The Year in Par-3s, Part III

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Highlight Hole: No. 5 at La Costa (Legends Course)

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La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad recently completed a $50 million renovation that included an extensive makeover of both 18-hole championship golf courses.

I was part of a media contingent on Tuesday that was the first to play the renovated Legends Course (formerly the South Course). You might recall the South from its days of hosting the PGA Tour’s Accenture Match Play, which was last held at La Costa in 2000.

I have now played both renovated 18s and will have more to say about them in future posts, but for now I just wanted to give you a little glimpse of the new look of the Legends Course.

This is the par-4 5th, the last of the five par-4s the Legends Course opens with. No. 5 is a mid-length par-4 – 370 yards from the blues and 346 from the whites – that plays even shorter due to the downhill. It’s a bit of a breather after what’s actually a pretty tough stretch of opening holes, but, overall, it’s indicative of what you get on the Legends Course.

You can see the reworked bunkers waiting near the landing area, and this is how bunkering tends to be at La Costa – more strategically placed than plentiful.

There’s plenty of room left, but I pushed my tee shot right and flirted with a drainage ditch on the right side. Fortunately the healthy rough held me up 2 feet short. I had a pitch over a tree to what is the Legends Course’s best defense – small greens.

This is one thing that really didn’t change much during the redesign. Whereas the greens on the Champions Course are pretty sizeable, the Legends Course greens remain quite small by modern standards but true to the original design from 1969. Let’s just say you earn every GIR on the Legends Course.

Unfortunately, my approach hit the bank next to the green and bounded off into the bunker. I ended up making an unsatisfying five given that I was within 50 yards off the tee.

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Not the ideal approach at No. 5

There are certainly tougher holes – although this is the No. 5 handicap, which surprised me – on the Legends Course but this one is undoubtedly pleasing to the eye.

The originally routing on the Legends Course remains intact, but the greens on Nos. 1, 12 and 15 were slightly relocated during the renovation and the 17 green was moved most significantly, closer to the water. That doesn’t me mean much to those of us, like me, who barely knew the old course (I only played it once) but members are certain to appreciate the changes, which actually made the course play a little shorter. It’s now 6,587 from the blue tees and almost 7,000 from the tips.

No. 15, a dandy dogleg left par-4 with a carry over a creek on the second shot, starts what the pros used to call “The Longest Mile in Golf,” named for the lengthy finishing holes, often played into a stiff ocean breeze, that stood between them and the finish. I can tell you the wind was dead into us on Tuesday and it wasn’t pretty on the scorecards.

While La Costa is a private club, it is open to public play. My understanding is that daily play for members and guests will rotate between the two courses with the members having sole access to one course each day.

If you’ve played the South Course (Legends) in the past, you may find one thing disappointing when you return. The signage that used to commemorate famous shots from the pros – such as Phil Mickelson driving the green on 15 (really????) and Tiger Woods being the first player to reach the par-5 17 in two – are gone.

It’s a shame that history won’t be marked going forward, but I guess the reasoning is that it isn’t the same course, which, in the case of No. 17, for instance, is certainly true.

Still, the Legends is a serious test of golf and La Costa, especially with its glorious Christmas tree, sparkles as a venue and gives you that feel of being in one of golf’s special places.

If you play the renovated courses and read this, feel free to post your comments on the new-look La Costa as there are certainly many who are more familiar with the courses than I and can give a more informed take.

For more extensive details about the renovation, you can go to www.lacosta.com.

Equipment Insider: Talking Golf Shafts With John Hovis of Fujikura

This is the first of what will become an occasional series, in conjunction with world-renowned Vista-based golf shaft manufacturer and supplier Fujikura, about golf shafts, the fitting process and fitters. In this first installment, we profile Fujikura’s John Hovis, a veteran fitter and manager of Fujikura’s Fit-On Studio. John provides his insights about the shaft-fitting process and what can be gained for your game.

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Name: John Hovis

 Hometown: Phoenix

 Family: Lives in San Marcos, Calif., with his wife and four kids, including twin daughters

 College: Golf Academy of America and entered the PGA apprentice program at Kapalua after graduation

Career at Fujikura: He started in 2003 in product development and as a tour rep. John currently works in product development and manages the fitting studio in Vista and continues tour-related responsibilities involving product supply and repair.

 Years of fitting experience: 21

How to maximizing your fitting session: Know what you want to work on and what club(s) you want fit – driver, woods, irons. Be prepared to answer questions about tendencies, ball flight, misses, etc. What’s the change/improvement you’re seeking?

Fitting philosophy: We work with the swing that walks in the door. We want you to walk out very confident that you can take to the golf course what we produced indoors.

Fit insight: We test our designs on tour first, but if it works there, we know it’s going to work for every flex down the line.

Famous fits: A lot of former and current football, baseball and hockey players. They mastered their sport and then were humbled by golf, and they like that challenge. We’ve had LaDanian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk, but Leslie O’Neal (former Chargers defensive end) was an interesting fit.

His swing was all force, all big muscles, and we used a very stiff handle to handle his very hard down swing. Then we needed to help him time it at the bottom with a softer shaft tip so that so he’d deliver that clubface squarely.

 Future of fitting: The advancement of materials, particularly graphite, is really exciting. In the grand scheme of things, graphite iron shafts are still relatively new. There have been huge strides the last five years to make them play like steel.

