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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The Year in Par-3s, Part I

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No. 5 at Kapalua’s Bay Course

If you’ve paid somewhat close attention to the blog since it started four months ago, you may have noticed a slight bias toward par-3s.

This isn’t because the blog likes par-4s or 5s any less; it’s more of a visual thing. The overall goal of providing quality content on the blog includes visuals (golf’s a visual game, and perhaps the most visual game, right?), and par-3s just happen to be largely easier to photograph. That’s not to say you can’t make good or even great photos of some 4s and 5s (you can), but par-3s are just a little easier and even the most novice photographer can grasp why.

Anyway, one thing I’ve also noticed about courses is that great ones almost always have great par-3s. When reflecting on my golf season, that’s one thing that occurred to me. I tried to think of my favorite courses throughout the year and in nearly every instance I could easily recall at least one truly outstanding par-3.

And, as we know, par-3s in golf come in all shapes and sizes (legal limit being 275 yards, I believe) and beauty or appreciation can often be in the eye of the beholder (I’ll take a one-stroke cliché penalty there) with an obvious birdie/bogey bias. We don’t tend to the love the holes (or courses) that don’t love us back.

Well, regardless of what ended up on my card, I can say I love all the par-3s I’m about to list.

Since golf is a game of nines, here are nine of my favorite par-3s from the year that, I think, represent the range of what has undoubtedly been the best golf year of my life. I’m going to simply give course, hole number and reflection on these unless the exact yardages are really necessary. I’d like this to be a visual joy ride as much as anything. And there is no attempt to rank here, although my No. 1 is hardly a mystery.

Also, for the purposes of being blog-friendly, we’ll do this in three parts throughout the week.

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No. 5 at the Bay Course, Kapalua (Maui/Hawaii)

We’ll start with the hole of the year, regardless of par or score. The pinnacle of my golf season was standing on this tee box in Maui in July.

No. 5 is the second of the consecutive ocean holes on the front nine and the epitome of golfing on the ocean.

The name Kapalua means “arms embracing the sea” and you rather feel the sea embracing you on this stretch – or trying to blow you off the island depending on the day. Playing out and back on an emerald peninsula, you are completely surrounded by the ocean.

We had a gentle breeze the day we played, and I could’ve stood on this tee box for days. It’s golf heaven, as I currently know it.

If you’ve ever been, or have golfed in a similar tropical scenario, just viewing the photo probably already has transported you there.

But for those who haven’t been …

Yes, the water is that clear, and waves are crashing all around. You may need to zoom in a little to clearly see the pin, but it was in the front of an undulating green where the wacky physics of Hawaii golf are fully in play.

Arnold Palmer did some fabulous work here. I’ve never seen a hole that fits my eye more, and possibly perhaps a little too much.

The seductive quality of the hole, and the lack of a guarantee you’ll ever get back here, makes you want to go for broke and chase the ace of your dreams, risking water or crashing on the rocks into a very serene OB.

My playing partner, who had played here before, thankfully talked me out of it.

“You don’t need to go for the green,” he said. “Play it out left and let gravity take over.”

That proved to be some wise caddying. I hit a smooth 7-iron and watched my ball find the fairway and track right to the fringe of the green. I walked off perfectly content with a two-putt par.

We played a lot of great golf over three rounds in Hawaii, but I didn’t play a more beautiful golf hole than this. It speaks to your golf soul and you spend the rest of your round playing blissfully with your head in the clouds. Bogeys couldn’t dent me the rest of the day.

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No. 17 at Journey at Pechanga (Temecula)

And now for an entirely different kind of “awe” … as in awe-fully hard.

This is the monster par-3 that waits two holes from the finish at Journey at Pechanga. This was the hardest golf hole I played all year, made all the more so by playing it from the tips – 200 yards, all carry, into a mid-afternoon gust. Gulp.

A fairly solidly struck 3-wood never had a chance, although my playing partner, a former teaching pro, reached the horizontal oblong green with a terrific Rescue that just caught the right side.

A course staff member confided that he’ll go here most days and hit one from the back just to see if he can “get lucky.” Yes, this is what a golf lottery shot looks like.

Understandably, this is one of the holes that gives Pechanga its fearsome reputation, but difficulty aside, it’s also one of the holes that gives you views unlike many other places. The four “view” holes on the course highlight a course that is still pretty great when it brings you down from the mountains.

If you descend with a par at 17, you’ll have bragging rights in the bar and grill because it’s doubtful you’ll have much scorecard company.

I need another run at 17 in 2014 and to try it from the blue tees. Put a par here on my wish list for the New Year.

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No. 8 at Royal Links (Las Vegas)

I played Royal Links in February, thus the dormancy, and I was quite stoked to do so.

At the time, I was taking my Golf Course Landscape and Design class at golf school and we had just studied links courses. Royal Links, for those unfamiliar, is a replica course with holes modeled after those in the British Open rotation, all routed around a clubhouse that is built like a castle.

I had played links-like golf before but nothing that aimed to so closely recreate the British experience. I loved this place and walked away with a major appreciation for links-style golf. I can’t wait to do it again.

Until you stand on the tee box of a par-4 with a yardage book in hand that shows 10 scattered fairway pot bunkers, and you see none, you can’t truly grasp the challenge of this style of golf.

The more you know your British Open history, the more you can appreciate Royal Links. For those who don’t know, the stone hole markers that are designed like books are only too happy to clue you in.

This is No. 8, the par-3 taken from Royal Troon nicknamed “The Postage Stamp.” Played at a mere 153 yards from the tips, this is where Gene Sarazen made ace at age 71 in his final British Open appearance.

The photo doesn’t quite do this one justice, but what it doesn’t show is a square bunker off the right side of the green. I recall it clearly because I was in it.

It wasn’t the jail that many British Open bunkers can be, but it was challenge nonetheless, so for a score, let’s just go with “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” shall we?

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         Stay tuned for parts II and III of my par-3 series throughout the week.