My Favorite Public Golf Hole in So. Cal: No. 5 at Journey at Pechanga

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If it’s possible to have love at first sight with a golf hole – and as  golfers, we all know that it is – I had it with No. 5 at Journey at Pechanga a year ago.

If you’ve played Journey, you know No. 5 is where the course starts to become something special.

I played it for the first time around this time a year ago, and I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I saw No. 5 for the first time.

You can’t clearly see the hole until you make the left turn on the cart path, and when you do, you discover a sight that just has to leave you in awe a little bit.

The hole is a par-4 played to a majestic mountain backdrop. The fairway is bisected by a rocky stream that drains into a lake that provides a drive-swallowing water hazard for many and divides a split fairway. At the hole, the stream, bubbling from a waterfall behind the green, wraps around the green to provide a serene setting for your putt – hopefully a birdie, but if it’s your first time, probably not.

I love this hole because it’s the perfect combination of beauty, strategy and serenity. And it epitomizes the playing experience at Journey. You can make it as tough as you want to, but the course ultimately rewards the smart play. Most holes there give you a variety of shot options, but possibly none more than No. 5.

Especially played from the white tees (298 yards), you can certainly go for the green and for the Holy Grail of an eagle. Moving back to the blacks (331 yards) makes this a less realistic play, but certainly not impossible for today’s longer hitters.

Two things to know if you’re seeking to do this: 1) make you miss right; 2) book an early tee time, but you’re probably not make this play after noon when a severe headwind is known to kick up.

In that regard, I have to play this hole with its true teeth in. Instead, I’ve been greeted by a still lake and a green light at the green. I found water the first time I tried, before deferring to safe 7-iron played out left for a short-iron approach.

This time, I pulled my SLDR Mini-Driver and found the fairway on the right despite aiming for the left (a lucky miss, to be sure). That 270-yard drive left me a simple pitch in, which I converted for a two-putt par.

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The approach from the right fairway

Under still conditions, driver/3-wood is the only way to reach the right fairway, but the left presents nearly every option in the bag, which is why I love this hole. Players of every ability level have available avenue to play this hole and succeed.

And the setting and design of the hole becomes more unique with every round I play in California. I’ve yet to play another hole like it.

I played Journey on Thursday last week and Torrey South on Friday (yes, I have a hard life). The answer I’m probably supposed to have in this space is No. 3 at Torrey, the iconic ocean-view par-3 played into the vista of La Jolla.

No. 3 at Torrey is undoubtedly the signature hole for all of Southern California and without question an incredible design and always fun to play. But it’s a par-3. There’s really only one way to play it, and the hole is short and not terribly difficult.

No. 5 at Journey is beautiful in its own right, but presents a much wider array of challenges and options.

What’s funny is that most people will read this and probably say No. 5 isn’t even their favorite hole at Journey, much less all of So. Cal. Journey has three holes played at serious elevation, mostly notably No. 6, the bomber’s delight with a view of all of downtown Temecula and beyond.

A great hole and a unique experience, to be sure, but there are only so many ways to play it. Save for the par-3 17th and the par-4 18th. Together, it’s hard to beat the finish at Journey.

But if I can only play one hole, for my money it’s No. 5. I’ve pondered a series of posts about my Dream 18 in So. Cal. I’ve not pondered the entire list yet, though it’s an exercise I look forward to, but you now know where the journey would begin – No. 5 at Journey.

 

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Behind the green

 

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Rick Reilly, the Road Hole and the Story That Inspired Me to Become a Golf Writer

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If you’re a golfer, you don’t need to be told what hole this is.

I’ve known what I wanted to do with my career ever since I was a sophomore in high school. I wanted to be a sportswriter.

That dream was realized shortly thereafter when I started writing for the sports section of the local daily back in Iowa. It manifested itself more fully after I enrolled at Iowa State University. I soon found myself covering college football and basketball and even the NCAA Tournament, making me realizing how attainable my sports writing dreams really were.

The fodder for those dreams was something that arrived in the mailbox of our farmhouse in rural Iowa every week: Sports Illustrated. Without him knowing it at the time, my dad’s subscription was delivering sports writing textbooks to our door, and I was going to school. I read every issue cover to cover, even when the sport/topic (tennis, curling, fencing, etc.) didn’t interest me. I wanted to learn every literary trick and secret possible from those pages and was willing to search every paragraph and sentence to find it.

