JC Golf: Drive, Chip and Putt at Encinitas Ranch Q & A

 

 

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          A year ago, the PGA instituted its answer to the NFL’s long-standing “Punt, Pass and Kick” youth skills competition with “Drive, Chip & Putt.”

          The competition culminated in the finals being held at Augusta National the week of the Masters, which got the attention of youth golfers everywhere – and their parents.

          Seeing the finalists on television at the Masters, including 11-year-old Lucy Li, who played in last week’s LPGA U.S. Open, has already sparked a rise in this year’s turnout. To handle the anticipated increase, the Southern California PGA has expanded the number of Southern California local qualifiers from 10 to 14, including one for the first time at Encinitas Ranch on July 7th.

          Finalists in the four age divisions for boys and girls at Encinitas Ranch will advance to a sub-regional on Aug. 18th at La Costa Resort and Spa and then on to Torrey Pines on Sept. 13th to compete for the trip to Augusta.

          Matt Gilson, Player Development Manager at the Southern California PGA, took a few minutes recently to answer some questions about this year’s competition.

Q. Southern California had two winners at last year’s inaugural competition at Augusta. What was their experience like?

A. Everybody had a blast. They got to meet (past champion) Adam Scott and (current champion) Bubba Watson. Going to the Master is every golfer’s dream come true. And they got everything covered for them and one parent, including tickets to the practice round on Monday. The whole package was really good.”

Q. How much has seeing all that one TV stirred interest this time around?

Sign-ups were a little slow because we were competing with school, but they’re starting to pick up. We’re definitely seeing an increase in participation. And I’ve seen kids who’ve never picked up a club before now going to the range the week before. There’s definitely motivation there with kids realizing they could end up on TV.

Q. Besides the increased number of qualifiers, how has the competition changed in year two? And what are the age categories?

Last year, we maxed out our qualifiers at 120 participants and this year it’s 200. The age ranges are 7-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15 with both boys and girls division. And those ages are determined by how old they would be on April 5th, 2015, which is the date of the national championship, so the youngest age to enter would be 6 if they would but 7 on or by April 5th, 2015.

Q. How does the competition work?

It’s a nine-shot competition that starts with putting. There’s a 6-foot putt, a 15 foot and a 30 foot. The hole is surrounded by scoring rings that provide points for how close they get. The max is 25 points for a holed putt.

They then have three chip shots, from about 12-15 yards, to a hole with scoring rings out to 10 feet and a make, again, is worth 25 points.

Then they have three swings on a 40-by-300-yard grid on a driving range. Beyond 300 yards is 25 points.

The highest total score wins and the top three in each age division advances from that age group’s qualifier to the next round. The top two in the sub-regional advance to Torrey Pines and the boy and girl winner in each division advances to the championship at Augusta.

Q. How do players or parents register, and how much does it cost?

Registration is free, and players sign up at www.drivechipandputt.com.

Q. What’s the atmosphere like at these events?

It’s competitive, but we still want kids to have fun. That’s the most important thing.

 

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.

JC Golf: The Ranch Grill at Encinitas Ranch Is Now Open

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         The Encinitas Ranch Golf Course’s remodeled bar and grill, now known as the Ranch Grill, is officially open and will soon be serving a brand new menu.

The Ranch Grill is the third phase of an extensive $1 million renovation of Encinitas Ranch.

Encinitas Ranch General Manager Erik Johnson describes the Ranch Grill as a “coastal casual gastropub” that is meant to encourage post-round camaraderie and be conducive to sports-related social gatherings.

“I want it to be like when I was young and for golf to become more social again, like it was meant to be. When I was a young golf professional, players would hang out at the club for another two or three hours,” he says. “We want people to come in here and settle their bets, talk about their rounds and hang out to watch the game.

“It’s healthy for the game of golf to have people hanging out at the golf course.”

Encouraging that sort of activity started with a complete remodeling of the bar and grill space. Wood paneling now compliments new wood furniture that is grouped around eight television sets, including five large flat screens that will soon be connected to a brand new sound system.

Guests will immediately notice three large communal tables made of aged wood that can seat up to eight people comfortably.

Part of the $200,000 investment included doubling the beer taps to eight. Johnson says this was done in part to cater to the new menu, which will pair local craft brews and pub-type comfort food.

“It’s not fancy,” Johnson says of the new dining theme, “but it is upscale and fun.”

Eight-ounce burgers form the base of the new menu, which will also include sandwiches, salads, an array of appetizers and breakfast.

A “secret ingredient” to the new menu is Canadian culinary creation called poutine. Native to Quebec, poutine consists of French fries topped with a light brown gravy-like sauce and cheese curds.

“We’ve added beer and cheddar to make it an amazing gravy to have over any of our menu items,” Johnson says.

While golfers are, naturally, the immediate target for the new space, Johnson says he has ambitions of the Ranch Grill becoming a dining destination for members of the community for the sheer experience of enjoying a delicious meal in the setting of a beautiful golf course.

“I think it’s going to be a cool place to hang out whether you’re a golfer or not,” Johnson says.

Here’s a sampling of menu items you can look forward to soon:

Smoked Bacon & I.P.A Chili – Harvest vegetables, ground turkey, picked herbs and tomatoes roasted and stewed with a local I.P.A.

Waffle Fry ‘Poutine’ – Crisp waffle fries topped with cheese and our house garlic & cheddar I.P.A. poutine gravy.

TJ Dog – Bacon-wrapped all-beef hot dog, chipotle mayo, avocado slices, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce.

Cali Burger – Pepper jack cheese, avocado slices, lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo.

The Poutine Burger – Topped with cheddar I.P.A. gravy fries.

