Yes, I realize I am a little late to the party on this one. However, I finally got around to playing the renovated Goat Hill Park golf course in Oceanside yesterday. Honestly, I’ve kind of been putting it off, though I knew I had to back there eventually.
I’m not sure I had fully healed from the scars of my first visit to this property back in 2014. I played it on one of my many local Short Course Blitzes that year. At the time, it was just another one to check off the list. Little did I know what the future had in store for this place.
At that time, it was known as Center City Golf Course at Goat Hill and it was one of the absolute worst golf experiences of my life. It was just terrible in every possible way. I didn’t like the layout. The conditions were abysmal. There were no redeeming qualities. I encourage you to go and read the original review here.
I would later learn that the course was indeed on death’s door at the time. Not too long after, John Ashworth bought the property with a goal of revitalizing the course through a major renovation. He spent a lot of his own personal money to bring it back to life and, in theory, make it something really special. The community really seemed to get behind the project, as well. It reopened as Goat Hill Park with plenty of fanfare and hype. I still remember seeing Matt Ginella’s piece on Golf Channel in 2016, where he ranked Goat Hill as the number 2 short course in the country behind only Bandon Preserve.
I knew a lot of work went into this course, but I was very skeptical when I saw that kind of publicity. It felt more like Golf Channel trying to kiss Ashworth’s butt or something else sketchy going on. I’ve played a lot of great short courses in my travels, and I couldn’t imagine Goat Hill even at it’s finest competing with a lot of the best ones I’ve experienced.
I like the positive story of a course being saved from doom and being significantly renovated to be a good little community course in the middle of dumpy part of Oceanside that is still in need of some more revitalization. However, Goat Hill seemed very overhyped and I couldn’t help holding a grudge against a place that was so terrible just a few years ago. At the same time, reviews on Greenskeeper.org have been routinely positive since the renovation (many reviews from friends that I know and trust a lot). So, maybe it was really true that the miracle had been pulled off.
I finally had to see for myself. GK had a big outing down at La Costa in the afternoon, so it was the ideal time to join up with some friends for a warm-up round at “The Goat’ in the morning. We booked a 7:40 tee time. The cost was $39 a player with cart, so it was a tad expensive for an executive course. They do offer lower resident rates. The course is walkable with a short overall layout, though it is extremely hilly and awkwardly routed. If you do walk, prepare for a good hike!
Goat Hill is an executive 18-hole course that tops out at 4,454 total yards from the black tees. It is a par-65 design with only one short par-5, nine short par-4s and then eight par-3s with a good mix of lengths from short to long. There is also a disc golf course interweaved through the regular golf course, but they only allow it to be played certain days and times.
The original course opened in 1952 and they pay homage to its local history in the logo, signage, etc. They did a nice job of rebranding the course (well kind of, more on that later). The pro shop is just a simple building that was dressed up a bit with the renovation. Otherwise, they still keep a very simple presentation. They reworked the practice area and range, and it seems work is still being done there to attract business and make it a local hangout of sorts.
The routing has been switched around since my previous visit. What used to be hole 10 is now number 1 (and vice versa). However, it was not a straightforward flip of the nines. It was all jumbled up with holes in different orders than before. It was already kind of a twisted routing with a few confusing intersections, and that is still the case. It doesn’t seem a lot of work went into the cart paths, which are dirt much of the time and a bit rough in some places.
Beyond some routing changes and turf improvements, most of the individual holes are pretty much the same as they were before. As you can see in my original review, this is a quirky layout to put it lightly. There are funky doglegs, blind shots and lots of hills and trees. I am often a fan of courses others consider to be too funky, but Goat Hill just doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t fit my eye and the quirks are more annoying than charming. There are a few fun par-3s, highlighted by the 5th and 7th which are precariously perched along steep hillsides and offer very little room for error.
A lot of that has to do with the areas off the fairways/greens. When I played here before, there was little grass to be found anywhere but on/around the greens. Most of it was just dirt and debris. Now, there thankfully is plenty of grass on the fairway sections, tee boxes and around the greens. Still, the crappy bare dirt areas are very much in play on most holes. One bad bounce or just a slightly errant shot—sometimes simple gravity from the natural slopes here—will put your ball in a terrible place. You can say it’s target golf that rewards accuracy and strategy. That is true, but it seems “bad bounces” seem to happen an awful lot on this course.
The bare dirt areas also take away from some aesthetic appeal this course could have. They don’t frame the holes nicely and it has a sloppy look. It gives the course a rough-around-the-edges appearance. Some people may call it part of the charm. I thought it looked kind of ugly.
Part of my criticism undoubtedly stems from the hype that the “renovated” Goat Hill has received and rankings associating it with some of the best short courses in the country. In fact, it will only rank just outside my top 10 public short course in San Diego County. The slogan that is printed on the scorecard and some signage at Goat Hill is “World Class • Working Class,” so they are touting their own image as something really nice and that obviously sets some very high expectations that I don’t think they actually meet.
If they simply promoted “Working Class” I would be fully on board. It represents the community coming together and the course is truly a working class kind of short course for locals to enjoy. “World Class” implies it is a destination course with exceptional service, conditioning, amenities, etc. It is nowhere near world class if you ask me.
So yes, I came in very put off by that branding message and some of the unwarranted hype of Goat Hill Park. It sets much higher standards than the course can ever live up to.
Conditions were decent and things were light years better than they were when I played it before. Still, I wouldn’t say conditions were great by any stretch. It is late summer and probably not the peak time to play it, though. The tee boxes were fine, albeit a bit lumpy. The fairways had good coverage (mostly grass, sometimes weeds). They were somewhat shaggy and inconsistent. The minimal areas of rough were deeper than fairways and provided ample challenge.
The best parts of the course were the bunkers and the greens. The bunkers had excellent super soft sand. Unfortunately, not enough players rake up after themselves at a course of this caliber. The greens were soft and rolling smooth at slow-ish speeds. The greens at Goat Hill are very, very tricky. They are small and undulated, falling off in all different directions thanks to the hilly terrain. It’s probably good they don’t have the greens running too fast or they would be absolutely treacherous.
So, I think I have said just about everything I need to say. I know this is a very long review for a short course, but I have strong—yet mixed—feelings about Goat Hill. I applaud their efforts to renovate the course for this community, but I still just don’t like the course very much. They could put millions more into this place and I probably still wouldn’t be much of a fan. I am glad to have finally replayed it with its new presentation, though, because it bugged me that I hadn’t made more of an effort to get back down there.
I wouldn’t follow Ginella’s advice and travel halfway around the world just to play Goat Hill Park. If you live within an hour, go check it out and see what you think. I know I’m in the minority for not liking this place, but to each his/her own. There are plenty of short courses that I have a soft spot for that many others despise, and I think that’s part of the charm of short courses in general.
Some pictures from Goat Hill Park (9/2/17):