Update: Arrowood recorded its first hole-in-one on Just One on Jan. 6, earning the winner $2,000.

Highlight Hole: No. 7 at Encinitas Ranch


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.


Power Point: Setting Your Shoulder Tilt

ImageIf you don’t look like Freddy on the tee, you might need to touch your right knee

Martin Hall gave a tip on the Golf Channel’s School of Golf recently that I’ve been reminding myself of a lot lately so I thought I’d pass it along.

The episode was about driving the ball farther and went on to give a lot of good tips for gaining more distance off the tee.  (By the way, swinging harder wasn’t one of them.)

The tip I noticed that he gave, and one that has really helped me, was about setting your shoulder tilt. Shoulder tilt is critical for every swing but especially the driver swing because the optimal attack angle for a driver is one degree up. That’s hard to achieve if your shoulders are level, and impossible if you’ve dipped your front shoulder.

Where I go wrong in my setup sometimes is having my shoulders too level, and I know immediately when it has happened because my right shoulder will roll over on my follow through and I’ll hit a huge pull right.

When this has happened, I know I need to go back to a very simple drill to set myself right. All I do is reach down and touch my right knee. (Obviously, it’s your left if you’re a lefty.)

That simple act sets my shoulders at the proper angle to deliver the slightly ascending blow critical for driver distance.

Remember this the next time your drives are going awry, and especially if you’re taking a divot or striking the ground, because it might be the reason why.

Highlight hole: No. 17 at Cross Creek


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


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


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.


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.

Golf Day Trip: San Clemente Muni


While playing Monarch Beach last spring, I received a course recommendation from two Orange County playing partners that stuck with me: the municipal course at San Clemente.

I had been in California for eight months and that one was new to me, even though I’d played in the San Clemente area before.

“Ocean views, great value and a course that will surprise you,” they said. Intrigued, I filed it away for future exploration.

Well, on Monday, I realized my afternoon was open and decided it was a good day for a break from my regular course rotation and recalled San Clemente muni.

What I discovered was a course that fit what I was told to a T and certainly exceeded my expectations. I’ll definitely be back and want to relay to you a little of what makes this course special.

For this feature, I’ll suspend the course review format and just give you an overview, some course history and a few hole highlights.

The course begins in a very familiar muni-style – wide, straight, flat – for the first five holes, but then gradually morphs into a different course and ultimately a drastically different, and unexpected, experience on the back.

I was fortunate to walk on with two playing partners who were very familiar with the course and its history, which I knew very little prior of to Monday.

Here’s a little of the history, courtesy of the course’s web site:

The San Clemente Golf Club has long been a favorite of Southern California golfers. Built by renowned Golf Course Architect William “Billy” Bell on land donated by city founder Ole Hanson, the course consisted of nine holes on opening day in 1930, with what is now the back nine being added in 1955.

         Municipally owned and operated since its inception, the San Clemente Golf Club is aptly known as the “Pride of the Pacific.”

The golf course boasts sweeping ocean views, interesting elevation changes, a challenging-yet-fun layout reminiscent of the golden age of golf, and best of all, reasonable green fees.

         The moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean ensures frost-free winters and cool summer breezes. Popular from its very beginning, San Clemente now hosts roughly 95,000 rounds per year, making the “muni” one of the most popular courses anywhere.            

Those familiar with California golf architecture will recognize William Bell, the designer of many California public courses, including, most notably, Torrey Pines.

Like I said, the first five holes are fairly straightforward, but then you get to six, which is a dogleg right, uphill par-4. It’s the first time you really have to work the ball and, well, being in the trees on the left, I had my work cut for me.  This hole finishes next to the clubhouse and then you cross the road and discover three holes that foreshadow the experience you get on the back.

There’s an uphill par-5 going out that plays longer than the 485 on the card, and then you’re pointed back toward the coast and get your first true glimpse of the ocean. It provides the backdrop for a whole lot of golf hole – a 419-yard par-4 into an ocean breeze and buffeted by bunkers. Given what you’ve played up until now, it’s a bit jarring to be faced with such a stiff test, but it serves notice that the course plans to challenge you from here on out.

The front nine closes with a terrific little 165-yard (from the blues) par-3 with an undulating green, different than what you’ve mostly played up to know and more like what you’ll find on the back. I underestimated the wind here and flew the green, leaving me a delicate pitch back that stopped well below the hole. (Note: The greens became deceivingly quick on the second nine. Our group didn’t drop many putts.)

