Carlton Oaks Lodge & Country Club: San Diego tournament golf without the price tag
SANTEE, Calif. -- The San Diego area's most prestigious tournament play is U.S. Open and Farmers Insurance Open host Torrey Pines South.
But if you're willing to pass up the ocean backdrop and U.S. Open pedigree -- while welcoming a much lesser burden on your wallet -- Carlton Oaks Lodge & Country Club is a solid bet.
Golfers visiting San Diego can tee it up at Carlton Oaks three or four times for the price of one round at Torrey Pines South, which is a big reason why this frequent collegiate tournament host -- as well as Canadian Tour and PGA Tour qualifying site -- often keeps a full tee sheet.
"We've got the best tournament course in San Diego," said Jerry Dremel, director of golf at Carlton Oaks. "A lot of good players, young pros, practice here. People can play where the pros play."
Carlton Oaks is located in Santee, a small valley town about 10 miles off the Pacific Ocean. Compared to some of San Diego's more rugged, canyon courses, it's a refreshing escape back to more traditional parkland golf.
The club originally opened in 1958, but P.B. Dye did a major redesign in 1989. Today, the course can play up to 7,400 yards if it is hosting a top tournament. But the middle-back set, at 6,700 yards, is all the course most golfers will need.
If you didn't notice it earlier, the stretch between the ninth and 13th holes will certainly show why this is a Dye family design. Railroad ties line a large fairway bunker that must be avoided right of the fairway, and a smaller pot bunker with ties lies closer to the green at No. 9. More large waste areas come into play on the long, par-4 10th. Then, the 11th and 12th greens sit perched on opposite sides of a large pond with bulkheads lining the sides.
The stretch from 10 through 12 has been dubbed by some members as the "Oak Trap." A good round can go sour fast. But while this stretch is probably the course's toughest, the coolest stretch of holes follows, many of which are played through cottonwoods.
The 13th is a fantastic design, and fans of Dye will notice some familiarities. The par 5 plays through trees and gradually narrows until the green is tucked behind a large bunker, while a tall tree bisects the fairway. It makes the angle on the lay-up shot that much more important -- and an aggressive play at the green that much more challenging.
"There's no other course like this nearby," said Randy Crise, a member at Carlton Oaks. "It's fun to play, especially after the Canadian Tour is here."
Carlton Oaks Lodge & Country Club: The verdict
Low handicappers or golfers who like a tournament-style course are going to love Carlton Oaks, especially because it's one of the more affordable courses of its kind in San Diego County. There is plenty of buildup around the course as some holes play along the freeway. Others, however, are tucked away, quiet and scenic.
Curtis Strange won the NCAA Championship with a hole-out for eagle on the last hole in 1974 (now the par-5 ninth). Childhood resident Phil Mickelson once called the long, par-4 18th San Diego's toughest closing hole. It's a tough, dogleg right off the tee, followed by a long carry over water to the green. Playing into the wind as it did the day our group played, it made our foursome's approach shots laughably bad.
Stay and play in San Diego
Carlton Oaks has its own 60-room lodge on site, so you can stay right on the golf course and tee it up a few times. There is also a pool and a restaurant, which has a great menu for lunch and a good selection of tap beers.
Accommodations are somewhat modest, so if you're looking to stay somewhere more high-end, check out the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines. Golf Fairway rooms overlook the course and ocean and feature 42-inch LCD TVs, Crabtree & Evelyn bath products and cozy queen or king size beds.
The property overlooks the golf course and ocean, and it has a limited amount of tee times available for guests. So check availability when booking and you may be able to get a preferred spot well before the tee sheet opens to residents.