Central Coast Day 1: Contrast in Ventura County

This past weekend, I took another little road trip up the California coast. This time I had a friend with me as we made our way up to Monarch Dunes in Nipomo for another great Greenskeeper.org event. I’ll review that outing when I post “Day 2” later this week. After all, Day 1 featured plenty of great golf action!

The Seabee Golf Club of Port Hueneme • NBVC Port Hueneme, CA • 9/6/13

Though this was purely intended to be a “checklist” course for me, it turned out to be a relatively pleasant surprise. I had tried playing here last year, but was unable to get on the base as a civilian walk-on that day. When I did see glimpses of the course, it looked to be nothing too exciting, so I haven’t been in a huge hurry to try again. However on Friday, I finally made it happen.

We booked a tee time through GolfNow. For only $27 and a 7:15 time, it seemed like a good deal. We came to learn later they also had an “early bird” special going on for only $22, so that was a bummer we locked ourselves in for a higher rate. Our deal did include range balls, though, which I suppose justifies the extra cost even though we didn’t end up having time to use the range.

The check-in process for Seabee is a bit cumbersome to say the least. Getting on the NBVC Port Hueneme as a civilian requires a “sponsor” from the golf course to come out and vouch for you at the gate. I knew some of the details coming after my previous attempt and calling ahead to the pro shop earlier in the week, but it still seemed slow and complicated.

We got there a half-hour early to be safe. You go into the pass building outside of the main gate and then you have to call the course. They’ll send out a representative, who goes into the building with you to secure your base pass. We had to wait a little for the guy to show up, but after that it was smooth sailing. (Pun intended…Naval Base…get it?) Still, by the time we were checking in at the pro shop, it was only a few minutes before 7:15. The folks in the pass building weren’t terribly friendly, but everyone working at the course made up for that and made us feel perfectly welcome.

Luckily, they weren’t too busy at that time and we didn’t feel rushed getting out to the first tee. We ultimately caught up to some groups ahead of us, but enjoyed a nice pace of under four hours nonetheless, which was ideal.

From what I had previously seen of the course and reviews I’ve read on GK, my expectations for Seabee were set rather low. Though it was nothing terribly exciting, it turned out to have more charm than anticipated.

The name, Seabee, sounds a little silly, but I’ve since learned it refers to a special Navy construction force. I did like the little bad-ass bee logo that was on the flags at the course, as well.

In terms of the layout and overall vibe, it was very similar to the Miramar base course I played earlier last week. It is very flat with the greens providing the only real undulation on the course. However, the layout felt a bit more interesting to me at Seabee. The front nine plays a little tighter with plenty of trees lining the fairways and some notable doglegs. The back nine opens up, but brings a few water hazards into play and also a massive waste bunker that separates holes 10 and 12 and is a distinctive feature.

The course as a whole is not very long and not super challenging with the exception of a few tough/long holes thrown in to keep you on your toes. There is some nice bunkering around some of the greens to provide some much needed contour and visual intimidation on approaches. Otherwise, the greens don’t feature any significant sloping or undulation.

Being on the base, Seabee doesn’t offer much in terms of scenery and pales in comparison to other Ventura County courses in that respect. I would love to see them add more trees around the perimeter of the course. That would provide a better aesthetic quality and obscure some of the ugly buildings that surround it.

Another pleasant surprise at Seabee was the conditioning. The course was in pretty solid shape for late summer. There were some burnt out areas in fairways and rough, but the playing surfaces were mostly nice and the rough was especially nice around the greens. The greens were in pretty good shape. A few on the back seemed to roll a tad slower, but the surfaces were both receptive for approaches and smooth for putts. I was in a few sand traps and really liked the sand here. Not too fluffy and not too thin—just right, if you ask me.

Seabee won’t blow you away with any super memorable design features, but it’s a solid overall course and a good value. Getting onto the base as a civilian can be a slight hassle, so just make sure to arrive extra early and call ahead to the pro shop to make sure a sponsor comes out to meet you. We learned they do also offer annual base passes in the pro shop if you are a regular visitor, so that makes more enticing if you live locally and want to take advantage of low prices and less crowds.

