Monterey, Day 2: Carmel Calling

I’m quite behind in my posts after a long, busy weekend up in the Monterey area. I’m still exhausted from the trip, but I had such a great time.

Plus I wanted to make sure my round at Cypress Point was the lead story on the site for at least a few extra days!

Friday found a friend and I in Carmel, which is home to a handful of courses, all of which happen to be along Carmel Valley Road and therefore share some similarities. Last year, I played Quail Lodge and enjoyed the setting, so this year presented an opportunity to visit a couple of others…

Rancho Cañada Golf Club (East) • Carmel, CA • 11/22/13

The Rancho Cañada courses have never been high on the list when it comes to the Monterey Peninsula, but I figured I’d eventually play both. It just so happens we found a Costco deal that included rounds at Rancho Cañada and DeLaveaga (which we were already planning to play on Saturday). The price was $69 and included carts at both courses, basically making each about $35 and a great deal compared to normal rates.

There are two courses at Rancho Cañada—East and West. We played the East. From what I understand, the West is a little longer while the East is shorter, but tighter.

We made this our early morning warm-up round, though we never came close to warming up. With clear skies all night, the dawn weather was frigid. This course sits right up next to a canyon hillside. It took quite some time for the sun to come up and warm things up. And once it did, the wind picked up significantly, so it was chilly all round long.

We played as a twosome behind a couple other dawn patrollers who we never saw after the first tee. We didn’t waste much time and kept moving quickly, finishing in about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Playing quickly and fighting the cold weather made it a little harder to fully enjoy this course, but I found it to be a solid course overall. It will never measure up to its competition throughout the area, but serves its purpose as a more affordable option that gets most play from local regulars.

The setting is nice and similar to that of Quail Lodge down the street. The layout has some quirks with a lot of trees in play and some funky hole designs, primarily on the front nine. There are many somewhat narrow “chutes” off the tee, but once you get out to the fairway, the course is pretty forgiving the rest of the way to the greens.

There’s a small dry creek/river bed that runs through the course, so several holes play across it and create some of the more memorable moments. The back nine opens up a bit and plays longer. Though I am a fan of target golf, I found myself enjoying the back nine more here.

The course was in pretty good shape. The fairways were mostly pretty nice, though I did see some little flowers and weeds coming through in a few areas. The rough was decent, but there were a lot of dead leaves around, so you really had to keep an eye on the ball. The greens were pretty good. Very soft and wet early, but rolled smoothly enough. The greens here are quite simple and flat. We were over-reading breaks all morning. The bunkers seemed to be more hard-packed mud than sand. I didn’t hit into any, but my friend found a few and they didn’t look very good.

All in all, I enjoyed the course, but still wouldn’t recommend it above any other more notable course in the region. If you are visiting on vacation, it’s a good place for a cheap bonus round, but don’t expect too much. There’s a reason they don’t charge resort fees, so enjoy it for what it is.

Some pictures from Rancho Cañada Golf Club (East) (11/22/13):

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For our afternoon round, we headed just down the street but way up the ladder…

Carmel Valley Ranch Resort • Carmel, CA • 11/22/13

I had some other courses originally lined up for this day, but this turned out to work out the best. I knew I would come play here eventually, but didn’t expect to do it on this trip. Oh well, I’m glad it worked out the way it did, because Carmel Valley Ranch a very good course.

The resort is set back well off the beaten path, so the secluded valley setting offers a great backdrop for this course. It holds distinction as the only Pete Dye designed course in Northern California. That had me pretty excited coming in because, as you know, I am generally a big Dye fan.

The funny thing is that I never really felt like I was playing a Dye course at any time. I kept waiting to see some of the usual hallmarks, but there wasn’t anything that really jumped out. There was one par-3 on the front with some railroad ties along the edge of the water, but the overall visual presentation and challenge factors weren’t what I’ve come to expect from other Dye courses.

That is a very minor issue, though, because the course is still quite nice on every level. The conditions were fantastic and that made for a great aesthetic look all the way around.

I will admit we were a little underwhelmed on the front nine. It felt similar to Quail Lodge in that it was really nice, but not jaw-dropping. These holes are all pretty flat down in the bottom of the valley. Some water and trees come into play, but the layout is mostly pretty forgiving from tee to green. Nothing really jumps out and grabs you, but it’s still a very pleasant experience. It’s not overly challenging, nor is it super easy either.

Then, once your expectations are set and you make the turn, the roller coaster ride begins. This is where the course jumps out and grabs you!

Holes 10-14 especially stand out for their memorable and dynamic designs. The 10th is a zig-zagging par-5 that plays uphill all the way. Behind the green sits a massive oak tree that is clearly the inspiration for the resort’s logo. The sketched tree in the logo features a little swing hanging down from the branches, but the real tree has a weird branch that bends down and certainly inspired the swing in the drawing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any great pictures of it because of the lighting angle that time of day.

The 11th is the most dramatic with a severely elevated tee box. I knew there would be some elevation changes on the back, but I had no idea it was to this extent. It’s a huge drop off to a big fairway, then an uphill approach back up to a well-protected green. It’s a beast of a hole, but man, what a view from the top!

The 12th is no slouch either with a blind tee shot over a ravine. Once you get over the hill with a good drive, you are faced with a big dogleg left. The shot is downhill with a hazard area on the left. This green is massive, so even when you get on the green it’s no picnic. There was a family of eight deer hanging around this green, so that made it even more appealing for us.

The 13th is a mid-length par-3 that plays straight downhill and is super fun. You can barely see the green from the tee boxes. On Friday, the flag was in the very front portion, so they had an extra long flagstick that must have been 12 feet tall. I’ve seen some exaggerated sticks before, but I think this one takes the cake!

Lastly, the 14th features another elevated tee shot and then an uphill approach. This one is shorter and not quite as dramatic as the 11th, but you can be more aggressive on it.

After that, the course goes back down into the valley. All the finishing holes are quite nice, but that first half of the back nine is where you get the wow factor for sure. We enjoyed ourselves plenty on the front nine, but were definitely won over on the back.

The course was in great shape, as well—probably the best overall of any course I played on this trip. A number of tee boxes on the back nine had been recently aerated and were heavily sanded, but it didn’t bother us much. Otherwise, the fairways were excellent and the rough was nice. Some areas of rough were very thick and brutal, while others were easier to hit from with the ball sitting up well. The bunkers were gorgeous with fluffy white resort sand, though we did encounter one (the 15th I think) that was really damp and muddy looking. The greens were fantastic. Firm, but receptive on well-struck shots and quick/smooth on putts.

Behind Cypress Point, Carmel Valley Ranch ended up being my second favorite course of the trip. I should note that I do feel this place is pretty expensive and overpriced for non-resort guests. I think the weekend rack rate was $135, so we opted for a 1:00 twilight time at $85. That’s still pretty steep. Luckily, we teed off early and were finished in about three hours, so there was never a worry of it getting too dark. Given the location and conditions, I’d say it was worth the price we paid, but I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite as much if I paid a whole lot more.

I would still take all the Pebble Beach courses over Carmel Valley when it comes to destination courses in the area, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you get a good deal and the resort lodging up on the hillside looks like it might be a cool little resort to stay at.

Some pictures from Carmel Valley Ranch Resort (11/22/13):

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