverts your attention to the barely noticeable red-and-yellow fire doors that would close off half the hold in case of fire, but then you realize, no detail was too small on the Midway.

Once you reach the cargo hold, or hanger, you finally get close to some of the military planes and helicopters you see before you board the ship. The aircraft on display are from a cross section of aviation history and are marvels unto themselves.

On the flight deck, among other aircraft, you’ll discover the helicopter that retrieved astronauts from the Apollo missions, including the ill-fated Apollo 13, and it makes you start to appreciate all capacities in which the Midway served its country besides war.

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But this was a battleship after all and war was why it existed. Which brings us to the Persian Gulf.

The Midway had previously served in operations in Vietnam, but the Iraq war where the Midway was the flagship for American’s air operations at sea and the pinnacle of the ship’s service.

The ship’s combat command and control is frozen as a time capsule for that period, with CNN’s war footage scrolling, attack plans still adorning the walls of the war room and radar still locked on Iraq. Among the war documents, there’s a sheet of green paper that includes footnotes instructing Saddam “to take a seat and enjoy the show.”

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And what a show it must’ve been. Another audio file calls a fully functioning flight deck “the greatest show on earth” and I don’t doubt it, given the coordination of crew and craft.

The volunteer we met in the room where combat operations were coordinated informed us that 25 men ran the show from inside a box no bigger than your living room throughout the Gulf War. It’s always humbling to walk in the footsteps of history, but it’s even more so to meet someone who was there, as this man was.

Now retired for six years, he says he returns to the Midway monthly, driving from Nevada to volunteer for a week at a time. And that’s the type of commitment and dedication that really brings the Midway to life and that I had not nearly enough time for on Friday.

In just brief conversations or overhead bits of presentations, the passion and admiration with which these volunteers share their insights and stories is truly inspiring. They’re the true legacy of the Midway and they make an incredible contribution by giving of their time this way.

Next time, I’m going to allow more time to let them share all they have to offer and, in turn, more fully appreciate what this ship meant to them and our country.

For now, I’m just happy to have had the experience and be better able to share the Midway’s story with others and be better able to properly guide guests on the next tour. This ship has hardly sailed as far as me touring the Midway again. Consider me locked and loaded, and (tail)hooked on learning more.

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Highlight Hole: No. 14 at St. Mark

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Based on the relatively flat topography of the front nine – and actually of most of the course – you’d never guess a hole like this is waiting for you on the back. But this is what you see after you climb to the 14th tee box at St. Mark Golf Club at Lake San Marcos in San Marcos.

This driver’s delight – or potential nightmare, if you’re a short-hitter – plays to 369 yards from the blue tees and virtually the same from the whites.

This is risk-reward at its most basic. I haven’t put a GPS to it, but it seems to be about 240-250 yards to carry the water. Factoring in considerable carry from the elevated tee, it’s plenty do-able and I’m usually easily 40 to 50 yards over, and I’ve heard stories of people driving the green. Totally plausible.

The play if you don’t feel confident you make the carry, or keep the ball on the course (I can only imagine how many golf golf balls the yards around this fairway yield), is a hyrid/long iron to around 200 yards. That’ll leave you short of the water and sand – another common tee shot destination – and a mid-iron home.

My one lament about this hole is that I have yet to make birdie. No matter how well I place my approach, it always seems to run to the back of the green, or off. So you might want to factor that in as well.

I actually don’t mind the back nine at St Mark, which plays 300 yards longer than the front. On the back, the course stretches out with three par-5s, including a 600-yarder, and a 460-yard par-4. Then there’s 14, which will likely be for driving bragging rights amongst your group. Three words of advice: Go for it.

Equipment Insider: Talking Golf Shafts With John Hovis of Fujikura

This is the first of what will become an occasional series, in conjunction with world-renowned Vista-based golf shaft manufacturer and supplier Fujikura, about golf shafts, the fitting process and fitters. In this first installment, we profile Fujikura’s John Hovis, a veteran fitter and manager of Fujikura’s Fit-On Studio. John provides his insights about the shaft-fitting process and what can be gained for your game.

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Name: John Hovis

 Hometown: Phoenix

 Family: Lives in San Marcos, Calif., with his wife and four kids, including twin daughters

 College: Golf Academy of America and entered the PGA apprentice program at Kapalua after graduation

Career at Fujikura: He started in 2003 in product development and as a tour rep. John currently works in product development and manages the fitting studio in Vista and continues tour-related responsibilities involving product supply and repair.

 Years of fitting experience: 21

How to maximizing your fitting session: Know what you want to work on and what club(s) you want fit – driver, woods, irons. Be prepared to answer questions about tendencies, ball flight, misses, etc. What’s the change/improvement you’re seeking?

Fitting philosophy: We work with the swing that walks in the door. We want you to walk out very confident that you can take to the golf course what we produced indoors.

