Yesterday, I went back and visited an old friend here in Orange County. By that, I mean I played San Clemente Golf Course for the first time in many years. This used to be a regular stop for me and I’ve always had a fondness for the course as one of the best overall values in this region. However, it’s known for always being pretty crowded and that is generally a big deterrent for me.
A friend set up a 12:37 tee time here and it sounded like a good excuse to make my return. The weather here lately has been ridiculously nice (80+ degrees in February!), which makes the oceanfront setting San Clemente even more appealing. However, when it’s such a perfect “beach day,” the traffic can be brutal. It took me over an hour to drive from my home in Irvine to the course, which is only 25 miles away and is all freeway driving!
I was expecting pretty slow play on the course, as well, but thankfully the Valentine’s Day holiday helped out a little. There were plenty of people out there, but certainly not the usual Saturday crowds. We played as a threesome and teed off around 12:45. It was mostly twosomes and threesomes out on the course around us, along with a single who played behind us. He was taking his time and playing three balls, though, so he never pushed much. We had to wait a little on most holes, but the total pace of 4:20 was fantastic at this course.
The price was $44 to walk, which in Orange County is a great value. Had we known it wouldn’t be so crowded, we might have booked a twilight time (after 1:00) to save a few bucks. Oh well. San Clemente is a decent walking course, but it is pretty hilly in some stretches and offers a pretty good workout as you make your way around.
As for the course, this is an enjoyable design that is always more challenging than I give it credit for in my mind. There are some pretty simple and straightforward holes (especially the first half of the front nine), but then it gets a lot more interesting starting with the 6th. The parts of the course across the street (holes 7-9 and holes 13-18) bring in some nice changes in elevation and some added difficulty.
To me, the highlight stretch of 13-16 is kind of a departure from the rest of the course as you go back into a little canyon and circle around through some homes. The 13th is a beast of a par-3, playing 205 yards uphill with a pretty narrow tee view. The 14th is a really fun short par-4 with a well-protected and elevated green. The 15th is another great par-3 with a downhill shot over a small ravine. The 16th is a tricky dogleg left with a tricky tee shot and then a nice approach over a giant dip in the fairway.
There are a few nice ocean views throughout different parts of the course and the relaxing breeze felt great all day. Considering the course is built along a hillside overlooking the ocean, you can expect there to be a natural break on the greens like other similar coastal courses. The greens here are always very deceptive.
The course was in very good overall shape. A few tee boxes could use a little leveling out, but they were mostly pretty well-kept. The fairways were consistently lush and green. They were maybe a tad shaggy for my tastes when playing kikuyu, but that’s a very minor quibble. The rough was a bit more inconsistent. There were some really thick, brutal patches and other spots that were thin. Overall, though, it seemed to be more good than bad everywhere I looked. I was in one bunker and it had nice sand. The greens looked a little splotchy and we hit the occasional bump, but they rolled much smoother and quicker than they looked.
As a muni course that offers a nice value, provides an excellent setting, is generally kept in decent condition and draws plenty of crowds, San Clemente is Orange County’s counterpart to similar popular coastal public courses like Los Verdes and Coronado. However, for some reason it doesn’t get the same kind of widespread recognition. I’d put it on the same level as those and am usually going to be happier playing here than some of the “high-end” Orange County courses that cost well over $100 to play on a weekend.
Some pictures from San Clemente Golf Course (2/14/15):