Course Review: Talega Golf Club

Friday found me with a half day off from work, so I was looking for something interesting a little closer to home for an afternoon round. I found a 1:36 tee time at Talega Golf Club on Click4TeeTimes for $49. It was not exactly as cheap as I was hoping to find, but it’s a reasonable deal on what I’ve always viewed as one of Orange County’s better tracks.

I played here once a number of years ago and really liked the course then. I remember it being pretty similar in terms of design, setting and challenge as Monarch Beach, just without the couple of signature oceanfront holes. That comparison still holds true.

I got there a little early, but the place was quite busy on a nice, albeit windy, afternoon in San Clemente. They ended up moving me up one spot into the 1:28 tee time and I was paired with another threesome. We had to wait on a lot of shots and it seemed slow at times, but the total pace was a reasonable 4.5 hours.

Talega Golf Club is woven into a nice community of the same name, so houses can come into play on some of the holes if you really spray a drive. It is listed as a Fred Couples “signature” design, so Freddie had some hand in it. With those “signature” courses, you never quite know how much the person of note was involved, though.

Talega is a tale of two nines. Design-wise, they look similar and offer the same features. There is a lot of natural undulation throughout the fairways, there are some gigantic bunker with intricate and intimidating shapes and the greens are relatively large with significant slopes. Plenty of trouble can come into play on most holes, whether it’s the native bushes and ravines running through this little canyon or some nice water hazards. This course would definitely qualify as a “target” style course that puts a premium on accuracy.

The big difference between the front and back nines is the distances. From the blue tees, the front nine is just over 3,000 yards. Only one of the par-4s is over 400 yards and there are three par-3s compared to two par-5s. In contrast, the back nine is nearly 3,600 yards. Three of its par-4 holes are over 400 yards and it has three par-5s, including one that measures out at 613 yards from the blues.

One of the guys I was playing with warned me to get my scoring done on the front because the back nine was significantly tougher. Though I agree with that assessment, I actually did much better on the back. Go figure.

The holes that stand out most at Talega are the par-3s. These are all nice designs and were the parts of the course that I remembered most from my previous visit. The best two are numbers 5 and 7, which both play over water (and dead into the wind most afternoons). The 18th is also a great finishing hole as a very demanding par-4 with water up the left and a very narrow and frightening approach view to a skinny, but deep green. The tee shot offers plenty of room for error, though long hitters will want to leave driver in the bag because of the reachable water. The approach requires a great shot to avoid a big score.

I mentioned the wind, which to me is a big story at Talega, especially during Friday’s round. The way this course is routed is rather unique and follows a similar pattern on both nines. Holes 2-4 and holes 11-13 play uphill, but with the wind right at your back. To me, this is a very tough combination, especially considering you have to fly most of these greens to reach them. There aren’t many run-up opportunities on this course. The wind makes higher approach shots are very difficult to judge.

On the other hand, holes 5-7 and holes 14-16 come back in the opposite direction. In other words, they play back downhill but with the wind right in your face. Personally, I find this combination less difficult, but they do play a lot longer than the yardage and it’s always a bit taxing playing into the wind. In general, I’d also say these are the tougher hole designs (numbers 5, 6, 12 and especially 16 come to mind) to add an extra level of challenge.

I do like the design at Talega, but I was quite disappointed in the conditions. Most tee boxes were either slightly crowned and/or had plenty of divot damage. They had the markers set up really close together, too, so there wasn’t much space to find a decent spot on some tee boxes. The greens were really beat up with a lot of thin/sandy spots. They were very slow and bumpy, and we had a number of putts go off-line thanks to the bumpiness. Several of the collars around the greens were pretty ugly and chewed up, as well.

The rough was hit and miss. It was very patchy with some bare areas (a few, but not all marked as GUR), some clumpy spots and other sections that were reasonably lush. I wasn’t in a bunker (surprising because there are so many here), but what I could see looked mixed. Some looked harder than concrete while others looked fantastic. I guess it’s the luck of the draw, but it’s best to avoid them as much as possible no matter what.

The one saving grace of Talega was the fairways. Though dappled green/brown in color and having a few thin spots here and there, they mostly played great. I almost always had an excellent lie and I love hitting off the tightly mown bermuda grass! The funny thing is that the pictures below look better “from a distance” than when up close and personal with the course.

When in nice shape, I would definitely recommend Talega. I do appreciate the fact that they offer some fairly reasonable afternoon rates compared to some of the other ridiculously overprices OC courses. However, I will personally wait until I see a string of positive reviews before returning here again. It’s a course that deserves nice conditioning, so I didn’t really like seeing it so rough around the edges—even if that is somewhat a sign of the times right now.

Some pictures from Talega Golf Club (7/19/14):

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