Back to South San Diego County Again

It’s actually been a couple months since I went down into San Diego County for some golf. I ventured down there a lot last year and was able to cross quite a few courses off my “to do” list. What’s making it hard now is that I’ve eliminated all but a few of the easy-to-access courses there, as in ones that are reasonably priced and found on tee time sites I use like GolfNow and EZLinks. Most of what I have left are the more locally focused (and generally very crowded) public courses that I would just have to walk out on and take my chances of playing (Coronado, Balboa, Torrey Pines, Bonita), military courses that might take a little more planning to get out on (Miramar, Admiral Baker) and higher-end resort courses that are accessible, but extremely expensive (La Costa, Aviara, The Grand Del Mar, Maderas, etc.).

But there are still a few out there that are in that easy-to-access category, and I was able to play two of them yesterday on Groundhog’s Day. 

First, was Chula Vista Golf Course, which is in Bonita. Go figure. Like Eastlake (which is actually in Chula Vista), this is a muni course that generally seems to get decent reviews from local players. I booked a 6:22 time on GolfNow for $41 and got out there dark and early for some true dawn patrol golf. I figured that would be one of the first group—if not the first—of the day, which is always ideal when I have a 36-hole day in mind. I was paired with a threesome and we were the first group out behind a couple of hardcore singles (course regulars, obviously) who teed off while it was still quite dark. We set a decent pace with nobody pushing us from behind and finished in just under 4 hours.

As the reviews I’ve read would attest, Chula Vista is is a solid track. It won’t blow you away with dramatic scenery or dynamic design elements, but it’s a good course. There’s a good mix of hole lengths and shapes. It’s forgiving in some areas and unforgiving in others, so it’s a worthy test of your golf skills. Other than a few holes, the course actually plays pretty tight throughout, so it pays to be accurate and strategic here.

One interesting trait of Chula Vista is the creek (or whatever you want to call it) that runs the entire length of the course. On the front nine it plays parallel to most holes (always to your right) and will eat up your balls if you stray one too far right. On the back, the layout criss-crosses this creek several times and brings it more into play overall. It’s definitely the most distinctive feature of the course and it factors in on all but a few holes out there. It even bisects the driving range, which is an odd choice since I’m sure makes it very difficult to clean up.

There is a park next to the course and there are jogging/walking/biking trails all around. Like Brookside in Pasadena, these trails get a ton of use and it can be distracting from time to time, whether it’s a good looking girl jogging by or people just chatting away with no regard for the golfers right on the other side of the fence.

Condition-wise, Chula Vista was in average winter shape. Pretty much what you would expect from a muni like this during this part of the season. The fairways were very thin/firm, pretty patchy and mostly brown in color. The rough was shaved down, patchy grass. You could expect a ton of extra roll-out on all shots. But for the most part, I found decent lies all day and the surfaces weren’t too bad to hit from. The bunkers seemed like they had been recently stocked with new sand, so they were deep and fluffy, which was a nice treat (even though my ball plugged almost completely in one greenside bunker on the front nine). 

And like many SoCal courses in the winter, the greens were the highlight of the course. They were in very nice shape and well-manicured. On top, they were running super smooth, quick and pure. In fact, when I was on the practice green before we teed off (while it was still dark out and under lights), I wasn’t sure at first if it was real grass or astroturf. It looked so pristine, but upon further inspection it was indeed real grass. The only drawback was that under that excellent surface, the greens were very firm. We were struggling to keep balls on the greens all day. There was just no bite on approaches and chip shots. So they looked great and were ideal for putting, but the firmness ended up detracting a bit.

Otherwise, it was a decent day on a decent course. I wouldn’t go too far out of my way to play Chula Vista again and I might still choose Eastlake over it because of slightly better scenery and a more interesting overall layout, but it’s a solid option for local play at a reasonable muni rate. By the time I left, it was very crowded out there, so you can generally expect a slower pace of play. I was just lucky enough to get out in the first group. 

Some pictures from Chula Vista Golf Course (2/2/13):

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From Chula Vista, I headed out toward El Cajon. My second round of the day took me back to Sycuan Golf & Tennis Resort. I was originally considering walking on at Bonita Golf Club (just up the road from CV), but I checked online before I left in the morning and a single time had opened up at Sycuan. The deal was just right, so I couldn’t pass it up. I happened to drive right past Bonita GC on the way over to Sycuan and I am very glad I made this decision. Bonita looked to be in worse shape overall than Chula Vista, but it does look like a decent course so I’ll look forward to playing it when conditions improve.

