Course Review: Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club

I kept it pretty simple this weekend with just one round planned on Sunday. I have a lot of golf coming up in the next few weeks, including a few birthday rounds this week and also my next out-of-state “Bogeys Across America” adventure next week.

This weekend was so simple, in fact, that it was a nice 15-minute drive to get to Arroyo Trabuco down in Mission Viejo. A friend of mine is a member of the men’s club here and was able to get us out for a decent reduced rate of $40 in the afternoon. We had a 3:12 tee time and the course was much busier than I expected at that time of day. Still, we teed off on time, and though we had to wait on most shots, the pace remained decent at about 4.5 hours.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Arroyo Trabuco. My previous visits here (quite a few years ago) left some things to be desired. At the same time, I remember liking a lot about the course itself. I always felt it could be a great course if they could get the grass to grow better. The problem was that the turf never seemed to “mature” after they opened the course, so everything was very firm and fast. That might not normally be a big deal, but the layout here really isn’t conducive to that kind of play. There are Environmentally Sensitive hazard areas in play on every hole and it could be frustrating watching decent shots catch a firm bounce and roll out into trouble. The greens were also super firm and impossible to hold on approaches.

Otherwise, I really liked the layout and the overall setting. It is very scenic and secluded running through and along a small canyon. It’s not an overly punishing design with wide landing areas and accessible greens, but it offers enough challenge to make you work and keep you engaged. Each hole offers something a little different. Overall, it’s a very pleasant modern SoCal design by Casey O’Callaghan and Tom Lehman.

There are some longer, wide open holes and some shorter quirkier holes like the 6th. It’s a hole that some people love to hate, but I think it’s great. It’s a lay-up for most off the tee and then you have a semi-blind short approach in to an elevated green. Longer hitters may be tempted to try and drive the green and there is some bail-out room short and right. It offers a few different playing options. Whatever approach you take, good shots are rewarded and bad shots are punished.

The back nine is very nice as it plays down into the valley amongst the trees. The 13th is a beautiful par-3 over water and then the next two holes are very pretty, as well. From behind the greens looking back, you are treated to a nicely framed view of Saddleback Mountain in the distance.

Recent reviews on Greenskeeper.org had me really excited to revisit Arroyo Trabuco after several years away. They spoke of softer/lusher conditions and it seems they had finally figured out some of the turf challenges.

From tee to green, this is exactly what I experienced. The fairways and rough were in excellent condition with a nice, thick and fluffy base of bermuda grass. It does make the course play a little longer without so much roll-out on drives, but it’s great to hit from on your approach shots. It looks and plays so much nicer than it used to, which makes me happy. The rough was cut down and not penal, but thick enough to stop your ball from running into the hazard areas. Around the greens, the rough was a little deeper and “chunkier,” which made chips pretty tricky.

Unfortunately, I cannot say anything good about the greens right now. They were awful. My playing partner (the member) said they were ideal just a couple months ago and that’s apparently closer to what the previous GK reviewers experienced. On Sunday, they were just not good. There were lots of dead/sandy areas, tons of old and unrepaired ball marks and boy were they bumpy! And slow!!! They were softer than the “old” ones I remember, now with the poa annua surfaces (I believe they were bentgrass in the past, but I’m not certain), but they are rather jacked up right now for whatever reason. Hopefully they can bring them back around because that’s the only negative about the course at this point. Unfortunately, it is a major negative.

Other than the greens, I would have nothing but great things to say about this visit to Arroyo Trabuco. It’s clear that they have finally gotten things right with the fairway and rough grass, but the greens still need some work. I hope to keep hearing good things because this is a local course I’ll be happy to come back to again. With good greens, this would easily become one of my favorite tracks in all of Orange County!

Some pictures from Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club (8/2/15):

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