The short stretch of canyon holes on the front nine at Encinitas Ranch ends with the par-4 8th, which General Manager Erik Johnson deems possibly the toughest hole on the course because of its make-or-break tee shot.
Standing on the blue tee box, you’re faced with carrying a diagonal canyon that poses a double dilemma. One, is making the nearly 200-yard carry into the fairway on this 407-yard hole. The second is the risk-reward of setting up your second shot. But the more left you go, the more risk you incur of contributing to a canyon full of golf balls.
From a design standpoint, No. 8 is a masterpiece, Johnson says.
“It’s truly a brilliant design,” he says. “It’s by far the toughest drive on the course because it’s visually intimidating.”
And for those who know this tee shot well, you know the numbers for the canyon carry are variable and deceiving because of one formidable factor – wind.
“A 195-yard carry doesn’t sound like much,” Johnson says, “until you figure it plays into a prevailing wind. A safe shot is to play a 200-yard hybrid or long iron out right (which carries its own danger of OB), but that leaves you a very long second.
“In that regard, there really is no safe shot here. It simply rewards the best tee shot. A good drive can you leave you 8-iron, 9 or wedge. A lesser drive can leave you 200-plus.”
And that’s to an uphill green on this dogleg left, where the wind becomes a crosswind on your approach.
For aiming purposes, three fairway bunkers present convenient targets. For every bunker you move your aim left, however, the more aggressive your tee-shot ambitions become.
Playing with a threesome recently, my group came to this hole under unusually benign wind conditions. Per my usual, I aimed at the middle trap and comfortably found the fairway. Our straightest hitter took a more aggressive route and seemed to clear comfortably, though that later proved deceiving. Our third hit a push that just barely managed to find a patch of remote right fairway.
As is often the case on this hole, what looked to be our best drive on this hole wasn’t. Our friend who played the farthest left tee shot found his ball barely beyond the canyon in the rough instead of the fairway.
My ball sat on the short grass a comfortable 180 yards out. Factoring the uphill and a back pin, I clubbed up to a 5-iron, which I pushed right, about pin-high in the rough right of the sand traps.
The player with our longest second shot recovered nicely with a flushed 3-wood that resulted in a ball over the back of the green. Our canyon survivor’s second came up short left, a common result from that position.
In all, we netted two pars and a bogey, with the bogey being the least likely suspect based on our original perceived tee shots.
With a back pin on a long green, that outcome is no surprise to Johnson.
“If the pin is in back, I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but it’s really hard to get your approach back there,” he says. “You’re normally looking at a long putt if you’re going for birdie. Sometimes a better plan on the approach with that pin is just to play short of the green.
“Par is just like a birdie here.”
Johnson says the hole distributes its difficulty evenly from the blue tees and the whites, which play to 330 yards. The white tee spares players some of the crossing, but the fairway traps and canyon remain a factor.
“It’s a good tee shot no matter what set of tees you’re playing.”
And most likely the key to your success on the front nine if you’re in the hunt for a good score.
“On a course known for scoring, No. 8 and No. 17 (par 3 guarded by water) are where the teeth of the course really come out,” Johnson says.
“If you do well on No. 2 (long par 3) and No. 8, you’re most likely going to have a good score on the front nine.”
JC Golf would you love to hear you stories and strategies from playing No. 8. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section at jcgolf.com.