My thirst for SI continued into college, where I had my own subscription. I continued to pour over every piece and dream of the day my sports writing copy might match those pages.

Where golf comes into this story is a piece Rick Reilly wrote about attempting to par the infamous Road Hole at St. Andrews in advance of the British Open. I know I’d read golf pieces prior, but this the only one I can recall. The important thing is that it probably ranks among the 10 most influential pieces I’ve ever read. At the time, I only dabbled in actually playing the game and would watch the majors on TV. Golf didn’t bat nearly as high in the sports order for me as it does now.

Reilly’s piece made me realize, however, how fun writing about golf could be.

The gist of the story, which was published in July of 1995, was Reilly making a bet with a friend that he could par the Road Hole, widely regarded as the world’s toughest par 4. So Reilly booked a room at the Old Course Hotel and set out to do it, although noting he hadn’t made one single tee time.

What followed was Reilly flailing and failing, making all the classic strategic errors players have historically made at No. 17. After each failed attempt, Reilly would retreat to a local pub in search of a sage local caddie, Tip Anderson, who knew the secret to parring the Road Hole. He had caddie for major champions – Tom Watson, I believe – and was thereby the de factor Yoda of the Old Course.

(I should note that my original intent was to paste a link to the story. The SI Vault though at the moment seems to be working about as well as Al Capone’s. I was able to find a cached version of the story, but only able to access the first page. If you want to try, the article is headlined, “Road Test.” Search Road Hole, St. Andrews and Rick Reilly and you’ll find it quickly.)

Reilly’s search for Tip, and par, continues in vain until he’s down to his final round. He finally tracks down Anderson and gleans the wisdom of how to play the Road Hole, which generally goes like this: “If you play it for a three, you’ll make a five. But if you play it for a five, you just might make a four.”

That’s probably not 100 percent, but it’s close: Basically don’t attack it and end up on the road or in the feared Road Hole bunker.

Anywhere, here’s where the story really gets my sportswriter goose bumps going. To play the hole the final time, Reilly sneaks on the course and claims to make par – using Tip’s advice – just before security escorts him off the course.

I rediscovered the Reilly’s piece years ago in SI’s online archives – to quote “American Pie”: “God bless the Internet.” –  and had revisited it often, especially since my own move into the golf writing arena basically a year ago after relocating to California.

I’d been looking forward to writing this post since I started the blog and was waiting for the British, but Reilly’s recently announced retirement from sports writing (he was at ESPN) gives this another point of relevance.

For those who of you who didn’t grow up to do what I do (have done), Reilly’s retirement probably means little to you, but for me it matters just as much as an athlete like Michael Jordan or Walter Payton calling it a career. Those who recall reading Reilly at SI probably remember his columns, which followed his days as a long-form writer. Those days are when Reilly really shined and expanded what was possible. He and Gary Smith writing bonus pieces (the long take-outs at the back of the magazine) were like having a features line-up of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. One of them, or both, took it over the wall every issue.

When Reilly was limited to columns, it was like telling Michael Jordan to only be a jump shooter. Still effective and creative in that role, but not as breath-taking as before.

Anyway, Reilly’s Road Hole piece was fun, funny, insightful and brilliantly told. For those who grew up on George Plimpton, this was Reilly doing his own “Paper Lion,” although tryying to a par a hole on a PGA course and trying to play QB for the Lions are two totally different animals of participatory journalism.

Reilly’s piece seemed a little Plimpton, a little Hunter S. Thompson, a little modern-day David Feherty and possibly a little Anthony Bourdain at present. Come to think of it, Reilly’s piece was probably the first travel story that really stuck with me as well.

I guess more than anything, the story showed me how far you really can go with sports writing and what a golden ticket being able to tell a story really can be. I’ve had my own Reilly-at-St.-Andrews moments in my career, although I’m still waiting for that moment in golf. I’ve got a few opportunities coming up, however.

Anyway, hopefully you can read the piece and, if you care, glean a little insight into why I like to do what I do and where I’d like to see it go.

(An aside: Since moving to CA, I’ve met people who have played the Old Course. My favorite story is from a local pro who told me: “You know what isn’t awesome about the Old Course? Nothing. There’s nothing that isn’t awesome about the Old Course.”)

