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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Highlight hole: No. 17 at Cross Creek

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I’m not sure this photo quite captures what a cool little hole this really is, but this is one of my favorite par-3s in the area. This is No. 17 at Cross Creek in Temecula. It’s a gem of a hole on a hidden gem of a course. Cross Creek is on the other side of the mountains west of Old Town Temecula, where there’s little reason to suspect a golf course exists.

But one does, and it’s worth checking out. The secluded location and lack of nearby homes makes for a serene golf experience on a course that just seems to roll along the countryside giving you consistently great and unique golf holes one after the next.

You come to No. 17 after a pair of testy par-4s, and this little par-3 is off to the right of the 18th tee box, kind of off in its own little world, framed by the trees and fronted by a creek. It’s got a gently sloping green that provides for multiple challenging pin locations.

The hole plays 170 yards from the tips and a mere 137 yards from the golds. It’s tempting to go pin-seeking here because that’s exactly what the hole’s tempting you to do. But beware that if you clear the creek but end up short, the rough you’re in is ankle-high and no picnic to get out of. On the other hand, go long here and you’ve plenty of room to recover and save par. In other words, when in doubt, take an extra club.

The wind can also tricky on this hole. The day we played, the Santa Ana’s were howling, but the 17 green seemed protected from the wind enough to be unaffected, although we could feel the wind on the tee. But the winds were also coming from an unusual direction that day we were told. Wind behind you could make a big difference here.

Anyway, if anyone reads this who has played this hole and wants to toss in their two cents, feel free, but this is the hole I think of when I think of Cross Creek. I’ve made birdie, par and bogey here and each one has given me a different appreciation for the challenge this hole presents. I look forward to it every time.

Highlight Hole: No. 2 at Costa Mesa CC

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If your push your tee shot right on No. 2 at Costa Mesa County Club’s Los Lagos course, this could be your view. This stunning palm accents the hole on this par-5. Palm trees and the way they grow fascinates me. This one is unique because it’s the only one like it on the course.

Anyway, my motto of there being 100 ways to enjoy a round of golf includes discovering an amazing natural wonder like this.

The Perilous Par-3s of Pala Mesa

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No. 16 at Pala Mesa

This post was originally going to be about the same experience I’ve had – or witnessed – on two of Pala Mesa’s par-3s that I’ve never seen or heard of happening anywhere else. But then I played the course again and realized nothing about any of Pala Mesa’s par-3s is easy so I thought I’d just go ahead and profile them all.

But first, let’s talk about the Pala Mesa par-3 phenomenon involving errant shots, gravity and cart paths. A story to illustrate:

No. 16 is the shortest par-3 on the course. From the blues, it plays 143 yards, albeit uphill. When you look at the hole, you see a steep face bunker on the front left and a face bunker back right, with the green sandwiched in the middle. What you don’t pay attention to is the cart path snaking to the left and then out of view. It ends up uncommonly close to the green.

While playing in a tournament last year, a player in our group pulled his tee shot left on this hole. He then walked to the side of the tee box and stood there.

I asked him, “What are you doing?”

His reply: “Waiting for my ball.”

Sure enough, about 30 seconds later, his ball came bounding back on the cart path, following a winding path with uncanny consistency. The golfer grabbed the ball and put it in his pocket, choosing to take the max strokes on the hole rather than recover from a negative tee shot. Yes, the ball was going to end up behind the tee box.

Anyway, I’ve heard this is a fairly common occurrence, and I saw the same thing happen on the par-3 No. 3 as well the first time I ever played the course. Crazy stuff. So when I write  full review of Pala Mesa, right on No. 3 and left on No. 16 will be prime “Do NOT Hit it Here” material.

As a group, though, the Pala Mesa par-3s are all tough and show that you don’t have to stretch a par-3 to 200 yards to make it difficult. Even from the tips, the longest par-3 is only 189 yards. The blues measure 166, 159, 151 and 143.

But what they lack in distance, they make up for in difficulty by being tough to club due to the wind and even tougher to putt, with slick, undulating greens. And wicked sand traps guard part of the fronts of all of them.

We’ve already talked about 16 in-depth. Here are the hole details on the other three (using yardages from the blues).

No. 3, 166 yards – This is the longest of the four and plays into a narrow, oblong green with heavy mounding off the left side.

The hole often plays into the wind, making club selection tricky and bringing the traps into play for a very tough recovery if you miss short. But if you go long, you’re likely OB as there’s not much room. It’s a one-club green, and you’ve got to pick the right one.

Anyway, missing right here would be a good miss, save for the cart path repercussions we discussed. Miss really right and you avoid the path and have a safe chip, especially since the pin is often on that side of the two-tiered green.

I parred this hole the first time I played it. I haven’t been so fortunate since.

No. 7, 159 yards – Another narrow, sloping green with sand traps short that get a lot of play. And if you miss short right AND miss the trap, your ball runs into a ravine, where you may be blocked by a tree. Also, long is gone again. So hit the green or look at a killer up-and-down.

I’m always short here so I’m going to suggest the hole plays long. I can’t recall ever making a good number here.

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No. 14, 151 yards – Plays uphill and to a crosswind, so take an extra club. Many don’t and are left to fight there way out of a huge bunker complex. This green is deeper than the other two, so you’ve got room if you go a little long. And left is an OK bailout.

When you reach this green, putting again becomes the issue. I get the yips just thinking about some of the green speeds I’ve seen on this course. Makes it tough to charge the hole, even for birdie. In fact, that’s how birdies become bogies here. Remember, par is always a good score on these par-3s.

If you haven’t played Pala Mesa, it’s just off the 76 in Fallbrook. If you go, get ready for a test. I first played here my first week at the Golf Academy. I shot well over 100 and seriously doubted if I’d ever have the game to match this course.

Well, I broke 90 the other day, so, yes, I can now play this course competently, but the green speeds were off. When they’re fast, this course can be very tough.

Even when I’ve hit well, I haven’t made putts here, and that tends to wear you down over a round and eats at your confidence.

Take one hole at a time here and over time hopefully you’ll come to appreciate, as I have, the good test of golf that Pala Mesa offers. But if you hit the cart paths, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.