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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Highlight Hole: No. 14 at Aviara

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Prior to teeing off at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, the starter informs you that you’re about to enter an 18-hole botanical garden that also happens to be a golf course. The Hyatt resort course more than lives up to those lofty landscape expectations, providing impeccable natural accents to nearly every hole, but especially the par-3s.

Aviara gives numerous worthy candidates for a Highlight Hole feature, but I decided on No. 14 because it captures the essence and challenge of Aviara and because it’s a hole you might miss if you go as a spectator for the LPGA tourney. The hole is at the most remote part of the course, but the setting is entirely worth the trip.

No. 14 plays up to 190 yards from the blue tees, but it played closer to the white-tee distance of 164 on Sunday. Save for the water on the right, this doesn’t look like a tough tee shot. For one, look at the size of that green. As many greens are at Aviara, it’s spacious, to say the least. But I can tell you from experience, it’s one whale of a putt if you hit the green in a different zip code than the hole. You’re primed for a three-putt.

And 190 off the tee is different story than 164. It’s advisable to club up here as I’ve been told it plays long, though I’ve only played it twice. I’ll keep the technicals brief on this one because playing the hole is only half the experience.

The green view is stunning. That pond is fed by three waterfalls, which become visible once you reach the green. And then you get an elevated view of the entire water feature when you tee off on No. 15. It’s a magnificent little corner of the course and begins a terrific stretch of holes to the finish that provide a great balance of scenic and score-able, save for perhaps No. 18, the No. 2 handicap hole.

I botched 14 by pushing my tee shot right into thick rough near the water. After a  tough chip, I two-putted to bogey a hole that played probably as easily as it can play that day. Short tee. Pin away from the water. Reasonable green speed. Oh, well.

I look forward to next time and wish you well on your first if you haven’t played here yet. You should always stop to smell the flowers, as the say, when playing golf, but that’s especially true at Aviara.

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View of the shared water feature from the 15th tee box.