Putting: Fast Greens 101


How confident would you feel if this sign greeted you on the first tee?

I played Stoneridge Country Club in Poway Monday morning, and if you’ve heard anything about Stoneridge, it’s likely about their lightning-quick green speeds.

The greens on Monday were zipping along at a 13 and seemed to only get faster as the round progressed. (For comparison, Augusta National reportedly can run between 13 and 15 for The Masters.)

I used to struggle with putting fast greens, but a simple tip I received (that I’ll share later) after a nightmarish putting round in school last January during a tournament at Lomas Santa Fe CC helped me quite a bit.

What it used to be like for me is something like what happened to the player I was paired with Monday. Not having played Stoneridge before, he putted the ball OFF the first two greens and then got so skittish he three-putted inside 20 feet – three times. Painful.

He reacted the way the course wants you to react, which is to get tentative and become unsure of your stroke. When green speeds rise is when you’ve really got to buckle down on the basics of putting to be successful.

His three-putts came from decelerating, which is the death of any golf shot, including putting. Faster greens speeds make avoiding this more difficult because you’re trying not to be overaggressive, but you’ve got to maintain that acceleration through the putt or it’ll end of short, off line, or both.

A better answer is simply to shorten your stroke, cut down the takeaway and focus on the line and finishing the stroke.

This is where a guy like Dave Pelz and some of the other renowned putting gurus of golf can give you much better technical advice than you’ll get here. But faster green speeds also seem to amplify problems you have with your putting stroke in general, so if you really struggle, you might want to have your stroke looked at. I can tell you the guy I played with needed a major putting overhaul, which certainly didn’t help his situation.

The one thing I’m sure of when I step on a golf course is my putting. I may not always hole a bunch, but I keep my three-putts to a minimum and have rarely yipped my way to a bunch of extra strokes like I did on occasion in school tournaments.

The tip I got after my putting debacle at Lomas was the simplest, and possible best, putting lesson I’ve ever received. The more I learn about putting, the more I come back to this, especially when green speeds soar as they tend to do this time of year in California.

You ready for it? Here it is: Make a smooth stroke.

That’s not exactly the stuff of 30-minute infomercials much less entire books about putting, but if you think about it, there’s a lot of wisdom there.

When green speeds pick up, what to people do? They change their stroke. The often get stabby with their stroke or otherwise lose their tempo. At worst, they use that stroke that STOPS at the ball, which never works.

If anything, you want to exaggerate the finish to make sure the putter is going down the line.

The other tactic, or swing thought, I adopt when greens getting humming over 10 is this: Hit it half. For me, that means half the distance. Pick a point halfway to the hole and trust the green to carry it the rest of the way.

You might not hole a lot of putts this way, but you likely won’t be facing a bunch of those dreadful 6- and 8-foot comebackers either.

Anyway, “make a smooth stroke” paid the greatest dividends for me this year when I played Barona Creek, where the greens are quick but also role true. If you read it right and control your pace, you can make putts there. I know. I did.

So the next time you feel greens are pushing you over your speed limit, check your stroke and remember to stay a “smooth” operator under fire.

The Year in Par-3s, Part III


Photo courtesy of http://www.sandiegogolf.com

I conclude my three look at 2013’s most memorable par-3s with three more holes that made indelible first impressions.


No. 3 at Aviara Golf Club (Carlsbad)

As a group, the par-3s at Aviara are the best I’ve played in San Diego County.

They’re a sensational mix of distance, difficulty and beauty. The long uphill par-3 6th is the only one not played over water, and it’s undoubtedly the toughest of the bunch. How often do you say that about a course?

The answer I’m probably supposed to give in this space is No. 11, since it’s the signature hole and certainly botanically beautiful, as almost all of Aviara is.

But I’m going with No. 3, which is plenty gorgeous in its own right, because it was the more memorable hole from personal experience and from attending the LPGA’s Kia Classic.

As you can see from the photo, No. 3 is a short par-3 played to a green, by far one of the smaller ones on the course, with water looming left and right. It can also be water short and right depending on where they put the tee box. This holes has multiple tees that vary how the hole is played tremendously, which is one of the things I really love about it.

I remember walking up on this hole at the Kia and just marveling at it. It’s a short par-3 that is beautifully framed and accented, but this beauty is tougher than it looks.

At the Kia, I watched this hole be feast or feminine for the pros. It’s a terrific tournament hole to watch because you get such a great range of golf.

Personally, I found the water right (Splish!) and then right (Splash!) again the first two times I played it. The third time, my ball finally found the green on the right side, leaving me a devilish downhiller that I nearly sank for birdie.

Amongst my golf friends who play here, No. 3 is one those holes that becomes like soap in the shower: Birdie slips away time after time on this hole even when you think you’ve got it down and know every putt by heart.

Another cool thing about this hole, and the course itself, is that you can really appreciate the change of seasons here. It’s beautiful year round, but, as you can see at top, spectacular when the course is blooming.