I hope to understand that statement even more fully in the future. The closest I’ve come is playing a replica of the Road Hole at Royal Links in Las Vegas. For the record, I parred it, carving a draw around the sign welcoming you to the course right into the fairway.

Just as St. Andrews is a bucket-list course for every golfer alive, Reilly’s piece is a bucket-list read for me. So obviously if you enjoy reading about the game as much as you do playing it, it’s worth your while to track it down.

If the SI Vault works out its glitch, I’ll repost the story on the blog in full. Thanks for reading and for all the support. I’ve enjoyed, and appreciated, every word of it. It’s a joy and privilege to be able to do what you love to do.

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Highlight Hole: No. 16 at La Costa (Champions Course)

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    As you know about the blog by now, we love to write about golf holes and can spill a thousand words about one at the drop of a hat. With No. 16 at La Costa’s Champions Course, that isn’t necessary. Pictures suffice.

    I’ve played each side of the renovated course twice now and can report this is easily the prettiest hole on the course. I played it again yesterday and was reminded of that. No. 16 is a 160-yard par-3, and you either make the green or you don’t. Besides the traps, there’s a bailout right. I hit an easy 7-iron, but most days it’d be a club less because you’ve got the ocean breeze behind you.

    Everyone in our threesome hit the green – and no one made the putt. I will say, though, that my 15-footer stopped an inch short due to recent maintenance, which created slow green conditions. Any other day, that putt goes in.

    No. 16 comes amid a great stretch of finishing holes that is more scoreable (and fun) that what awaits you on the Legends Course – the famed “Longest Mile in Golf.” I finally got my game together and played the final five holes in two-over. That’s the best stretch I’ve put together in a while.

     Anyway, if you club 16 right, it’s a great scoring opportunity on that home stretch. It’s also one of the holes you see as you arrive at the course. It’s just as fun to play as it is pretty to look at. I hope you get a chance to experience it.

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Highlight Hole: No. 8 at Strawberry Farms

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When reviewing golf courses from one golfer to another, we usually first default to brevity and try to capture the course in a word.

For instance, it’s common to describe a given course as “long,” “tough,” “hilly” or, best-case scenario, “fun.”

For Strawberry Farms in Irvine, that word is “tight,” which we all know is golf speak for narrow. That’s partly why I’ve shied away from this course when it has been presented as an option in the past.

Well, last week, there was no option. We had an online deal and this was the course we were playing. So I stocked up on golf balls and pointed my car north prepared to experience a little pain and frustration – & hopefully discover a great golf course along the way.

What I found is a beautiful course with a lot of scenic holes, many of which are, indeed, tight, especially on the back nine. In golf, this is what we call a shot-maker’s course, and you know it’s going to require strategy and to occasionally check your ego on the tee and hit iron.

One of the holes were you could, and probably should, do that is the short par-4 8th … but that’s not what I did. I went for it, and made it, thanks for a weapon in my bag that is more than the point of this post than the course.

As you can see from the photo, No. 8 is one of those diagonal fairways littered by bunkers. Playing it for the first time, it’s nearly impossible to pick the proper aim line because you don’t have any experience with the yardages and the landing area.

Well, the day we played I looked at the green sitting 292 yards out, noticed the wind behind me and decided there’d be no laying up. With that, I reached in my bag and pulled my 14-degree SLDR Mini Driver, the latest club breakthrough from TaylorMade. It’s a driver with a 260cc head that performs more like a 3-wood off the tee in terms of accuracy, but it’s got a Speed Slot so you still get distance. After two weeks of toying with this club, I hit it fairly straight and about 260-280 yards, about 20-40 less than my driver.

It’s ideal for a hole like No. 8, which is usually the type of hole that hands me my lunch because I hit a draw and struggle working the ball left to right. The Mini Driver turned this from a nervous tee shot into a confident one.

I hit a ball high in the wind, aimed at the front left of the green, and it carried the pot bunker in front and settled in some rough near the fringe. I’ve had a few success stories so far with this club, but this was by far the best.

My playing partner took his first swing with it and got similar success, though he was about 10 yards shorter and caught the pot bunker. Still, they were two impressive shots that ultimately produced pars.

