Short Course Blitz #10: An Inefficient Tour of East San Diego

For the most part, my Short Course Blitzes have gone pretty smoothly. I’ve been able to get out and play quickly when I needed to, but every so often things don’t go exactly as planned.

On Saturday, I was ultimately able to play all four courses I had intended to with this “East San Diego” grouping I had laid out. In fact, I actually squeezed in one extra because I had to think on the fly after a couple of early hiccups in the plan.

I got started early as usual with the one tee time I did have on the books…

Sycuan Golf & Tennis Resort (Pine Glen) • El Cajon, CA • 12/20/14

The day started off exactly as I hoped, as I planned to start with the furthest away course and work my way back home. I booked a 7:19 tee time here through GolfNow. It was a “hot deal” walking rate of $12 and well worth that.

I arrived early and was the first one ready to play this course while everyone else naturally was lined up to play the main two courses (Oak Glen and Willow Glen). I teed off on my own around 6:45 and had the place to myself (not counting crossing paths a couple times with maintenance workers).

Pine Glen is an enjoyable 18-hole par-3 course. There are white and blue tees listed on the scorecard, but only the white tees were out and they kind of jumped around between the forward and back tee boxes. I just played the markers and that was fine.

This course will allow you to use a variety of clubs as the distances vary from 77 yards all the way up to 211. The front nine plays a few hundred yards longer compared to the back nine, where the longest hole is 145 from the blues.

The layout of the course is pretty straightforward, but trees come into play and the small-ish greens do have some shape and slight undulation. There are no bunkers on the course and only one water hazard that comes into play. Otherwise, what you see is what you get, so it’s a good course for beginners or a relaxed resort round with the spouse/kids.

This being a par-3 course, the things that matter most in terms of conditions are greens and tees. The tees were not great, but fine enough except for a few really chewed up ones. The greens were very nice. A few had some rough patches, but for the most part they were soft and rolling smooth at medium speeds. Anywhere in between the tees and greens was hit or miss, with some nice lush sections and other areas very thin and/or patchy.

Driving all the way out to Sycuan made me wish I was playing one of the main courses there rather than Pine Glen, but it’s a solid par-3 course and definitely a big step above the average “short” course.

Some pictures from Sycuan Golf & Tennis Resort (Pine Glen) (12/20/14):

After a quick round at Sycuan, the rest of the morning kind of fell apart and I had to improvise.

The initial plan was to play Sun Valley next, but when I arrived there I could see a massive contingent of disc golfers out there. Clearly it was some sort of big tournament and I could see the regular golf and disc golf courses intertwined, so there was no way I was getting out at that time.

So, I went to my next course I planned to play: Willowbrook. It looked wide open with nobody on or near the first tee, so I was happy. However, when I checked in at the pro shop, the guy shut me down. He told me there was a members “tournament” out there (three groups of elderly fellows) and they were about to make the turn. Even though he and I both knew I could tee off quickly and they’d never see me in front of them, he still denied my request because he didn’t want to get in trouble with the members. To quote him: “Because they run the place.”

Ugh.

I had some decisions to make at this point, so I looked at my remaining San Diego list for the nearest option in a different grouping I had put together. It was about 20 minutes away, but I went for it…

Town Park Villas Golf Course • San Diego, CA • 12/20/14

Truth be told, I wasn’t even completely sure if this course was still in existence. Thankfully, it was. The neighborhood where it sits had lots of construction going on and the tiny parking lot is easy to miss. There were only two cars in the lot and a sign on the small building that said “open,” so I felt good about getting this round in.

The lady inside seemed surprised to see anyone (on a Saturday morning) so clearly this is not a popular golf course, but it really wasn’t too bad. It was $12 for nine holes, though I’m sure you can stay out there as long as you want. I ran into one guy who was kind of looping around and doing his own thing for practice. Otherwise, I had it to myself.

This course reminded me of Hidden Oaks up in the Santa Barbara area. Both are kind of dumpy, yet oddly charming, courses with interesting settings. The Town Park Villas course plays down in a little canyon and the 9-hole par-3 layout is okay.

One hole plays at 140 yards, but the rest are in the 75-100 yard range. The conditions weren’t that great, but not quite as terrible as you think they’ll be when you arrive at the course. The greens were ugly and slow turf, so that wasn’t too inspiring. The tee boxes were very inconsistent. Some were just bare dirt and others needed to be mowed. It wasn’t pretty, but it was all playable enough for a pitch and putt course.

The fatal flaw of this course as a non-resident visitor is the routing. The 9th hole finishes nowhere near the parking lot/pro shop. The signage is very lacking and I actually had to pull up the GPS on my phone to navigate back to my car. It ended up being about a 15-minute walk along a neighborhood sidewalk and uphill all the way. It was exhausting and awkward as I passed by residents who gave me odd looks. Needless to say, this routing is terrible.

I wouldn’t recommend playing here, but if you must, then bring a friend, drive separately and park one car on the street at the bottom of the hill.

Some pictures from Town Park Villas Golf Course (12/20/14):

This round killed enough time that I was able to backtrack and hit the courses where I got denied earlier…

Willowbrook Golf Course • Lakeside, CA • 12/20/14

I knew the member tournament would be well past the turn by now, so I headed back over and was able to get out right away this time. After so much trouble, what bothered me most was the price. When he told me it was $25 for 9 holes, I was surprised. I ended up paying $9 more for a cart to get around as quickly as possible. I didn’t run into anyone until the 9th hole and finished in about an hour.

