Course Review: San Juan Hills Golf Club

After watching the Americans choke away another Ryder Cup, I was happy to get out on Sunday afternoon for some golf of my own. It’s not often I play in Orange County, especially on a weekend. I always have mixed feelings about OC golf. I love the convenience of the idea geographically, but most courses are too expensive or to crowded on weekends. Every so often, though, a deal will arise to make it worthwhile.

Such was the case when a friend and I saw some great prices at San Juan Hills in nearby San Juan Capistrano. This course normally charges upwards of $85 on the weekends and that a definite deterrent. Like most overpriced OC courses, it’s never worth the rack rate here.

On GolfNow, San Juan Hills has some wacky pricing. Every tee time has a different rate. They go up, down and all around with no rhyme or reason. However it works, a friend and I saw an 11:28 time on Sunday for just $29. That’s a heck of a deal here and we jumped all over it.

When we arrived, the place was busy and we knew it wasn’t going to be a lazy Sunday afternoon round. We teed off a few minutes late and the pace seemed pretty slow on the front nine. The back nine did open up some. Overall, the pace was a little over 4.5 hours, which isn’t too bad. It just felt slower than that while out there.

San Juan Hills is a very fun course that won’t leave you bored. Some people won’t like it because it has some quirky holes. At a little over 6,300 yards from the blue tees, it’s not long by today’s standards, but I can assure you it plays longer than the scorecard. This is a very hilly course (especially the front nine) with more uphill holes than downhill ones. It was also very windy on Sunday and it always seemed to be in our faces, so everything played even longer.

Most fairways here are relatively forgiving, but many greens are elevated and pretty well protected by bunkers and false edges. Many require you to carry your ball all the way to the green. With kikuyu fringes and rough (and some of those aforementioned hills and bunkers), you won’t get away with too many low-runners here. Believe me, I tried!

The front nine is consistent in its style as it works along the hillside with holes that flow together. The back nine is a bit more schizophrenic. You start on the other side of the road with a couple of flat and straightforward holes. You play a relatively straightforward par-5 as number 12. Then, you cross over another street to a different world known as 13-15.

These are the signature holes of San Juan Hills, perhaps because they stick out a bit (both geographically and design-wise). They are fun ones, though. The 13th is a tough dogleg left with a semi-blind tee shot. The 14th is a great downhill par-3 over water. The 15th is a beast of a dogleg left around a big water hazard and playing at over 430 yards from the blue tees!

One interesting design quirk at San Juan Hills is the fact that both nines end with a par-3 hole. That’s pretty rare to see one nine finishing with a par-3, but it’s very odd to see both. My only real beef with this is that the 18th should be a more dynamic “signature” hole. As it is, it’s a pretty straightforward par-3 heading back toward the clubhouse. That would seem like a great one to dress up for a fun and picturesque hole with the newer clubhouse in the background.

The conditions were playable, but I wasn’t overly impressed. For $29, I can’t complain. It’s well worth that great rate and I’ll gladly play here often if they have deals like that in the future, but I wouldn’t pay anything close to the rack rate here right now.

The fairways and rough are a hodge podge mix of bermuda and kikuyu and there were some thin spots and ugly transitional areas between the two overlapping grasses. Still, most fairway lies I had were pretty good. The rough was just as inconsistent. I was only in a couple bunkers and they were okay. The greens were pretty quick and I liked the speeds, but most were pretty bumpy. The 18th looked the worst of them all.

Overall, for the price we paid it was a fantastic deal on a good local course. It is hard not to judge a little based on what their “normal” rates are on weekends. I tend to think this way on all Orange County courses no matter what I actually pay. For the right price, I’d recommend San Juan Hills in a heartbeat. For the wrong price, I’d look into other options first right now because of conditions I’d consider relatively mediocre. Whether it’s one of OC’s other mid-range courses or heading outside the Orange Curtain like I normally do on weekends, there are better options out there most of the time.

Some pictures from San Juan Hills Golf Club (9/28/14):

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