Highlight Hole: No. 18 at Dove Canyon CC

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I’m choosing one hole at Dove Canyon Golf Club partly because I’ve got a great photo of it and partly because of my unique experience there, but you really can’t go wrong selecting about any hole at this Jack Nicklaus Signature Design course in Trabuco Canyon.

Arriving at the tee at 18 brings about mixed emotions.

The high is that you’re about to discover the fabulous finishing hole you can see from the putting green of the clubhouse. The low is that an extraordinary golf experience is coming to the end.

Dove was one of my favorite Southern California golf discoveries last year for a host of reasons, which I’ll get into. I got to play there through my connection with Southland Golf Magazine.

I mention this because Southland Golf is presenting a unique opportunity for you to play Dove, a private club. Via something called the 2014 Southland Golf Series, you can play Dove on March 31st for $85, which includes a continental breakfast, a sleeve of balls, appetizers and raffle prizes. You can register at southlandgolfseries.com or by calling (714) 796.3620.

Besides a fantastic golf course surrounded by beautiful mountain surroundings, you also get access to one of the best practice facilities in the area. Hitting balls into a mountain backdrop at Dove is one of the best range experiences around, and it only gets better from there.

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The practice range at Dove  

Considering yourself warned: Dove is a tough course. I played reasonably well there partly due to being guided by the head pro for most of the round. On your own, expect to earn every par and birdie. In particular, Dove boasts the toughest par-5 I’ve played in California, the 557-yard 11th. Tight barely begins to describe this hole. The entire fairway feels like it’s being played in a four-lane bowling alley – with a tree in the middle.

Amongst the most memorable holes are two elevated par-3s – Nos. 10 and 17. No. 10 plays 198 yards (212 from the back tees) into the wind. I reached with possibly the best hybrid of my life.

No. 17 is a real showstopper and sets the stage perfectly for 18. The 17th plays 205 from the back tees and 162 from the blues, but doesn’t play nearly that long because you’re basically hitting it off the top of a five-story building to a green below with dramatic drop-offs on the front and back.

The view from the tee into the canyon makes you do a double take the first time you see it, and it’s a blast to play. I hit 8-iron to the back of the green, but should’ve gone with a 9 and maybe could’ve gotten there with a pitching wedge. The ball carries forever.

It included this hole in my list of the nine best par-3s I played last year.

You hopefully walk off with par or birdie on 17 to give you momentum going into 18, which is an aesthetically astounding finishing hole but hardly a bear to play.

Playing to 432 yards from the back tees and 389 from the blues, you simply want to avoid the tranquil pond on the right and give yourself a reasonable approach to a green backed by a gigantic waterfall.

My experience at this hole went to another level when I reached my second shot. There was a deer drinking from the pond. A look down the fairway revealed an entire herd, several of which were congregated on or behind the green.

The game at the point seemed to change from playing golf to not spooking the deer as members of our foursome took more shots with their camera phones than their clubs.

I have no idea what I scored on that hole, but I know I’ve got 20-some deer photos on my phone. It was an ending the likes of which I’ve never had on a golf course before and one I’ll always remember.

I, however, wouldn’t mind going back and going for birdie on a finishing hole that has rate with the best in the area. It rivals 18 at Sherwood for best setting for a finishing hole.

Mr. Nicklaus did a lot of great work at Dove, but 18 is truly a masterpiece. I hope you get a chance to experience it because I have a feeling you’ll walk away feeling the same way about it that I do.

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