Willowbrook is a country club, but the golf course and grille are open to the public. It is a 9-hole regulation-length layout with a traditional set-up of two par-5s and two par-3s. There are slightly different tees for front and back nine play. Both nines are around 2,900 total yards, so it’s not an overly lengthy course, but it’s not a pushover either.

The layout is mostly pretty flat and wide open. There are a couple water hazards in play and the most interesting hole is easily the par-4 4th wrapping tightly around that water and doglegging right. At under 300 yards, it offers some risk/reward decisions for longer hitters.

The course was in pretty solid shape for winter. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were decent. Nothing fantastic, but more good than bad sections. The rough was not much of a factor. I was in one sand trap and it had pretty good sand, though grass was growing in around the edges. Lastly, the greens were very nice. They were relatively quick and smooth on putts, but soft and receptive on approaches.

Though overpriced for what you get, Willowbrook is a pretty solid 9-hole course. That’s about all there is to say about it.

Some pictures from Willowbrook Golf Course (12/20/14):

After Willowbrook, I called Sun Valley to check on the situation with the disc golfers. The girl there told me they were almost done, so I worked my way back down to La Mesa, grabbed a quick lunch and ultimately it all worked out…

Sun Valley Golf Course • La Mesa, CA • 12/20/14

Note: This course is now closed.

As mentioned, Sun Vally doubles as a disc golf course. Between foot golf and disc golf, that is a pretty common trend amongst these little courses and I can understand the effort to expand business when the regular golf industry is struggling. Rarely have I encountered anyone playing disc or foot golf while I attempted to play a course, but I was definitely the minority here.

Not only was the big tournament group still hanging around by the pro shop, but there were several other groups out on the course. It seems a bit dangerous and let’s just say the etiquette of the discers is a bit more “loose” than I’m used to. They jumped from hole to hole and a big group of about seven of them tried to cut in, heading straight from the pro shop to the 6th tee in front of me, but I ignored them and teed up my ball before they got any bad ideas.

I don’t have anything against disc golf. I’ve played it and it’s quite fun, but I’m not sure the two games mix well when played concurrently on the same grounds.

I was playing behind a twosome of regular golfers and they had some discers in front of them, but the pace was still moving quickly enough on a busy day. I finished in about an hour. There were some frustrating moments out there, but I can’t complain too much I guess.

The price was $10 for 9 holes. They usually have cheaper rates available on GolfNow, but I just opted for walk-on play after such a hectic morning. I just wanted to get it over with.

The holes at Sun Valley range from 95 yards up to 145. The whole course sits in a small, hilly property, so most holes play either uphill or downhill.

The course was in okay shape. The greens were inconsistent, though. Some were pretty decent and others were ugly. I saw a number of big gashes where discs came down sideways and cut right into the sensitive turf. The tee boxes were beat up, but I was able to get a tee in the ground and it didn’t matter too much.

I don’t know if Saturday was just an unusual day with that big disc golf tournament happening, but I get the sense that the disc golf course as Sun Valley is more popular than the regular one. If I lived nearby I might care more, but it’s a “one and done” for me and I’m just glad I was able to check it off the list on this trip rather than saving it for another visit to the area.

Some pictures from Sun Valley Golf Course (12/20/14):

This last course was always in the plans. It would probably categorize more as North SD, but it made sense to play it while on the way back from the other courses I visited…

St. Mark Executive Golf Course • Lake San Marcos, CA • 12/20/14

Like its big brother just up the street, this course was renamed in recent years. Formerly, it was known as the Lake San Marcos South course.

I have yet to play the main St. Mark course since it was renovated and rebranded with a fancier-sounding name, but by all accounts it has been a significant improvement over the very poor conditions I encountered. I don’t have a comparison for the executive course since I haven’t played it before, but from my experience Saturday it also appears to be heading in a positive direction.

I booked a tee time through GolfNow on my phone. They had options for a walking rate ($12) and with cart ($18), so I opted for the cart at the end of a long day. Either way, I was satisfied with the price I paid.

I teed off by myself around 2:00. I later joined up with another single. We played through a couple groups on the front nine and then were stuck behind a threesome on the back, but still finished all 18 in about two hours.

St. Mark is a fun executive layout with four short par-4s (longest one is 306 yards) and a good mix of par-3s (ranging from 80 to 161 yards). There are some changes in elevation and lots of big trees in play, but it’s a course where you can be aggressive and fire at the pins on most holes. To me, it’s a nice example of what an executive course should be. Serious golfers can encounter just enough challenge and fun to stay entertained while casual/beginner golfers can enjoy themselves without getting beat up by big scores.

The course conditions were good overall. The tee boxes were mostly good, but some of the short holes were pretty chewed up. For the most part, the course looks pretty green and lush throughout, but was a little weaker when you look close-up throughout fairways and rough. Still, it was well above average for an executive course this time of year. The greens were pretty nice—very soft and the poa was, as expected, a little bumpy late in the day. However, the surfaces were very well maintained. I wasn’t in a bunker and there aren’t too many on the course to begin with.

I was pleasantly surprised with this course and it was probably the winner on the day. They are in the midst of building a new pro shop/clubhouse, so the parking lot area feels a bit “under construction” and cramped, but it will be one more nice touch along with the St. Mark name and the good conditioning to make this a short course that’s worth playing.

Some pictures from St. Mark Executive Golf Course (12/20/14):

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