It's always sunny at Carmel Valley Ranch: Great weather equals great golf
CARMEL, Calif. -- It is a testament to the distinct micro climates of northern California that a golf course such as Carmel Valley Ranch sits so close to Pebble Beach and yet can be so different in terms of temperature, cloud cover, flora and fauna.
In the Del Monte Forest, Monterey pines dominate, and the air can be quite chilly, particularly in the summer as the cold water from the Pacific Ocean keeps temperatures cool and the sky foggy. If you watch replays of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, for example, there are very few shots of blue skies and bright sun -- and this is California in June.
Ten miles to the southeast on the golf course at Carmel Valley Ranch, blue sky and bright sun are the norm. Located on Carmel Valley Ranch Road, which connects to Highway 1 just south of Carmel, this region doesn't get sea breezes that bring in the fog. Moreover, the valley holds the sunshine so the heat radiates, resulting in a 10-degree difference compared to Carmel and Monterey.
At the Carmel Valley Ranch resort, instead of Monterey pine, you get blue and madrone oaks. Instead of bluffs along the ocean, you get the footsteps of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Instead of Robert Trent Jones Sr. (designer of Spyglass Hill) or Robert Trent Jones Jr. (Poppy Hills Golf Course and Links at Spanish Bay), at Carmel Valley Ranch you get Pete Dye.
Opened in 1981 but remodeled in 2006, par for this semi-private course is 70, and the back tees measure slightly more than 6,100 yards.
The course sits in the middle of a gated community, and the front nine plays through housing tracks before breaking away on the back nine. The remodeling project involved new bluegrass turf, re-done bunkers, larger green complexes and better cart paths.
Being a Dye course, Carmel Valley Ranch has distinct features that can test higher handicappers. At the same time, it also is a course whose natural setting on the back nine brings one very close to nature.
"The golf course has undergone some alterations in the past few years," said Ed Vyeda, of Santa Cruz. "But the elevation changes and views are still dramatic. It is a resort course that offers some challenging holes. (It's a) great setting, though."
This course has the golf equivalent of a split personality. The first four holes seem like a typical suburban layout. For the most part, the front nine is flat, and Dye's fairway bunkers at the turns of the doglegs as well as bunker work along the green complexes put a premium on precision.
The character and terrain change on the back nine. The par-5 10th is barely more than 450 yards and climbs in excess of 60 feet. The cart ride from the 10th green to the blue tees at No. 11, however, makes that ascent seem quaint.
As the cart follows the switchbacks as it climbs amidst the oaks and scrub, you realize that walking this course would be reserved for serious mountaineers. (The elevation changes as well as the distances from tee to green make carts mandatory.)
The view on No. 11's tee, however, is stunning. The tee shot will drop more than 150 feet to the fairway, but it feels more like 500. And for all the extra distance, it has to be said that the fairway slopes rather severely, and shots that land on the left edge can scoot down into the native grass.
The tee shot on the par-4 12th is blind, and though the par-3 13th is a short iron downhill to the green, from the blue tees much of the putting surface cannot be seen.
Carmel Valley Ranch: The verdict
Carmel Valley Ranch is a golf course that can test one's patience, particularly on the back nine.
Playing it more than once will reveal its charms, such as at No. 12. The hole looks like it requires a fairway wood or hybrid off the tee, but long hitters who can carry the ball past the crest in the fairway will find their ball well down the fairway in a swale next to the green.
In other words, it's a course that starts rather mundane but then turns into a challenging tour of its natural setting as well as the mind of Pete Dye.
The grass driving range offers full-service capabilities for practice and lessons. Being a resort, the course caters to corporate and group events, and it carries over to its lesson packages. At the same time, individual lessons for golfers of all abilities are available.
Stay and play Carmel Valley Ranch
The Lodge at Carmel Valley Ranch offers a distinct change from the high-end resorts in the Del Monte Forest.
This family-friendly facility includes two pools (one mainly for kids), tennis courts and many outdoor activities. What's more, the restaurant at the Lodge is one of the best in the area.
It's a resort designed to meet the needs of the corporate client and the vacationing family; a one-stop shop for recreation, lodging and meals.