I realize the sad contrast of being at El Niguel and Big Canyon last week, and then going to Meadowlark and Castle Creek this week (I’ll also be visiting Woodley Lakes later today). It’s odd bouncing back and forth between great private clubs and low-end local tracks, but that’s the way things are for me these days.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am going back to play some of these SoCal public courses that I’ve never reviewed on the blog. I’ve already played them all, but not since this site was stared in 2011. Unfortunately, most of them are of the “undesirable” variety, but the good news is that I’m getting some of them at real value prices because I am able to play mid-week right now.
As I was looking somewhere to play yesterday afternoon, there were a number of good deals to consider. At the same time, there is a lot of aeration maintenance happening, so I am also trying to avoid freshly punched-and-sanded greens when I can. I saw a 12:23 “hot deal” on GolfNow for Castle Creek Country Club in Escondido for just $14. Then, I went on Greenskeeper.org and saw their aeration already happened in February. That was good enough for me to book it.
When I first arrived, it looked rather busy out there, but it really wasn’t bad at all. After I checked in, I headed over to the first tee. There was another single getting ready to tee off, so the starter paired us together (while letting us each keep our own carts) and off we went around 11:45. We didn’t catch anyone until the 7th hole. After that, things slowed down but still moved along nicely. In the end, we were finished with all 18 in just over three hours.
Castle Creek is an interesting case. Though it was never the most sought-after course in North San Diego County, it was quite respectable back when I first played it (at least 10 years ago). I remember it being a fairly interesting layout and having a nice setting. Conditions were pretty good back then, as well. I do remember thinking it always seemed quite overpriced, but that was true at most SoCal courses during the golf boom of the late 90s and early 2000s.
Well, overpriced rates are no longer a concern as good deals are very easy to find online. However, the course has definitely gone further and further downhill in recent years. Pretty much every review on GK pans the course, rips the staff, and so on. Castle Creek went from being one of the better courses around to being one of the most despised in just a matter of years.
Still, I wanted to come in with a fresh perspective and see for myself what Castle Creek has become. Unfortunately, those bad reviews have been pretty spot on. I didn’t have any issues with the staff. In fact, the kid in the pro shop, the starter and the girl working in the snack shack were all very friendly.
The course, however, has certainly fallen on hard times. “Hard” is the operative word because the ground here is so painfully firm underneath what grass is still growing. I’ll circle back to the conditions later, though.
I will say this is actually a pretty enjoyable layout. It’s more of a sad experience because it’s a good course that has diminished so much in quality. There are some courses that were always bad and just got worse with the poor economy and drought. Castle Creek is a different story, and that’s what makes it more depressing to see.
The course runs through the valley with some nice scenery around it, lots of mature old trees lining the fairways and a number of interesting holes. There are a few very short risk/reward holes like 2, 13 and 14. My favorite part of the course is the hilly and very narrow section between holes 10-12. The 10th is a tough, long and downhill par-4 followed by back-to-back par-5s that are both very tight from tee to green. The 11th goes back up the hill and then the 12th goes back down. All three of these holes ate me alive yesterday, but I still think it’s the most interesting part of the course.
I had low expectations for the conditions and things were indeed pretty poor here. Most tee boxes were okay enough, but there are not always level stances to be found. The fairways are a hodge lodge of different grasses growing in sporadically. The ground underneath is super firm throughout the course, as I noted before. As you stray off the fairways into the “rough” you find hardpan, twigs, leaves, some clumpy bits of grass, gopher holes, etc. I was in a handful of sand traps and all were different. One was reasonably soft (more like dirt than sand) and the others were quite terrible.
In a way, Castle Creek is a good course for a practice round because every lie is different and you get to work on a lot of shots : )
The greens were somewhat redeeming. For the most part they were okay, rolling at medium speeds. There were some damaged spots I noticed, but the pins were generally kept away from those areas.
I don’t really think that Castle Creek is that concerned with the public perception these days. After all, you’ll notice “Country Club” is in the name, so it still seems to have a loyal membership base from the local community. Most of the people I saw out there looked to be members.
I wouldn’t say Castle Creek was ever that mighty, but it sure has fallen. I did get a good deal to make it worth revisiting. However, now that I have I will put it back on the “avoid until further notice” list. I would love to see it renovated and brought back to something nice. You can see in the pictures below how much potential the course has. I just don’t see it happening any time soon.
Some pictures from Castle Creek Country Club (3/31/16):