Bruiser golf courses: San Diego's selection of tough layouts

By Katie Denbo, Contributor

SAN DIEGO -- While teeing it up on any course is enough punishment for many players, others like to take it one step further and push the limits of their body, clubs and mental game in the name of golf.

Barona Creek Golf Club - 5th
Barona Creek Golf Club's sheer length can change the way the course plays dramatically from its back tees.
Barona Creek Golf Club - 5thCarlton Oaks Lodge & C.C. - railroad tiesMaderas Golf Club in PowayTorrey Pines - South golf course
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This may be achieved by something as small as moving to a longer set of tees to test their length. Or perhaps it's navigating around water hazards, launching over ravines and negotiating trees and foliage that wouldn't ordinarily be in play.

Insanity, perhaps? Probably more like a genuine love of the game. The courses below represent a sampling of San Diego's famously difficult layouts.

Torrey Pines South Course, La Jolla

It's not enough that most people's first thought of San Diego golf falls on Torrey Pines. Ask golfers what they think is the most difficult layout in the area, and they'll likely say Torrey Pines South -- and for good reason.

"I played Torrey Pines South just days before it was closed for the 2008 U.S. Open," said Rich Davis, a San Diego snowbird from British Columbia. "The course was at 90 percent tournament conditions. It may be the most brutally difficult round I have every played."

It's not a coincidence that the Farmers Insurance Open and San Diego City Amateur Championship are currently played at Torrey South, as well as past premiere USGA and Southern California regional championships. The sheer length isn't tough enough: Its Black tees measure in at a whopping 7,628 yards and a rating of 78.2/144, while its blue tees come in at 7,051 yards and 75.3/137. (Ladies are looking at a massive 82.8/148 and par 77 from those Blues.) The course also grows kikuyu rough, which is thick, sticky and -- depending on what time of year the course is being played -- very long. It's long enough that a ball landing only a foot or two off the fairway could very well be lost forever.

In the end it's not all tough, though. Signature views of the Pacific Ocean, and the fact that players are literally walking in the footsteps of some of the game's most notable professional players, hopefully lighten the golf load just a little.

Maderas Golf Club, Poway

Maderas Golf Club in Poway survived the devastating Witch Fire of 2007, in which flames burned bridges and brush on the course but jumped fairways and greens. Months later, the course was back in action, its beautifully difficult Johnny Miller layout welcoming players back with length and undulations to challenge their skills and nerves.

Maderas, the top-rated San Diego golf course for seven consecutive years according to the Zagat Survey, measures 7,063 yards from its Black tees with an 75.4/144 rating (from the 6,398-yard White tees, women are looking at an impressive 77.0/147 rating). Much of the challenge comes from maneuvering through rock outcroppings, ravines, elevation changes, creeks, three lakes and 40 acres of native wildflowers.

Smarts are rewarded at Maderas; laying up in front of creeks and hazards -- such as on the 583-yard third hole -- will avoid ego-bruising in the long run. Equally beneficial is the ability to carry the ball, as is required on the 600-yard 18th hole kicked off by a 200-yard forced carry over a ravine.

Barona Creek Golf Club, Lakeside

At 7,384 yards from its back tees, Barona Creek Golf Club is one of the longer layouts in San Diego, and among its top rankings and accolades, it hosted the 2007 Nationwide Tour Championship.

With a rating/slope of 75.8/144, the course appears wide open, but between quickly rolling fairways, multiple creeks, water hazards and more than 100 bunkers scattered throughout, golfers playing those back tees are forced to play smart to avoid what wouldn't be coming into play from shorter tees.

Aviara Golf Club, Carlsbad

Aviara Golf Club, located at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort and Spa, is the only Arnold Palmer-designed layout in San Diego. At 7,007 yards (and 75.0/144), the property overlooks the Batiquitos Lagoon and takes golfers on a journey that includes avoiding water hazards on eight different holes, eucalyptus trees, wildflowers and an abundance of colorful vegetation.

The course plays tight on the front nine, rolling along with the natural terrain. Par 3s are especially tricky, involving either carries over trouble or elevation changes.

For those whose egos are bruised afterward, a trip to the TaylorMade Performance Lab at Aviara may be necessary. One of only 12 TaylorMade sites in the nation to get your clubs dialed in, TMPL's MAT-T (Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade) system provides golfers with a 3D club-fitting experience that was previously only available to PGA Tour pros.

Carlton Oaks Golf Club, Santee

The only public Pete Dye layout in San Diego, Carlton Oaks Golf Club incorporates many of the elements that go into a difficult design.

Built in 1958 and renovated several times since, now more than 400 mature trees line the fairways of the 7,225-yard (75.8/148) golf course -- women measure in at 6,140 and 76.3/144 -- while Dye's signature railroad ties enclose several lakes that golfers are forced to negotiate.

Fairways look flat but are deceivingly undulating, while fast greens will tack on strokes to a score unless well-read.

Other bruiser golf courses in the San Diego area

The Grand Golf Club's Tom Fazio layout in Del Mar measures in at 7,138 yards with a rating/slope of 74.8/139. The private clubs are equally challenging: From the back tees, Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club -- home of the 2010 California State Amateur Championship -- comes in at 7,053 yards and a rating/slope of 74.9/142, while the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe looks at 6,965 yards and 74.0/142.

Katie DenboKatie Denbo, Contributor

Katie Denbo is the past editor and publisher of FORE Magazine, a regional golf publication based in southern California. A blogger and golf photographer by hobby, she is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and has written about and traveled to golf resorts and properties all over the western United States and Canada. Visit Katieshack, Katie's golf blog, at katieshack.com, and follow her on Twitter at @kdenbo.


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