Previewing the back, one of my playing partners told me, “You’ve got some very special golf holes coming up.” And after three holes that were more reminiscent of the start of the course, he was right.

Here’s a hole-by-hole of 13 to the finish (yardages from the blue tees):

No. 13, 205-yard par-3: You’ve got the ocean breeze at your back as you stand looking at a fairway that’s steeply sloped on the left side and will kick your ball right. I hit what felt like a flushed 5-iron and came up short. Apparently the hole plays a bit long, too.

         No. 14, 304-yard par-4: Yes, you read that right – 304, seemingly a baby par-4, or is it? Hardly. The whole plays dead uphill through a somewhat narrow fairway to a green surrounded by bunkers. Play for placement here. Iron or hybrid off the tee and then get ready for an approach to a green that slopes away from you. Not all what you’d expect from just looking at the scorecard and the beginning of a golf roller-coaster ride to the finish.


No. 15, 196-yard par-3: An elevated par-3, and the course’s signature hole. And what a view. Again, ocean breeze at your back and gorgeous green and palm trees below. I decided not to club down here and didn’t regret it. I needed every yard and found a little bail-out area right for an up-and-down par. Part of the reward for reaching the green here is that you get your first fully panoramic view of the ocean. And it’s stunning.

No. 16, 387-yard par-4: The trickiest tee shot on the back as it’s a dog-leg left with a huge cluster of trees blocking the middle of the fairway. You can glimpse the green to the left. You choices: Carry a chasm 250 yards and try to get close, or hit it out right and play safe but have a long approach.

What you don’t see from the tee is the drastic drop off in the middle of the fairway. You need to layup to about 150 yards to avoid having a downhill lie to an elevated green. A lot going on here. Choose wisely.

No. 17, 358-yard par-4: The back closes with parallel par-4s. As is often my fate with parallel holes, I found the opposite fairway and ended up chopping out of thick grass. Thus, I recommend hitting the fairway here and taking the easy road on this uphill hole.


     No. 18, 408-yard par-4: You close your round with the ocean on your right and the clubhouse in the distance, a fantastic finishing panorama. It’s a great finishing hole that slopes downhill at around 150 yards to reward big hitters. Provides a great chance for a finishing birdie if you sink that last slick putt.

Since we teed off around 2, when walked off, the sun was setting behind San Clemente Island, which you can get a glimpse of from the practice putting green. It was the last beautiful surprise in a round full of them. I truly enjoyed my round here and will surely be back.

A Word About Course Reviews

I’m trying a new format here that’s different than what I’m doing in print. I’d appreciate a little feedback as to how useful you find it since it’s a work in progress and here to serve people discovering these courses for the first time and those of us who just enjoying talking about this stuff.

The overall intent is to give as complete a picture of the playing experience as possible, from the aesthetics to the food to how to prepare to play the course, and mix that with handy tips about actually playing the course.

When I moved out here a year ago and played many of the courses I’ll discuss, one of my frustrations was finding info. about the courses that was beyond the standard length, location, who designed it, etc. Anyway, this is an attempt to fill that knowledge gap. It should be like the course knowledge you’d get standing on the tee with a local familiar with the track.

I’m trying to provide the info. in digest-able bites by using subheads with titles that you should eventually become used to, but are fairly self-explanatory. Here’s a partial glossary:

      Hold Onto Your Hat – Where trouble lurks and the round might get away from you if you’re not careful.

      Best Chance to End Up Buying A Round for the HouseYour best chance for a hole-in-one. Unlikely, yes, but still fun to think about.

      You’ll Want To, But Don’t … – The shot that tempts you … and the smart play you should make instead.

      Take a Picture – A visual highlight of the course, which out here can be many.

      On the Range – What shots/clubs I need to be ready to hit to play this course well. Every course has these, but you don’t know them until you’re done. And this is the type of info. I’ve never been provided about any course that can really make a difference in your round.

Anyway, the subheads and themes will evolve with each review, but this gives you an idea of what I’m going for here.

I hope you find these reviews informative and useful and that they enhance your playing experience if you happen to play one of the courses I review.

If you happen to play Twin Oaks, best of luck, and enjoy your round. And try the potato chips.