Course Review: The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe

On Saturday, I had the rare opportunity to play one of Southern California’s most exclusive private clubs, and undoubtedly one of the toughest to access in all of San Diego County. I’ve played a lot in Rancho Santa Fe lately, but The Bridges is the one that always intrigues people the most.

Some people may recall The Bridges from The Battle at The Bridges Monday night television specials that took place around the turn of the millennium (preceded by The Battles at Bighorn and the Sherwood Showdown that started the series). All the matches featured Tiger Woods in his prime and most had him facing San Diego’s own Phil Mickelson. They were paired with other hot players at the time, providing fun team competitions that took advantage of golf’s soaring popularity during that era.

Since then, The Bridges has stepped back behind the curtain as one of the area’s most exclusive clubs with a relatively small membership. It’s one that has become very difficult to get on as a guest.

Fortunately, I attended the Rancho Buena Vista Little League charity tournament at Shadowridge Country Club earlier this summer. A threesome at The Bridges just happened to be up for bid in the silent auction, so I made a charge and ended up winning it. I had a couple hardcore course collector friends ready to chip in for the cost, so our threesome was set.

We finally got the tee time set up to visit The Bridges as guests for the afternoon. Our tentative tee time was 2:00, but there are so few people ever playing out here that it’s merely a suggestion. We had one of the workers at the course playing with us as host, and we had a great time out there with the course pretty much all to ourselves in the afternoon. It gave us a small taste of what it’s like to be part of such an exclusive club.

I’ll back up a little and talk about the clubhouse, which is massive and beautiful with a Tuscan feel. Some vineyards and orchards surround the course, along with some amazingly huge and stunning homes all along the rolling hillsides. We got to use the guest lockers for changing and see some of the big name lockers in there. Of course, Phil’s was easy to find and my guest locker was right next to Scotty Cameron’s. Unfortunately, it didn’t rub off on my putting abilities during the round. Along the hallways, there are some neat photos and memorabilia from The Battles at The Bridges, so those are fun to look at. Rumor has it that Phil was actually at the club in the morning, but didn’t stick around for too long. How cool would it have been to run into him while there?

The staff was super nice and welcoming, from the valet parking out front to everyone inside the clubhouse to the very friendly starter. We relaxed in the bar area a little before teeing off. It’s a simple and inexpensive touch, but there were jars of candy and all sorts of different snacks to enjoy in there. I feasted on my share of Red Vines and Chex Mix. Of course, when you make the turn on the course, don’t forget to stop by the snack bar for some frozen yogurt on tap with jars of various tasty toppings (crushed Oreos and Heath Bars for me, thank you).

As for the course itself, it’s as beautiful as you would hope after so much build up. I will say the back nine easily outshines the front, but the entire layout is challenging and diverse with no two holes playing the same. The front nine is relatively open, but the hilly terrain and well-protected greens offer plenty of challenge. The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., so you know it’s going to be something interesting.

The back nine is where The Bridges really grabs you, and it’s also where the club earns its name. There are several long and distinctive suspension bridges on this side of the course, spanning large canyons. These canyons provide some pretty daunting tee shots with forced carries, but make for some really run and visually exciting holes designs.

In my opinion, the signature holes here are the 10th, 11th and 18th. The 10th is spectacular to look at when you are up on the practice green. Next to that green is the “Mickelson” black tee box, which provides an amazing view and a scary look at that forced carry to the fairway. The normal people tees are further down, but it’s still a pretty intimidating tee shot on a relatively short hole that doglegs hard left once you are across the ravine.

The 11th is a cool par-3 playing across a similarly intimidating ravine. There is some bail-out room around the green, but you’ll be in for a tough recovery if you miss on the tee shot.

Then, the 18th is a pretty incredible way to finish as you head back toward the imposing clubhouse. Water is in play for long hitters and shorter hitters will have to deal with it on the second shot. The green is elevated with an awesome bunker complex short and right. It’s just a great-looking hole all around.

My one beef with the layout is that I felt there are a lot of places where you are hitting from a downhill lie up toward an elevated green. In a few cases this was due to my lack of power off the tee and the fact we may have bit off more than we could chew from the blue tees. However, I noticed most of the time that even if I hit it another 50 yards, it would still be a similar situation. The 18th is the prime example of this, made even more complicated by the water in play.

As for conditions, they were excellent all around. I wouldn’t say “pristine,” but by today’s standards in Southern California (with the drought in full effect), you can’t get much nicer than this. The greens were receptive, but lightning fast and smooth on top (rolling at a 12 on the stimp meter they said). Everything was pretty great.

I am really grateful I was able to stumble upon the opportunity to play here thanks to the silent auction prize. Though really, really nice on all levels, I don’t know if I was completely blown away by the course. Design-wise, I actually liked The Farms better and Santaluz just as much probably, if I were to compare with other private clubs nearby. That’s just a little nitpicking because the course is fantastic by any measure. The clubhouse, service and amenities at The Bridges would definitely take the cake, so that luxury treatment is also a major factor to consider when it comes to a club as exclusive as this one.

Certainly, if you ever have a chance to play here, do not pass it up!

Some pictures from The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe (9/26/15):

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