Fit insight: We test our designs on tour first, but if it works there, we know it’s going to work for every flex down the line.

Famous fits: A lot of former and current football, baseball and hockey players. They mastered their sport and then were humbled by golf, and they like that challenge. We’ve had LaDanian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk, but Leslie O’Neal (former Chargers defensive end) was an interesting fit.

His swing was all force, all big muscles, and we used a very stiff handle to handle his very hard down swing. Then we needed to help him time it at the bottom with a softer shaft tip so that so he’d deliver that clubface squarely.

 Future of fitting: The advancement of materials, particularly graphite, is really exciting. In the grand scheme of things, graphite iron shafts are still relatively new. There have been huge strides the last five years to make them play like steel.

Graphite iron shafts have gained in popularity on tour, but the benefits are great for the amateur player as well. The dampening effect of graphite is great for joint pain, arthritis, back pain, etc. Graphite can decrease the amount of stress on every shot for all of that, and maybe that allows someone to play a little longer, practice a little longer.

The stigma of inconsistency graphite used to have is gone. It’s miles beyond and really where amateurs should seek to make a change.

Equipment Review: JetSpeed by TaylorMade

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TaylorMade unveiled JetSpeed last week, which is its update to the RocketBallz line and includes the first driver to utilize Speed Pocket technology.

I’ve pasted portions of the company release below, but if you’re up to speed on JetSpeed and just want to read about my experience, then scroll about halfway down.

The word from the source:

TaylorMade, the No. 1 played driver brand on the PGA Tour, has announced the release of JetSpeed, a breakthrough line of metalwoods that includes the company’s first driver to feature Speed Pocket technology. In addition, JetSpeed fairway woods and Rescue clubs combine an enhanced Speed Pocket, an extremely low-forward center of gravity (CG) location and extremely light overall weight to promote faster swing speed, clubhead speed and ball speed for more distance.

“We expect ‘low and forward CG’ to represent the next great innovation in metalwood performance,” said Sean Toulon, Executive Vice President. “With our SLDR and JetSpeed products, we’re giving golfers of all types the opportunity to increase their launch angle and reduce their spin-rate, which ultimately leads to more distance.”

  The First Driver with a Speed Pocket

The Speed Pocket was originally designed to increase the speed at which the clubface flexes and rebounds to promote faster ball speed.  Why put a Speed Pocket in a driver, since the face is already as fast as the USGA will allow? TaylorMade engineers discovered that incorporating a Speed Pocket into the JetSpeed driver promotes less spin, as well as greater ball speeds on shots struck below the center of the clubface. Research suggests 72% of all golf shots are hit below the center of face, so the JetSpeed driver is designed to minimize the ill effects of shots struck below center.

“With most drivers, low impact generates too much spin, making the ball fly too high and land short,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s Senior Director of Metalwood Creation. “JetSpeed’s Speed Pocket is engineered to dramatically reduce that added spin to promote more distance on that very common type of mishit.”

 JetSpeed Fairway Woods and Rescues

JetSpeed fairway woods and Rescue clubs each incorporate a radically redesigned Speed Pocket that’s smaller and accounts for less weight, while remaining just as efficient at boosting the speed of the clubface.

The improved Speed Pocket is filled with a polymer that keeps debris out, improving turf interaction while absorbing unwanted vibration without slowing down the clubface.

The weight saved by the new Speed Pocket design is redistributed strategically within the clubhead to move the CG lower and more forward, a location that TaylorMade has proven promotes faster ball speeds and lower spin. JetSpeed fairways and Rescues reduce spin by 200-300 RPM compared to previous models to promote more distance.

JetSpeed fairways and Rescues also feature a low-profile head design that makes it easier to make contact with the clubface below the ball’s equator, making it easier to launch the ball on a high, long-carrying flight and easier to get the ball in the air off the turf. The combination of low-profile head design and Speed Pocket work together to make JetSpeed fairway woods the longest and most playable fairways TaylorMade has ever created.

The driver retails for $299; the fairway wood, $229 and the rescue,  $199. They go on sale Dec. 13.

My experience:

I was fortunate enough to preview JetSpeed last week during a prescheduled round with Tony Starks of TaylorMade that just happened to coincide with the product launch.

First, I should say here that I own the RocketBallz Stage 2 3-wood, and it has been an absolutely revolutionary club for me. It has more or less replaced my driver. I get easy distance with it (260, 280) and, to use a “Star Wars” phrase, an occasional “jump to light speed” when it’ll push 300 yards and beyond.

That said, when I heard the JetSpeed driver employed the same technology, I was intrigued and not surprised when the driver felt familiar and comfortable to me. The photo below is the result of my very first swing with it on a 364-yard par-4 at Shadowridge Country Club. I was inside 80 yards after hitting an easy draw down the right side.

