Course Review: Maderas Golf Club

2013 has been a productive year for me when it comes to playing some of San Diego County’s more expensive courses. When I first made my full wish list, I figured it would take awhile to chip away at all the high-end options down there, but I’ve been able to take advantage of a few deals here and there and it hasn’t been as daunting as initially expected. I played Torrey Pines, one of the La Costa courses and The Grand del Mar. I more or less already have plans to play Aviara and Barona Creek this year, so that leaves Maderas as one of the biggest fish to fry.

However, it turned out to be the best deal of the bunch. All summer long, I’ve had my eyes on the Underpar.com deal for Maderas. For $105, it included unlimited play on any weekend day after 11:00. I finally had the chance to take advantage of it Sunday and it worked out well. I booked an 11:39 tee time. That same time was listed online at $175, so I think what I paid was a steal in relative terms, knowing I shouldn’t have any trouble getting two full rounds in on a Sunday afternoon.

I was there a little early and had ample time to take advantage of their nice practice areas. I noticed the first tee was open for awhile before I teed off, but they had me wait for another single that was set to join me. We teed off as a twosome around 11:45. We played through one foursome on the front and otherwise had the place to ourselves for a 3.5-hour pace. After a quick, overpriced hot dog in between rounds, I went back out right away as a single for my second 18. There were more groups out there in the afternoon, which to me is a sign that not many people want to pay “full” morning price here. A couple groups let me play through, but it made no difference as play was pretty steady and there were plenty of groups ahead of me that I wouldn’t get through. Still, it ended up being just under a four-hour round, so I can’t really complain!

Maderas was co-designed by well-known course architect, Rober Muir Graves, and former PGA professional and pompous announcer extraordinaire, Johnny Miller. I’ve never played a course that Miller had a hand in designing, so I was curious to see what Maderas was all about.

Maderas isn’t a dramatic difference from many great canyon style courses throughout Southern California, but it is a very nice layout in a beautiful setting. It’s a very aesthetically pleasing course that also offers plenty of challenge and diversity. Everything flows well, but no two holes look or play the same. There are some fun downhill holes and some grueling uphill ones. Some holes bring trees significantly into play to create some narrow angles, while others feel more wide open from tee to green. It’s a very nice mix.

The 8th hole stands out to me a bit as it’s not a really great design for a par-5. There is a massive oak tree that hangs over most of the doglegged corner and just doesn’t seem “right.” Beyond that, though, there are some really fun holes like #9 (a short par-4 with a ton of water in play) and #14, which is a beautiful and beastly uphill par-5 with an approach shot over a deep desert ravine.

For the most part, the fairways are more forgiving than they look. The landing areas are pretty generous and most holes have some bail-out areas around the greens if you choose a more conservative approach angle. But once you are on and around the greens, things get very tricky. The greens at Maderas are large and feature plenty of natural slope and undulation. Two-putts are never a guarantee and getting a chip close requires a very delicate touch—especially if you are coming in from above the hole. Anything rolling downhill on these greens is very tough to stop.

The first time through the course, I found myself a bit frustrated. They do give you a yardage book, but I misjudged things a number of different times and cost myself a lot of extra strokes. Several greens are elevated and it’s hard to see what’s going on up there until you are standing on the putting surface. I played the blue tees the first time around and my score was awful.

However, on the replay round I moved up to play the whites. The yardage difference isn’t huge here, but it did help on some of the longer, tougher holes. Beyond that, I just felt more comfortable the second time through. I knew where to aim on each tee and I knew where all the pins were placed, meaning I could easily determine the best times to be aggressive and the best times to be a bit more conservative. The result was a bunch of good looks at birdie, even though I didn’t make any (ironically, I made two long “miracle” birdie putts on the first round). Still, my score was vastly better on the second round. Since I rarely end up playing courses like this more than once (let alone twice on the same day), I really benefited from some fresh local knowledge this time.

Maderas was in good shape. It was not high-end pristine/lush conditions like I would hope for with a course of this caliber, but the playability was still excellent. In terms of conditioning, it was very similar to experiences this year at The Grand and La Costa. I always had fantastic lies in fairways. The rough wasn’t cut deep, but was very thick and fluffy. Sometimes the ball would sit up beautifully and other times it would sink down just enough to make it a very tough shot. The greens had been verticut and were lightly sanded, but it didn’t affect putts at all. The greens were very soft and receptive, and putts rolled pretty smoothly throughout the day. Incredibly, I was not in a single bunker all day so I can’t comment on them. They looked nice, though.

The only real negative is that they are currently doing a lot of maintenance on most tee boxes. Some were closed, so they had different tees grouped together at times. Most were pretty bare and just soft/sandy turf, yet a few were still green and lush to show what they might normally look like on a good day. Either way, they were very level and it wasn’t too hard to find a good spot to tee it up anywhere.

Though I enjoyed Maderas on every level, I wouldn’t shell out the full rack rate to play here. Very few courses are worth $175 in my opinion and there are plenty of other great canyon courses in Southern California that can be played for much less. However, if money is less of an issue to you and you want to play a great course, take advantage of a high-end facility and enjoy much less crowds than at most other public courses, then Maderas will give you the more “private club” experience you are looking for.

Though the clubhouse and amenities are very nice, the vibe around here is a bit more relaxed than some of the more snooty high-end resort/residential courses. They treat you well, but it didn’t seem overdone and I appreciated that. It’s funny, though, because I would expect a high level of pompousness at a Johnny Miller course!

Some pictures from Maderas Golf Club (8/4/13):

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