Course Review: Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club

It’s been a little quiet on the blog, but it’s kind of the calm
before the storm as the next few weeks will keep me rather busy with new
courses to play and review. I was able to get out yesterday and play
another nice private club. As I keep working my way through the
excellent crop of Rancho Santa Fe courses, I was excited to have the
opportunity play the area’s oldest track, Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.

This
course has a lot of great history and a strong tradition that can be
felt throughout the very nice, yet not overly flashy clubhouse. It was
designed by Max Behr and opened in 1929. The club served as the original
host course for the first six Bing Crosby pro-am tournaments, otherwise
known as “The Clambake.” Ultimately, that tournament made its way up
the coast and is now the annual event at Pebble Beach.

In one of
the restrooms, I saw an old photo of Behr and his associates planning
the course on what looked like a very barren plot of land. To see all
the mature old trees and the seemingly natural contours of this course
now, that was a cool photo to see of the very simple beginnings.

I
was able to play the course through a friend, who is a member of
another local club that has some reciprocity with Rancho Santa Fe GC. We
had a foursome and teed off around noon, finishing in about four hours
total. The guest rate with cart was a reasonable (by private club
standards) $131.

Of all the older Southern California courses I’ve
played, I’m certain Rancho Santa Fe is the most fade-friendly layout
I’ve encountered. It’s fairly forgiving off most tees, but the majority
of doglegs tend to work to the right because of how the overall course
is routed. That does not mean it’s an easy course. We played the white
tees at just over 6,400 yards and it plays relatively long overall. The
par-5 4th is a really long one, playing at 580 yards from the whites
(with a somewhat uphill tee shot) and over 600 from the blues and
blacks.

The key part of this course’s layout is that it runs
straight back and out for the front nine and then the same going the
other way on the back. If you look at the satellite view, you’ll see it
takes up a very narrow footprint with no sideways holes in the mix. This
means that the first four holes play pretty much directly downwind.
Then, the next nine play straight into the wind. Finally, you finish
with five more with the wind as you work your way back to the clubhouse.
It’s easy to see the wind is always a factor here.

Easily the
most intriguing hole here is the par-4 13th, which presents all sorts of
options depending on your skills and your bravery. It’s kind of a split
fairway with the main landing area up the left. From the tee, long
hitters may try to go toward the right little patch of fairway, which is
its own little peninsula without a lot of room to work with. If you
play it safe to the left, you will have a pretty intimidating approach
shot over two channels of water (the first of which has a cool
Augusta-esque bridge crossing it). There is some bail-out room short and
left of the green. If you feel the need to play really conservative
with another lay-up, then you can decide to hopscotch into that middle
peninsula and leave a short wedge shot in. It’s another thing worth
seeking out in the satellite view because it’s just as awkward (and
sadistically fun) as it looks from above.

I felt the layout
overall gets stronger as you go. The early part of the course is nothing
too amazing, but the holes get more and more interesting and the
contours get more dramatic. I really liked the elevated greens on the
8th, 10th and 11th, all of which are very well obscured and protected by
some really deep bunkers. Definitely any bunker at Rancho Santa Fe is
worth trying to avoid because they are tough. In addition, most greens
have small, yet highly effective false fronts. Anything landing short
will most certainly stay short!

Condition-wise, the course was in
nice shape overall. The tee boxes were good and the fairways were nice
fluffy bermuda. They didn’t offer much roll-out, but were nice surfaces
to hit from. The rough was just thick enough to make you work and be
plenty penal if the ball settled in a bit. I was in a couple bunkers and
they had excellent sand. The greens were very receptive and what I’d
call “sticky.” It was best to be aggressive and go at the pins because
the ball would stop quickly. They were still recovering a little from
the aeration a couple weeks ago, but were mostly healed. Putts generally
rolled smooth, but perhaps a bit slower than they look like they
normally would. I’d say medium speeds today, but I could tell they
generally roll much quicker.

Like many older courses, Rancho Santa
Fe isn’t one that will inspire oohs and aahs from your group, but it
quickly grows on you and presents a much tougher test of golf than it
first appears. At first glance, the 134 (whites), 140 (blues) and 142
(blacks) slopes seem too high, but  before too long you start to see why
it is rated so high. All these years later, it’s still a pro-quality
course, which would explain why they still host some big amateur events
here.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone that they take
advantage of an opportunity to visit Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club if ever
invited. It’s a really solid old course with a lot of classic charm
that’s hard not to enjoy.

Some pictures from Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club (10/13//15):

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