You’ll be reading more about the Mini some pieces I’ve got coming up, but I wanted to share this experience because it’s one I’m not using elsewhere and is the example of the perfect shot scenario for this club.

If you try this club, you’ll notice you get a feel for it very quickly. The three people I’ve had try it have been immediately impressed.

With that quick trust in hand, you quickly start get a sense for when to pull this club. I’m using it as my driver right now and haven’t really tried hitting it out of the fairway, though I’m told it works well off the deck, too.

Anyway, if you happen to have a chance to experience this club, I’d appreciate you adding your two cents in the comments. I’m cataloging my Mini Moments as I continue to play with this club, and I’m sure you’ll see future posts here about it. Maybe I can include you.

Stay tuned to your local – heck, global – golf blog for more Mini news to come.

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Tee shots on No. 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JC Golf Spotlight Hole: No. 8 at Encinitas Ranch

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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.

Highlight Hole: No. 18 at Aviara

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The view of No. 18 from last year’s tournament

         As finishing holes go in San Diego, few, if any, come much tougher than No. 18 at Aviara.

         This dogleg right par-4 wraps around a lake that runs along most of the fairway and to the green, providing a serene and aesthetically pleasing finish, but also one that’s been known to swallow a lot of golf balls.

This hole was a major factor in the LPGA’s KIA Classic last year and not just because it hosted the two-hole playoff won by Beatriz Recari. It played as the toughest hole of the tournament, averaging well over par.

Aviara Director of Golf Renny Brown says the hole plays unusually tough for the tournament because of a unique circumstance.

“From the fairway, the grandstand build-out blocks the wind, so the flag doesn’t move. A lot of girls were coming up short last year because when the ball would get above the grandstand, the wind would knock it down,” Brown says. “They had trouble gauging the wind.”

The wind on 18 blows off the Pacific Ocean and Batiquitos lagoon, making it play even longer than the 413 yards from the blue tees, which is what the Kia uses.

The tee shot alone is challenge here to say the least. Besides water on your right, you’ve got out of bounds and bunkers lurking on your left. With the wind blowing, this fairway can feel very small.

According to a review of Aviara at worldgolf.com, Arnold Palmer once described this as the toughest finishing hole he’s ever designed.

It quoted Palmer as saying, “You have the lagoon on the left and a pond and waterfall to the right. Even if you hit a strong drive, you have to think on the approach, because the fairway narrows to 20 yards.

“It took me a long time to realize you need to be safe and go for the back of the green (on your second shot) to stay away from the water.”

At the Kia media day, Recari offered her professional opinion on how to play 18 from the tee.

“You have to play to the right, just inside the bunker,” Recari says. “I usually hit driver, but I hit 3-wood there last year (in the playoff) because the wind was up.

“If you land it to the right of that bunker, you’ve got a good chance.”

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         Recari plays a draw, as do I, which makes a driver a nervous play here for me. I took Recari’s advice on media day and pulled 3-wood. I hit the best shot I’ve ever hit on 18 and, though a little too close to the lake, I had 160 to get home and a good lie. And then … yank. OB.

I’ve done this the last three times (grrr) I’ve had played this hole. I suspect the wind is at work, though it mostly factors in in that it leaves me one club longer than what I’d prefer – my 7 iron.

Therefore, unfortunately, I can’t speak to going for birdie or par here, but Brown has a tip about reading putts on 18.

“Forget about putts breaking to the ocean,” he says. “Once you’re standing on the green, look back toward the fairway and use that tilt to judge the putt.”

Speaking of putts, new this year is a plaque on 18 honoring where Recari hit her winning putt from the fringe last year.

As well all know, hitting Aviara’s helipad-size green is one thing; putting them is another.

And given how straight the female Tour players hit it, putting is everything at the Kia, Brown says.

“The winner out here is going to be someone who’s top five in putting,” he says. “The greens are so massive out here that it becomes a putting contest.”

While 18 has a fierce reputation, Brown says it’s actually the second of closing one-two punch for the women, given that No. 17, a par-5, is the longest hole on the LPGA at 565 yards.

That leaves the drivable par-4 16th as the best last stand for birdie. Because if it comes down to 18, you’re really going to earn it.

