On Monday, I made the drive up to Camarillo for an SCGA member outing at Spanish Hills Country Club. And I do mean “drive,” as it took me over three hours to get through LA traffic on a Monday morning. It took nearly that to get back home afterward, as well.
It was a shotgun start at 10:00. Things went smoothly getting started as my group began on the 7th hole. After that, the pace of pay was rather slow and the round took over five hours. Normally, that’s no big deal and I’m used to it at these full SCGA outings. We did have kind of grumpy group behind us that was not patient, even though our group and every group ahead of us was waiting on almost every shot. Sometimes, people just need to chill out and enjoy a great experience on an excellent course.
Anyway, the course was awesome. I really enjoyed everything about it. I had a feeling I would really like Spanish Hills the first time I caught some glimpses of this course perched atop the hillside. That was when I played Sterling Hills down in the valley, and I’ve been looking forward to a chance to play Spanish Hills ever since. It lived up to my expectations.
Though the layout is very hilly and there are hardly any flat lies on this course, it wasn’t quite as severe as I thought it might be. It’s just a fun design with a great setting. The views are excellent and the scenery is pleasant overall. The few houses around the course are impressive, as well, so they do not detract in any way.
Spanish Hills was designed by Robert E. Cupp and I’ve generally enjoyed the courses of his that I have played. From the tips, it would be a punishing course at 6,702 yards with a par of 71 (only three par-5s). That’s not super long by today’s standards, but this is definitely more of a target layout where accuracy outweighs length. Normally, I would have chosen to play the blue tees at 6,302 yards. The group I was paired with played the whites at just 5,862 yards, so I went ahead and joined them. I played very well, but I should have scored much better than I did. I left a few too many shots out there, but the course was there for the taking from the white tees.
There are a number of semi-blind shots throughout the course. Yet, it never felt too quirky or overly difficult. I have to say it is one of the more fade-friendly courses I’ve ever played. That is speaking from the perspective a righty with a left-to-right shot shape. There are a couple of dogleg lefts (both the 9th and 18th come to mind), but the landing areas were almost always more generous than they appeared from the tee.
The bunkering throughout this course has a great look and the traps are pretty punishing if you find them. However, it is easy to play it safe and avoid them for the most part. The greens really are the trickiest part of Spanish Hills. They feature some undulation and the natural slopes of the hills here factor in a lot.
The greens are very difficult to read because it’s not always easy to tell where the predominant slope is. You have to look down to where the valley is and consider that. Then, many of the greens are constructed to run opposite these natural slopes and the undulations provide just enough visual trickery. When playing here, it is vital to try and stay below the hole when you can. It’s just not that easy to tell which side is below the hole when hitting approaches. Spanish Hills is definitely a member-friendly course in that the more you play it, the more you’ll know how to play these difficult greens.
It’s hard to highlight specific holes because I felt each hole here offered something a little different. The 1st and 7th are similarly cool holes that feature elevated tees, The 10th is a beast of an opener to start the back nine with water forcing a very accurate approach (even the lay-up area along the left is extremely tight).
I really loved the par-5 15th (the second hole of a back-to-back set of par-5s) that plays up, over, down and around a big hill. The greenside area of the 17th may be the prettiest part of the course, where you get to overlook Sterling Hills below. Then, there’s the signature 18th. It is a short dogleg left par-4 with water across the front of the green, beautiful waterfall aesthetics and one of the most difficult greens on the course.
To top it all off, Spanish Hills was in excellent condition overall. The tee boxes were great, but I did notice they were doing some work on many of the normal blue boxes, so a lot of them were either moved up or back for the day. The fairways were 90% really nice bermuda and then about 10% of patches of different grasses growing in. However, they were mowed consistently and kept really nice throughout. Lies were ideal no matter which type of grass you were on. Any minor weak spots were painted off as GUR. The rough was lush, consistently cut and just thick enough to make you work for a recovery. I was in two bunkers and they were both great.
The greens were also fantastic. I felt the practice green was rolling quicker than anything on the course, though. The greens were well-watered in the morning and there was a light dusting of sand on them, so they were soft with plenty of bite. They did firm up a little as the day went on, but still held shots well. They were medium/quick on putts and rolling true.
Overall, I really liked everything about Spanish Hills. It’s a really fun and interesting course that even longtime members probably can’t get bored with. People who prefer flat, boring and wide-open designs may not like it that much, but it the type of course I love and I hope I’ll have more opportunities to play it in the future.
Some pictures of Spanish Hills Country Club (4/18/16):