Graphite iron shafts have gained in popularity on tour, but the benefits are great for the amateur player as well. The dampening effect of graphite is great for joint pain, arthritis, back pain, etc. Graphite can decrease the amount of stress on every shot for all of that, and maybe that allows someone to play a little longer, practice a little longer.

The stigma of inconsistency graphite used to have is gone. It’s miles beyond and really where amateurs should seek to make a change.

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.

Power Trip: The Par-5s at The Crossings

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The green on No. 7 at The Crossings

         Opinions vary about the Carlsbad’s city course, The Crossings – usually in direct proportion to people’s ability to make the canyon carries – but one group that unilaterally loves it here are the big hitters.

         The reason why? The par-5s.

         If you’re long off the tee, you’re a little – or even a lot – longer here thanks to a natural assist on three of the four par-5s. That power boost gives you the green light to go for those three holes in two, although I know people who’ve made all four, but challenging the water on No. 7 seems more an ego play than smart strategy.

         Length comes in handy for sure on some of the par-4s as well – particularly the brutish uphill No. 6 – but the reward, especially emotionally, isn’t the same as really sailing one on holes 4, 15 and 16, the holes with the elevated tee boxes, and then pondering the possibility of eagle as you drive to your ball.

         I’ve made three of the four par-5 greens in two and am here to show you the way home and take a closer look at what many probably consider the four most fun holes on the course.

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         No. 4, 572 yards (blacks), 567 (blues), 561 (whites) – No matter where you tee it up, you’re aiming at the same place: just to the left – five yards or so – of the driving stake. Carry the canyon, hit it there and at between 260 and 270 yards, there’s a speed slot that will reward you with 25 or even 30 more yards and a level lie to go for the green.

         About that green: it’s the size of a helipad, unusually large for a par-5, but that’s what makes it all the more tempting. About the risk: see that sand trap just off the right side of the fairway before the green? It comes up faster than you think. Fly it and you’re OB.

         If you end up short of the green here, your ball settles into a collecting area, perfect for a pitch in with birdie still attainable.

         This is your most likely hole to land an eagle.

         No. 7, 556 yards (blacks), 546 (blues), 529 (whites) – The Crossings’ signature hole, located just past the end of the Callaway driving range, has a slightly downhill fairway that leads to a beautifully landscaped waterfall finish.

         Really, any tee shot that doesn’t land on the street left here, or too high on the hillside on the right, will do because you’re laying up on your second, but for the thrill seekers that want to challenge the water and try to get home in two, you’ve probably go to be slightly left to give yourself an angle and not be blocked by the hillside.

         I’m normally driver/6-iron/wedge here into a green with a ridge dividing it into upper and lower tiers. The one way I’ve messed this hole up is get greedy on my second shot and pull it into the bunkers on the left. That’s not an approach shot you want. I’ve splashed down every time.

         Otherwise, the approach shot can produce some interesting outcomes here. My last wedge in caught the ridge and pulled back to within a few feet of flag. I’ve seen people use the natural backstop here with mixed results. Sometimes it releases and sometimes … well, have fun chopping it out of a severe downhill lie toward the water.

         It’s the least likely of the four to eagle, but probably the most likely to birdie because it forces you to play smart.

          No. 15, 543 yards (blacks), 520 (blues), 492 (whites) – Another elevated tee to a downhill fairway, and the trickiest tee shot of the four par-5 tee shots. The fairway is a dogleg left and you don’t have nearly the room right that it appears. In fact, it seems to run out at around 250 yards and then sends you sailing into the canyon. You need to adjust left – and possibly left again – and choose an aim point that fits your shot shape. I originally took it at the bridge in the distance and drew it back. I’ve since adjusted even inside that. I’ve had the edge of the distance office building suggested as the line for those who hit a fade.

         You really can’t go too left here as the hill brings you back to the fairway most often. But again, a big drive here will catch the gravity train and really go. I’ve seen a 400-yarder here.

         The second shot involves a ravine carry, but that’s non-factor if you’re really in eagle range. I’ve gotten home easily with a hybrid here and actually, for me, this has been the most reachable green of the four.

         The biggest obstacle to eagle is that mounded/tiered green and pin placement. Left is a definite eagle pin, but reaching the lower right side takes either extreme marksmanship or one lucky roll on the green.

         The green makes me rank this as the second most probably hole to yield an eagle.

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         No. 16, 558 yards (blacks), 550 (blues), 492 (whites) – Even if you don’t play the tips, you might want to hit one here just for the view, which catches more of the gorge than the blues and whites. It’s one of my favorite views on the course.

         Tag one here and you’ll watch your ball soar above the valley and hopefully settle in with 230 or less to get home. The left side of the fairway takes off a little distance, but the right gives you a better angle on a hole with a dogleg left at the end.

         In all likelihood, you’ll have a blind approach. The green resides to the left of the pine tree on the cart path and is elevated and surrounded by bunkers. It’s a smallish target but I’ve landed a hybrid there with no trouble. Last time I played, I nearly reached with a 5-iron after teeing off from the blacks. My ball failed to draw, however, and I landed in the cluster bunkers to the right, but I was able to get up and down.

         The layup is the smart play, but other than a possible OB, a missed run at the green is plenty salve-able here. Eagles are more rare here than 5 & 15, but birdies still abound. 

        Anyway, if you’re feeling on your game with your driver, now you know where to go to squeeze a little more out of your long game and hopefully have birdie or better on your card to show for it.