On the hunt for the best greens in San Diego

By Matt Paulson, Contributor

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Drive for show, putt for dough. This golf proverb has probably been uttered at every golf course in the United States at one time or another. And it's true. Winners on the PGA Tour are not hitting 36 putts a round. They are rolling with the best that weekend, and their wins are a direct result. But the greens can also be torturous, for pros and amateurs alike. A good round can be squandered by a lipped-out two-footer. If one's stroke dives into embarrassment, his game is right behind it.

However, sometimes it's not the player's fault. Sometimes putts don't fall because the putting surfaces are no good. The greens at some places can be rightfully blamed for missed putts. It's hard to putt with a sand spot, a diseased area or a gopher hole in the way. And some courses can fool you. They hide their sub-par greens behind signature holes and faux-reputations. They suck players in like a Siren. So, to avoid these courses, fifteen pro shops were contacted in the San Diego area to find out the best greens and truest rolls around.

The Johnny Miller and Robert Muir Graves-designed Maderas Golf Club in Poway prompted an off-the-charts response as the best greens in San Diego. Pro shops throughout the area sang praises of Maderas' dance floors. The huge, undulating bent grass greens boast a true roll and the ability to hold approach shots despite rolling fast. The rest of the course is indeed a first-class experience as the track was rated the best public course in San Diego County by the 2003 Zagat's survey. Five sets of tees ranging from 5,100 to just more than 7,100 yards accommodate from Grandma to the participants of the World's Strongest Man competition.

Located at 17750 Old Coach Road only about a half hour from downtown San Diego, Maderas is playable for $130 Monday through Thursday and $165 Friday through Sunday. Reservations are taken up to 60 days in advance.

Not far behind Maderas was Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside. Once again, the greens at Barona satisfy the players' needs for a true roll. The pro shop credits its success to a top-notch, knowledgeable maintenance crew as well as respectful golfers. Proper watering also helps these bent grass greens maintain high marks. They are not too dry and firm in the piercing San Diego sun but not too moist, which would provide for a rather sloshy 18. Barona's dance floors are presently running at about a 12.

Situated on part of what used to be a 7,000-acre cattle ranch, the course is located about 30 minutes northeast of downtown San Diego. The everyday fee of $85 includes cart and range balls. The hilly course might provide for some awkward lies, but it is wide open, so let the Big Dog eat. Tees range from just more than 7,000 down to 5,200 yards, and reservations are taken one week in advance. It is also located next to the Barona Casino, so feel free to gamble away all that money you won on the true greens out on the course.

Although Torrey Pines did not receive many nominations - probably because few people have actually gotten to play there - it should be definitely make the list. If it's good enough for the pros at the Buick Invitational every year, it's safe to say that it's good enough for the rest. On the North Course, the poa annua greens are currently running at about a 9 or a 10, while the South Course is just a touch slower because of longer grass that helps keep the greens in good shape in response to the astronomical number of rounds played each year.

The challenge of Torrey Pines is not so much the greens as it is just getting on the course. The best bet as a single is to show up and get on a waiting list. But for those want to come out with some accompaniment, the challenge is compounded immensely. One way to get on is to use the automated system at 800-767-3574, where there is about a one in 50 shot of getting a tee time. But for those that don't like to play the lottery, golf packages are offered up to two months in advance, usually consisting of the choice between the North and South course, a cart and a $10 merchandise certificate. The regular greens fees at Torrey Pines are not too extravagant, which is partly why so many people want to get on. For visitors, the North is $65 on weekdays and the South is $105. On weekends, the North is $75 and the South is $125. Twilight rates are also available as well as discounted rates to city and county residents. Carts are an additional $32. However, Torrey Pines believes in the buddy system, so half-cart fees are not available.

A few courses were mentioned but not nearly with the breadth of the top picks. Who knows? Maybe it was just a couple crackpots throwing these names out there, but here's a few honorable mentions: Singing Hills Country Club in El Cajon, Twin Oaks Golf Course in San Marcos, Meadow Lake Country Club in Escondido, Carlton Oaks Country Club in Santee and Cottonwood Golf Club in El Cajon.

Where to eat

Located just down Genessee Avenue from Torrey Pines in La Jolla is a restaurant called Roy's. The food here is exquisite. Started by Roy Yamaguchi, Roy's employs Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, which is just food critic talk for really, really good.

Where to stay

At Barona, it is possible to stay on the reservation. For more information or reservations, visit palmspringsgolfcentral.com or 800-767-3574.

Matt PaulsonMatt Paulson, Contributor

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