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I played the JetSpeed driver for the majority of the round and found the driver and 3-wood easy to hit, long and forgiving on off-center hits. Most likely from teeing the ball too high, I got under a couple, but my drives still flew a decent distance and held the fairway.

I was amazed at the number of quality shots I hit given I had zero range time with the club. It immediately felt comfortable to me in that I could feel the head, but the club managed to remain light. For comparison sake, I’ve been unable to hit the R1 in the past because the head has been too heavy for me. My 3-wood, much lighter by comparison, has always swung like a breeze for me, and my playing partners tell me it evokes my most natural swing.

JetSpeed felt the same way, and I look forward to having a go with it again and it becoming a permanent part of my bag. Hello, Santa? …

Short-Game Saturday: Take It From Phil

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For those of you who didn’t wake up to see Phil Mickelson on The Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” or tape it on Friday, as I did, here’s a review of the last 10 minutes, where Phil provided his insight about short-game basics.

For many of you, this will be Short Game 101 or even Golf 10, but he echoes something I see often that people don’t seem to factor into their short games: weight shift.

So, here it is, Phil telling it like it is in response to a question about one tip he’d give amateurs.

First, a little philosophical Phil:

“What’s interesting about chipping is that it’s not like putting or your golf swing. There are a million ways to swing a club or a million ways to putt (belly putter, cross-hand, etc.). But there aren’t multiple ways to chip, because everything in chipping is designed to keep the leading edge of the club down and underneath the ball.”

Phil’s first short-game commandment:

“You’ve got to have your weight on your front foot. If you chip with your weight back, the leading edge (of the club) is coming up, and most people chip with their weight level or back, which is just terrible.

“You’ve got to have 70 to 80 percent on your front foot.”

After weight shift, Phil discussed stance to bring it home.

“You either play (a chip) off your front foot or your back foot. Back foot if you want to hit it low; front if you want to hit it high. You NEVER chip with the ball between your feet, yet every amateur chips with the ball (in the middle). It’s not making a decision. How can you commit to a shot when you haven’t even decided what shot you’re hitting?”

One thing that I left the Academy with is a competence to teach the short game. They teach a system that applies to every short-game scenario and uses a universal stroke. You just change clubs to fit the shot/distance.

The one thing people seem to constantly need to be reminded of, until it’s ingrained, is the weight shift. It doesn’t work without it.

Anyway, as an ending aside, if you’ve never watched one of Phil’s short-game videos, hunt one down. It’s mesmerizing stuff, especially the trick shots, which show you the mind-bending possibilities for this wonderful game.

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. 18 at Shadowridge CC

Image         Even though it doesn’t play to my shot shape – it favors a fade, not a draw – and has resulted in me making pars Robert Frost would appreciate – via the road less traveled – I still like the closing hole at Shadowridge Country Club in Vista.

No. 18 is a downhill, dogleg right par-4 that plays 443 yards from the blues to a generously sized green fronted by a pond with a fountain.

I like it, for one, because the view from the elevated tee provides a great vista of Vista and the clubhouse. It’s a beautiful and memorable way to finish your round.

Also in view is a giant boulder that sits at the turn, defining the left side of the fairway. Over maybe 10 rounds now at Shadowridge, I’ve become quite familiar with this boulder as I’ve both bounced tee shots off the top of it and been jailed behind it, like I was on Tuesday.

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On Tuesday, I simply punched out to the fairway, threw a wedge in to about 12 feet and sank a putt to save par.

My most memorable playing of the hole came during a round last summer. My tee shot hit the top of the boulder and bounded about 40 yards forward into the stand of trees, settling behind the smallest one.

I was faced with one of those dreaded under-or-over decisions. I chose over and it was immediate disaster – or so I thought. My playing partner and I both saw the ball go into the densely leafed tree but neither of us saw it come out. After my 5 minutes, I was about to drop when partner asked, “Who’s that on the green?”

Miraculously, my ball had escaped, cleared the water and settled on the left side of the green. I finished with a two-putt par and a story. For a writer, that’s about as good as birdie.

My next goal is make par, or birdie, and spare myself the drama by actually hitting the fairway, as my playing partner did on Tuesday. But after bombing his tee shot, his wedge flew long, giving him a very tricky chip to this front-to-back sloping green. A masterful recovery allowed him to save four.

The sum of those stories is what a great 18th should be: a reasonably demanding tee shot; a fair chance to make a nice number with a solid approach; an assumed risk – be it boulder, bunker, water, tree, or deep rough – if you don’t execute either of those shots; and, just as important, an aesthetically pleasing and memorable way to complete your round.

For me, I’m taking less than driver here next time and am going to play for a 150-yard approach. That way I can appreciate my nemesis boulder from afar as I hopefully take a less dramatic way home.

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