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.

JC Golf – Encinitas Ranch: Slow Play? No Way

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Editor’s Note: Socalgolfblog.com will be providing weekly blog content for JC Golf and its group of courses in Southern California. Those posts will appear here and at http://www.jcgolf.com.

New pace of play initiative keeps things moving at Encinitas Ranch

On Sept. 1, Encinitas Ranch instituted a new pace of play initiative that General Manager Erik Johnson says not only has proven effective but has been supported strongly by regular patrons of the course.

“I’ve had a ton of positive responses about us carrying through on this,” Johnson says, “and, yes, we’ve seen more players coming out because of it.”

The process of encouraging proper pace begins with simple awareness of the target time of 4 hours, 30 minutes, or less, for a round. Johnson says players are made aware of this expectation at the time of reservation, check-in and again at the starter.

And the 4:30 goal actually begins after 9 a.m. Before that, it’s faster.

“We want our 8 a.m. group to play in four hours,” Johnson says. “Then until 9 a.m., the goal is 4:15.”

Pace is monitored at the fourth hole, where a players’ assistant times the groups and then assists any group that has fallen behind.

“We have someone go with that group until they’re back in position,” Johnson says. “If that means shooting yardages, raking bunkers, pulling the flagstick, we do it. If it takes several holes, then that’s what it takes.

“Our goal isn’t to scold or upset people. It’s our goal to assist them so everybody has a great day.”

Overall, Johnson says 90 percent of the course’s patrons play to pace. It’s the remaining 10 percent that the initiative targets.

“My dilemma is that the person at 8 a.m. pays the same amount as someone at 11:30. Those two people deserve the same golf experience.”

A hectic two-week holiday period, which saw increased play beyond the seasonal average due to summer-like temperatures, gave the new initiative a stern test, but Johnson says the new program produced impressive results.

“We didn’t have a round go over 4:30,” he says proudly.

In a hospitality industry, Johnson says pace can be as much a political issue as a playing issue, but the staff at Encinitas Ranch has found an approach that works on both fronts.

“We wanted to do more than set an expectation. We wanted to be assertive about reinforcing that expectation,” he says.

“Pace can be a difficult conversation to have on the golf course but we’re trying to find a positive approach to it.”

Tips to Speed Up Your Play

–       Always carry a second ball.

–       Don’t figure your scores at the green; do it at the next tee box.

–       When sharing a cart, when possible, try to park between shots and have each player walk to his/her ball.

–       Don’t honor the honor system; play ready golf, especially on the tee box. Female players should tee off as soon as it’s safe and distance to the group ahead allows.

–       No search parties, meaning the entire group doesn’t need to pursue a lost ball. Let the player and one other look. while the rest locate their balls and prepare to play. You can also spend this time figuring yardages.

–       Play the proper tees. When you play farther back than you’re capable, your game suffers and so does pace.

–       If there’s doubt about a ball being lost, play a provisional to avoid having to go back to replay the shot.

–       Keep mulligans to a minimum. They’re not allowed by the rules, but we all know they occur. Be mindful of the groups behind you before hitting a second shot. There is a time and play for a practice round, but it’s not when two groups are stacked up behind you.

–       Curb your pre-shot routine if it includes excessive practice swings. The pros don’t need eight practice swings; you don’t either.

–       On cart path-only holes, take multiple clubs.

–       Start reading your putt as soon as you walk on the green. One of the best ways to read a putt is from the lowest part of the green. Start there and work toward your ball.

 To find a JC Golf course in your area and book a tee time or a lesson, go to jcgolf.com.

Highlight Hole: No. 7 at Encinitas Ranch

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For the most part, Encinitas Ranch is a fairly straightforward golf course. What you see is what you get. The one exception is the par-4 No. 7.

No. 7 is the only truly blind tee shot on the course, and it’s one of those quirky layup holes that’s tough to club right and can be quite penal if you club it wrong.

The tricky tee shot colors how a lot of people view this hole, which is unfortunate since it closes with (besides the ocean) probably the most impressive view on the course – a green ringed by gorgeous trees set against a stunning panoramic view of the valley.

Let’s say this: If it was a par-3, I think people would think more highly of this hole.

Anyway, about that tee shot …

The only thing you see from the tee is a fairway that comes to a plateau. In the middle of the fairway is a tall, red aiming pole.

What you don’t see is a dramatic downslope past the pole that narrows significantly on the left, so much so that if you carry the hill on the left, you’re destined to go OB into a canyon, likely with the help of the cart path.

So we want to be right, right? Yes. And long. Because if you’re short, you’ve got another blind shot for an approach.

So, depending on the wind, you’re looking at about 220-240 yards – the hole plays 365 yards from the blues – to get yourself an approach with a look at the pin. That’s hybrid/long iron for most people. (Note: You’re seriously pushing your luck if you go 3-wood, much less driver, here.)

Anyway, I think the mistake people make here is thinking everything rides on the tee shot. The other day, for instance, I hit a solid hybrid that the wind trapped and sent back down the hill, leaving me 170 yards or so out. I walked up the hill, chose my aim line and then walked back and dropped a 6-iron approach onto the front of the green and made a two-putt par.

I recall another blind approach I hit here that nearly found the hole.

Remember those trees behind the green? They’re your friends. Pick one as your aim line, trust it and hit your shot. But knock off a club for the elevation unless you’re into the wind. I’ve seen people fly approaches into the back traps and that’s not an out you want.

So I guess the moral is, don’t sweat the tee shot, embrace the challenge if your second shot is blind and don’t forget to appreciate the view regardless of what ultimately goes on your scorecard.

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