Monday, March 19, 2018

California Trip Review

After reading my recent Florida trip post a friend emailed me asking when he would see a review of my January California trip.  I hadn't thought of doing a review of that trip because it happened before I created this blog, but it's always fun to look back on wonderful golf trips.  So, I present my January trip to California.

My January trip the past few years has been to the Hilton Head area with a group of friends, but for logistical reasons I wasn't able to make that work this year so I decided to look for someplace warm to play golf in January.  The last time I was in California was in 2010.  My wonderful wife allowed me to fly to LA for a couple days of golf before we got married in Las Vegas.  On that trip my experience with LAX didn't go well and I was determined through planning to make this trip much less stressful.

My first stop right off the airplane was The North course at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach.  I was impressed with how Tom Fazio was able to make a course on a very severe site very playable.  Of course I shouldn't be surprised as that is Fazio's expertise when it comes to design.  The course has so many elevated tee shots I remember thinking "When are we going back up hill?"
9th Hole
14th Hole


17th Hole at Darkness.  This was my last hole, the pace didn't allow me to finish
The second course of the trip was Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles.  I was really looking forward to playing Wilshire.  The pictures of the recent work by Kyle Phillips looked amazing and I was excited to get out early walking with a friend I hadn't seen for a couple years.  I came away extremely impressed with Wilshire.  I would put it in the top 10 golf courses in California.  The walking culture was also very impressive.  My friend and I played behind a foursome for the first four holes, and were let through a five-some on the second nine and even with those delays, we walked the course in 2 hours and 45 minutes!
4th Hole.  Wonderful bunkering restored by Kyle Phillips
9th Hole with the Hollywood sign in the background
11th Hole
Next up on the trip was the South course at Pelican Hill.  The courses at Pelican Hill could easily be renamed Upper and Lower as the North (Upper) sits on the high part of the property and the South (Lower) is on the bottom part of the property with a few holes right on the ocean.  The South was another solid Fazio course with very aesthetically pleasing holes and lots of width.
7th Hole


13th Hole

18th Hole
Fourth course on the trip was a quick early bird warm up nine at Oaks North Golf Club in Rancho Bernardo.  My tee time at the next course was eight a.m. and I didn't want to waste a couple good hours of daylight so I played nine at this executive course with three nines.  I had a memorable exchange with the starter when I told him about my next tee time and said I would walk the nine holes in about 35 minutes.  He told me that was impossible.  I said we'll see and I walked it in 31 minutes.  I resisted the temptation to find him and ask him what time it was when I finished.
4th Hole

7th Hole

9th Hole
After the warm up nine I made the short drive to Maderas Golf Club in Poway.  Maderas was my second Johnny Miller design.  Johnny must like challenging the average golfer as the greens were very difficult.  The three locals I played with said the cardinal rule was "never get above the hole" as most putts coming from above fail to stop within ten feet of the cup because of the severity of the greens.
3rd Hole looking back

4th Hole

9th Hole
The next course on this day involved a gorgeous drive over a mountain to get to Borrego Springs and Ram's Hill Golf Club.  Ram's Hill was one of the best Fazio courses I've ever played.  I was impressed with the creativity, the bunkering, and the interesting greens.  I found out a few days later that the course is actually a Jackson/Kahn design under the Fazio name, which explains a lot about why I liked it so much.
5th Hole
6th Hole

10th Hole
17th Hole
Day four of the trip began with Tradition Golf Club in La Quinta, California.  Tradition is an Arnold Palmer design and Palmer was a part time resident for many years.  The golf course may be Palmer's best design with several stand out holes and excellent use of the property right up against the mountains.
10th Hole
Rams on the 16th Hole

15th Hole

17th Hole
The Par 3 Course at Tradition was the next course on the trip.  I really admire what the club did with creating the Par 3 course.  It doesn't take up much land, the holes are all short and fun, and it is easily walked.  My caddie at Tradition told me a great story about Arnold Palmer and the Par 3 course.  Palmer's house was to the right of the second tee of the Par 3.  He would sit out on his back porch and watch people play.  He wouldn't hesitate to yell "great shot" to somebody.  You'd look over to see who said it and there he was.  Lots of people would go over to say hi and then all of a sudden you'd be having a five minute conversation with one of the greatest human beings to walk the earth!
4th Hole
8th Hole
9th Hole
The next course on the trip was the one I was looking forward to the most because it was designed by my favorite modern designer, Tom Doak.  Stone Eagle Golf Club sits up on a hill in Palm Desert.  Doak, traditionally a minimalist designer, had to move more earth than at any golf course he designed previously.  The way Doak used the site was amazing.  He used the elevation changes to build world class holes without sacrificing width.  The greens were as usual for Doak-fun, interesting and wild.
14th Hole

15th Hole

18th Hole
19th Hole
The final day of the trip began with a dew sweeping round at Strawberry Farms Golf Club in Irvine.  Again, not wanting to waste valuable daylight before my nine am round, I took advantage of the proximity and played the scenic back nine at Strawberry Farms, a Jim Lipe design.
10th Hole just after sunrise

14th Hole

17th Hole
After the warm up at Strawberry, I made the short drive over to Shady Canyon Golf Club.  Shady Canyon is a high-end private Tom Fazio course.  Similar to my experiences at Pelican Hill, Fazio took a beautiful but challenging piece of property and created a very pleasant golf course.
4th Hole

7th Hole

17th Hole
The last round of the trip was at Santa Ana Country Club.  Santa Ana was recently renovated by Jay Blasi.  Jay did an incredible job of transforming a bland course on a tight piece of property into one of the most fun and interesting golf courses in California.  Jay added many classic architecture templates like the Biarritz and Punchbowl.
6th Hole

8th Hole with Biarritz Green

11th Hole





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