You may not par all the par-3s at Aviara, but changes are you won’t have to think too hard to remember them.


No. 16 at Barona Creek (Lakeview)

I might nickname this hole “The Speed Bump” because it kept from me shooting what should’ve been a pretty nice number on the back nine at Barona twice.

It’s not a long hole – just a shade under 140 yards – but I can’t seem to club it right, and, as you can see, save for leaving it way out left, there’s no good miss here. The myriad of deep bunkers short and long, not to mention the deep native grasses, have the pin here protected like Fort Knox.


This hole and the one I posted from Wilshire CC have a lot in common, but this one’s tougher.

If I can solve No. 16, I’m confident I can break 40 on the back at Barona as long as the green speeds are reasonable.

I look forward to giving it a go on what certainly was one of my favorite courses this year. I have yet to find a golfer who’s played here who doesn’t speak longingly about going back.

There is a seductive quality about the course and a challenge that, intentionally, always seems just a round away from being met. I plan to meet it in 2014.


No. 17 at Dove Canyon CC (Dove Canyon)

California is blessed with an abundance of elevated par-3s, so much so that people seem to take them a bit for granted, like par-3s are just born that way. Being from the Midwest, I can tell you they aren’t.

That said, I can’t imagine anyone taking 17 at Dove Canyon for granted.

When you come to the tee on 17, especially the back tees, you can’t help but do a double-take and then just laugh. It looks like you’ve discovered the Grand Canyon of golf. It’s a golf hole that seems a bit preposterous, yet totally great.

You’re so high up that the flagstick stick looks small, like you might be mistaking it for a landscaping stake or something.

It seriously feels like you’re hitting it off a 10-story building. And no matter where you tee it up, I deem it to be about a two-club drop.

From the blue tees, I hit an easy 8-iron that nearly flew the green. I surely could’ve gotten home jumping on a pitching wedge.

But the tee shot is only half the story here. The green has dramatic drop-offs on the front and back. My ball landed beyond that back tier. Figuring I’d have to muscle it up the five-foot rise to get it to the hole, I watched my putt clear the ridge and shoot right past the hole. A two-putt comebacker left me with a bogey.

This is really the kind of hole where you’d love to take a shag bag to the tee and just drop wedges and short irons to see if you could get lucky. It certainly rated as one of the most fun holes of the year.

I also recall that as I walked off the green, I spied a speck of white in the bushes. I plucked out a lost ball stamped “The Olympic Club” – you know, that little place where they played the U.S. Open two years ago?

One of my rules is that you can tell the quality of the course you’re playing by the lost balls you find. And this is the course were I saw the 20 deer.

Yes, Mr. Nicklaus has created quite an experience here. And hats off to you on No. 17.


Golf Day Trip: Barona Creek


I’m going to keep this one short because there’s more coming down the road about Barona Creek, but I wanted to at least throw this up to introduce Barona to those of you who haven’t played it or aren’t familiar.

Barona is a casino/resort course located in northeast San Diego County amongst the San Diego foothills in Lakeside. Locals know Barona well and know why it rates so highly amongst California courses, but my sense is that it has a bit lower profile regionally and nationally than, say, the coast courses in that the golf friends I’ve told about Barona haven’t been familiar.

That’s a shame because, among other things, Barona shows what great diversity there is amongst California golf experiences – something I think people wildly underestimate about the state– and this would be one of the first places I would recommend.

Barona is a creature of its remote environment, providing a solitary golf experience in a prairie/desert landscape dotted by oak trees. Barona is particularly known for the high quality of its greens, and there in also lies the challenge. You’re putting on a rollercoaster when you play Barona and you better be able to control your speed or you’re in for a long, bumpy ride.

Anyway, there are plenty of holes to highlight at Barona but I’m singling out No. 9 this time because it visually gives you most of the dominant elements at Barona – mountains, prairie grass, water, desert scape, very natural-looking and expansive bunkers and the resort itself.

No. 9 is a par-4 that plays 383 from the golds and 408 from the tips. It’s classic Barona in that there’s not much intimidating here visually and very little of what trouble you do see should come into play – including the creek crossing in front of the green – so a driver/short iron/two-putt par seems plausible. Yet if you get complacent or careless with the approach or a putt, you’ll wind up finding extra strokes on your card.


If you look at the green view, you’ll notice what you’re in for if you hit your approach and end up above the hole here. I speak from experience when I say that’s a quick one. Pin placements can turn birdies into bogeys or worse at Barona. It’s that kind of course.

But that challenge is part of what keeps from my friends coming back here. The margin at Barona between a great round and feeling like one got away can be very slight. I’ve played here twice and truly felt like I had one of each.

I look forward to the rematch and some revised strategies for a course that has a way of drawing you back, enticing you with the promise of that round to remember on an unforgettable golf course.