For my part, I plan to stake out 18 this week until I see a birdie, just to see what one looks like there. And while I’m waiting, maybe I’ll go see if any of my old approach shots are still buried beneath the brush on the Batiquitos trail.

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JC Golf: JC Golf Spotlight Hole – No. 15 at Twin Oaks

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One of the unique joys of establishing a long-term relationship with a golf course is the development of pet scoring strategies on certain strategic holes that, over time, almost become like secret recipes.

For instance, were I to give my scoring strategy for the dogleg-left par-4 15th at Twin Oaks in recipe form, it might go something like this.

Go easy on the rescue off the tee. Aim for the upper fairway and let the ball settle nicely into the lower fairway, just short of the pond. Then give it a full gap wedge with a dash of backspin into a receptive back-to-front sloping green. Finish with preferably one putt, but sometimes it takes two. Recipe can make birdie, but mostly makes par and the occasional bad batch – a bogey.

Just as tastes differ, so do strengths and strategies, but the beauty and fun is finding what works for you.

I had a wonderful opportunity during my round at Twin Oaks on Wednesday to sample the array of ways to approach No. 15.

For those who haven’t played it, this hole is a sharp dogleg left with a pond and two fir trees lurking on the left. The fairway is tiered with collection bunkers looming at the end, about 250 yards out.  The hole plays to 350 yards from the blue tees, 332 from the white.

The variable here is wind coming from behind the green, which we didn’t have on Wednesday. With that wind, no one’s getting home in one here.

But on our windless Wednesday, Austin, a strapping 20-something and the big hitter in our group, nearly pulled off the driver’s dream at this hole, which is risking the water and reaching the green with a power draw. His ball settled just below the greenside bunker on the left.

I faithly executed my tried and true, which left my playing partners fretting for a water ball, but my Titleist stopped short. Always does.

Then the two senior members of our foursome, Johnny and Peter, hit driver and 3-wood, respectively, from the white tees to both find the upper fairway with a bird’s-eye view of the green.

Four different approaches, three different outcomes, but each shot executed to each golfer’s optimal outcome. Easy game, huh?

Well …

I’d love to report four birdies. Or three. Or two. Or one.

Alas, regrettably, they all got away. Two pars, two bogeys and four golfers shaking their heads. Last names are being withheld to protect the innocent, save for Johnny Georgedes from Poway, who has played No. 15 for more than a decade and still professed an affinity for the hole post round.

“I like the fact the designer (Ted Robinson) designed it so you can play it with anything from a six-iron to a driver,” he said. “And as I’ve aged, that’s what I’ve transitioned to. I hit my driver about 235 yards now. I play it between the two center traps and then let the hill take it further. And if it doesn’t, I’m 135 out playing on a flat lie.”

Georgedes has a reason for preferring that second shot besides it being an optimal wedge distance.

“I just love the look of the hole from the up there,” he says. “It’s a really pretty shot looking down on the pond. It’s a very aesthetically pleasing golf hole, especially when you score well, but even when you don’t.”

Twin Oaks Head Professional Troy Ferguson says the versatility of No. 15 makes it one of the great strategy holes in JC Golf. Ferguson says the options even include, for those who play a fade, hitting it at the water.

“Take your 130- to 150-yard club and hit your pull-slice and you’ll end up hitting your second from a perfectly flat spot at a comfortable distance,” he says.

For some golfers, that would be eight- or nine-iron off the tee, which means everything above wedge truly is an option.

But Ferguson mostly espouses playing the hole straight away.

“Your best bet is to just hit it straight and long and let the contour of the course work for you,” he says. “ If you push it right, the hill likely will kick you into the upper fairway. If you hit the right fairway, you might end up on the lower left fairway. Either way, you’re set to go pin hunting.”

Players who decide to hit driver and go for the green need to weigh that decision, Ferguson says, in part based on how their round is going and factor in past success.

“Play to your strengths and build on what your game has been telling you all day,” he says. “Don’t expect to be able to hit a big draw around the corner if you haven’t been able to hit a draw all round.

“No. 15 offers you the opportunity to play whatever ball flight you have been playing all round.”

      JC Golf would love to hear your favorite strategies and success stories for No. 15 at Twin Oaks. Feel to post a comment and share your experiences at http://www.jcgolf.com.