Some pictures from The Seabee Golf Club of Port Hueneme (9/6/13):

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We knew we were going to play a second round on Friday, but weren’t sure what until we finished at Seabee. We kind of wanted to see how things went with the morning round and then figure out the afternoon from there. It ended up working out quite well as we stumbled upon a fantastic last-minute deal…

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa • Ojai, CA • 9/6/13

We found a “hot deal” time at 12:50 on GolfNow for $59, which is a great price for this usually quite expensive course. I also happened to have a $10 off promo code (rewards status from booking so many times on the site this year), which made it an even better deal!

By the time we finished at Seabee, the weather was absolutely perfect in the 70s with a slight ocean breeze. The one drawback of heading toward Ojai is it’s much hotter in the valley than on the coast. As we got closer to the course, we watched the temperature gauge in my car climb steadily and ultimately get over 100 degrees. It turned out to be quite toasty, but not unbearable out there.

After checking in, the starter told us we’d be next up after another twosome that just headed over to the first tee. We took our time getting some drinking water and getting our bags organized. Before we could head down to hole #1, another foursome jammed past and over to the tee box. We rolled up to at least get in line. Apparently they started on #10 for some reason and were just making their turn. They didn’t seem willing to let us play ahead as a twosome, so we just rolled with it.

By the time they left and we were getting ready to tee off, another group came up behind us saying they had the first tee. The starter clearly had no idea what had happened to us and sent these guys out thinking we had already teed off. They were a little surly, but ultimately backed off as we weren’t about to give up our spot in line. Though it wasn’t too busy out there on a hot afternoon, the starter could have been been more aware of what was going on. He was quite aloof with us and then nowhere to be found when any confusion arose.

The front nine was a bit slow behind this foursome, but they left after the 9th hole and it was wide open for us after that. All in all, it was another sub-four-hour round, which was great. And as my partner reminded me, Ojai Valley is such a beautiful course it’s one where you shouldn’t mind taking a little more time to enjoy.

In terms of the climate and the overall course design/scenery, there was definitely a big contrast between the two courses we played that day. I think that added to the experience

This was my second time playing here, with the first being quite a few years ago. I loved it then and I still love it now. I do have a soft spot for Ojai as it’s the town where I was born and lived during my early childhood. I still have some family there, too. It’s a really great little town with a lot of history and charm, with Ojai Valley Inn & Spa being one of its biggest draws. The resort’s roots date back to the 1920s so the course offers some classic appeal.

When I played here the first time, the nines were different. I am actually torn as to which arrangement I like better. What is currently the front nine here is more scenic and memorable overall, so you could argue it’s better to save that for the second half of your round. It’s very hilly and secluded as it winds its way through a small canyon. There are a ton of big oak and eucalyptus trees and some tricky hole designs.

Both the 1st and 2nd holes feature pretty uncomfortable tee shots and severe doglegs. As it is now, they really throw you right into the fire with some tough opening holes.

However, I also fully understand the reason they switched the nines. What are now the 16th and 17th holes are really the two signature holes here. They were once “lost” holes from the original design that were recovered and redone more recently. The 16th is a gorgeous downhill par-3 with several bunkers guarding the front. The 17th is a fun and challenging par-4 with a severe dogleg right and a big canyon along the whole right side of the hole. Finishing with these holes (and a brutally long, but great par-4 18th hole) is a nice touch.

However you configure it, Ojai Valley is one truly beautiful course that offers plenty of challenge throughout. It’s an old school design with timeless visual appeal. There are some really short holes like the par-3 3rd (right around 100 yards) and some really long holes like the par-3 11th (well over 220 yards). The front nine plays much shorter and tighter while the back plays longer and more open from tee to green.

I wouldn’t say the course was in “pristine” resort conditions, but featured good playability overall. Clearly, the summer heat in Ojai has taken its toll as there were some thin areas in the fairways and rough, but I found mostly good playing surfaces. The greens are recovering well from the recent aeration, with some small bumps here and there. Mostly, they were quite smooth and receptive. The bunkers here are full of heavy beach style sand, which I always struggle with but can’t complain about. The tee boxes were great throughout.

I really love Ojai Valley Inn and consider it a must-play level of course. The regular prices are generally quite steep and that is definitely a deterrent for regular play. But if you find a good deal like we did or are looking for a nice place for an occasional “splurge,” this is an excellent option. I hear the resort and spa are exceptional, as well, so it’s a good place for a weekend getaway with your spouse.

Some pictures from Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (9/6/13):

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