I played the Oak Glen course at Sycuan last year and really liked it a lot. The conditions were exceptional, the setting was beautiful and the course had a fun and challenging layout. So I was very much looking forward to an excuse to coming back out to Sycuan to play the other regulation 18 there, Willow Glen, which is generally regarded as the better course of the two by most. At one time, I believe the course was called Singing Hills before the Sycuan Casino took over the property. 

I found the tee time on EZLinks. It was $51, which is already a good weekend price for Sycuan. But they had also sent out a 20% promo code on Friday that was good for any booking this weekend, so it saved me an additional $10. So for $41, a round at Sycuan is a steal of a deal (especially considering that’s exactly what I paid to play the much less desirable Chula Vista in the morning)!

I was paired with a twosome and another single and we teed off right at our time (noon). The starter informed us that they had a big tournament group just go off, but there was a cushion in front of us for a few holes. Those first few holes were great as we played at an enjoyable pace. Then we caught up to the groups ahead on the 4th hole and it was excruciatingly slow after that. The groups ahead were painfully slow, unorganized, not fixing ball marks, etc., so it was pretty annoying. The round took five hours exactly, which isn’t generally acceptable for a course of this caliber. We ran into the marshal once and he just kind of gave us a look like “What are you gonna do? It is what it is.” The course was pretty jam-packed all around, so there probably wasn’t too much he could do, but still seems like something could have been managed better as the day went on and things got worse and worse. 

Other than the slow pace, the course itself was very enjoyable. The layout is fantastic and the course is in such a nice little scenic valley. I love how the mountains divide the two courses, so beyond the first tees you never see the other course while in play. Willow Glen is a little more “dramatic” layout than Oak Glen, but both are fantastic in my opinion. There are a few holes that some people I know might consider to be too “gimmicky. Whether it’s trees in middle of fairways, a few circus-like green complexes, risk-reward options because of hazards or large doglegs with tight landing areas, it’s a course that calls for strategic thinking on a number of shots. To me, that makes it both fun and challenging when you can’t just "grip it and rip it” on every shot.

There’s a great mix of hole lengths and design elements here. One hole that definitely stands out is the par-4 4th hole, which features the most elevated tee on the course (there are only a couple of elevated points out there) and a great few of the intimidating hole below. Water protects the front of the green and the right side of the fairway. A hillside protects the left side, so for most it’s a lay-up club off the tee. The pin yesterday was right in front (a true “sucker pin”), which added even more excitement to the hole. To get close, you had to flirt with water. To play it safe and go long meant an awkward downhill chip, bunker shot or long putt with the water’s edge lingering about 15 feet past the hole.

There are a handful of crazy multi-tiered greens here like on the par-3 12th, the par-5 17th and the par-3 18th. Willow Glen is a very rare course in that it features par-3s as the finishing holes on both nines. However, other than the insane green (with an equally insane pin placement yesterday), the 18th is kind of a bland finishing hole. If you are going to end a course with a par-3, I think it should be something more dramatic and memorable. That’s probably my only gripe with the course layout here, though.

For winter, the course was in good overall condition. The first few fairways were awesome. They were incredibly green, lush and beautiful. Later on, they were a little less consistent with some thin/brown patches here and there. And most any areas near water pretty well burned out because of all the ducks, geese and coots doing what they do best. But overall, the fairways were mostly green and very, very nice for this time of year. The rough was pretty shaved down as was more dormant, brown and patchy throughout. Some areas were decent and most lies were okay, but it was just not as visually pleasing as you can normally expect here at Sycuan, where they definitely seem to take pride in their conditioning.

Many of the tee boxes had been recently resodded, so several are a little uneven at the moment but not bad. There was good sand in the bunkers and the greens were excellent all around. Other than fixing a few ball marks from the inconsiderate groups ahead, they were rolling smooth, running quick and receptive on approaches.

Both the regulation courses at Sycuan are excellent (I haven’t played the par-3 Pine Glen course yet) and good deals can be found online from time to time, making this a great option and worth the drive out past El Cajon. I will definitely be back here again.

Some pictures from Sycuan Golf & Tennis Resort (Willow Glen) (2/2/13):

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