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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Highlight Hole: Meadow Lake GC No. 4

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First, the bad news about the par-3 4th at Meadow Lake Golf Club in Escondido: This is where play backs up.

The good news: You won’t mind. This hole is as much a joy to look at as it is to play.

No. 4 plays to 176 yards from the back tees and 160 from the blues, but the significant elevation change makes it play significantly shorter. The yardage book says one to two clubs “under normal conditions,” but it played to three clubs with the wind behind us the first time I played it. That meant I reached with an easy 9-iron.

The next time I played it, however, the wind was coming from the right and a smooth 8-iron found the front left trap. I’ve played it three times now and it hasn’t played the same twice.

That’s part of the fun of this hole, which I’m told used to play to a par-5 – using what’s now the No. 5 green – but it was changed to a par-3 to spare homeowners from errant tee shots.

Meadow Lake is uniquely situated with views of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges. That makes for several stunning vistas, but none are better than what you see off the tee at No. 4.

While the tee shot is a bit of a guessing game – fyi: there’s ample room short and left – it’s only half the battle. I have yet to par this hole despite three great chances. The green is deceptively slippery, with putts moving right and being unexpectedly quick. It’s tough to prepare for if you haven’t played here previously. I’ve decided I’m going back until I make par or better here.

Southern California is blessed with a bevy of fun elevated par-3s. Add Meadow Lake to list of those check out. I’m banking par will elude you at first and you’ll want to come back, if not for the score then for the view.

JC Golf Spotlight Hole: No. 17 at Encinitas Ranch

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Photo courtesy of JC Golf

There are ocean views from 11 holes at Encinitas Ranch, but water – not the ocean – only actually comes into play on three.

The one hole where you get the most of both is No. 17.

Played against an expansive backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, and often into an ocean breeze, the par-3 17th lurks as potential stumbling blocking toward the end of your round.

Playing to 185 yards from the blues and 160 from the white, the large pond to the right has attracted its share of tee shots over the years. But with the large green to hit and the bailout area to the left, that doesn’t have to be you.

Encinitas Ranch General Manager Erik Johnson says people playing the hole for the first time make a common mistake that leads to bad outcomes.

“You don’t want to go at the right side of that green, even when the pin is over there,” he says. “That doesn’t allow enough room for your miss, and the next thing you know your shot is high, right and caught in the wind and you’re wet.”

(FYI: If your ball finds the lake, the drop zone is about 50 yards from the left front of the green.)

When I played the hole recently, I felt my felt my threesome had a fairly representative experience. My first playing partner’s tee shot met the fate described above. My other partner missed the green short and left.

Having my own history with this hole, I chose to club up and ignore the front pin and try to hit the middle of the green. My hybrid carried beyond the back of the green and right, where I discovered a collection area I didn’t know existed.

The two of us who stayed dry off the tee both got up and down for par. Our third impressively scrambled to save bogey.

We played the hole around 4 p.m., the time when Johnson says the hole is usually play its toughest.

“About 10 or 11 in the morning that prevailing wind kicks up,” he says. “It starts out as about one club and then can become two, especially when the pin is in the back. And people don’t factor in that as the day gets cooler, the fall doesn’t fly as far, so you might lose 10 yards off your 5-iron.”

And from the back tees, largely because of the wind, this hole is a long iron for most players, including Johnson.

“The best strategy I’ve come up with is to take a little bit more club, choke down and always play to the left-hand side of the green,” he says. “I’m going to resign myself to a two-putt or getting up and down if I miss the green.

“But that chip isn’t a gimme. It challenges people.”

No. 17 follows a short par-4 and leads into the par-5 18th. Johnson says there’s a chance for a strong close to your round -as long you don’t let it get away at 17.

“What you really don’t want is double bogey or worse,” he says. “Four is a pretty OK score on 17 and three can feel like a birdie.”

Tom Watson lamented on Twitter recently – yes, Tom Watson is on Twitter – that players who are smartly willing to lay up on tough par-4s and -5s, stubbornly won’t use the same approach on a par-3.

If you really struggle with this hole, that might be something to consider here.

Feel free to share your successes, struggles and strategies for No. 17, especially if you’ve ever made an ace here. JC Golf would love to hear about your experiences with this challenging par-3.

You can also find this post at jcgolf.com, where you can also book a lesson or a tee time at one of their six North County courses.