Carlton Oaks Country Club: A Great San Diego County Value

By Ben Malone, Contributor

Visitors to San Diego who seek a golf vacation will undoubtedly go through all the conventional channels like Torrey Pines and Aviara. These courses have international notoriety and attract golfers from all over the world. There is much more to golf in San Diego, however, and if you dig a little, you will definitely find more than one diamond in the rough (no pun intended).

One such nugget is Carlton Oaks Country Club, located in Santee, in San Diego's East County. Carlton Oaks offers a 60-room lodge with a full-service restaurant and lounge entertainment on weekends. The facility offers three very affordable golf packages, ranging from $155 per golfer to $240 per golfer. Aside from its other amenities, the golf course itself provides nothing short of the perfect golf experience.

The practice facility features a driving range, both chipping and putting greens, and a complete pro shop equipped to serve your every need. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and make your visit to the course a pleasant one from the moment you step out of your car.

Once you tee off, the course itself provides every bit of challenging golf you could possibly look for from the first to the last hole. There are five sets of tees to accommodate golfers of all ability levels (Black - 7,090 yards; Blue - 6,537 yards; White - 6,028 yards; Yellow - 5,582 yards; Red - 4,537 yards), and no matter if you're a scratch golfer or a weekend hacker, you will be able to enjoy yourself at Carlton Oaks.

The course isn't exactly the longest in the world, but each tee location provides golfers with an adventure from tee to green. Most fairways are littered with obstacles around the landing area, thereby making accuracy take precedence over distance. Most holes have sand traps, but some also have "waste areas" (defined by orange stakes) or water hazards that have to be avoided if you're even thinking about par. Most of the greens at Carlton Oaks are small, yet quick, and flat greens are few and far between.

Most of these greens are also surrounded with trouble, and the successful golfer is the one who can shoot "target golf" with his/her iron shots. The greens are soft enough to hold your approach shots, so the key to shooting a low score is course management and distance control.

The second hole, a medium-length par-3 (146 yards from the whites, 103 yards from the reds) is typical of the sort of golf you will have to play at Carlton Oaks. There is a large oak tree to the front right of the green, and next to the tree is one of the waste areas. In other words, if you miss the green to the right, getting up and down in two shots is hardly a given.

To the left side of this slightly elevated green is some seriously thick rough. A ball that resides in this area could very easily be misplayed over the green into the waste area. And once you get on the green, a two-putt is definitely not guaranteed. A large hump runs horizontally through the middle of the green and putting through the tier could be an adventure.

The fifth hole is a short par-4 (263 yards from the whites, 173 yards from the reds -- plays as a par 3) that derives its difficulty from its undulating fairway, large amount of greenside bunkers, and incredibly tiny green. A small creek runs between the tee and the fairway, and it's not visible from the tee box. A bad first shot can end up in the water. A shot from the fairway doesn't even mean an easy approach, as you won't necessarily have a flat lie.

Mounds in the fairway provide uphill, downhill, and sidehill lies, and even though there won't be more than a wedge to the green, you can't assume you'll hit the green. Six sand traps surround this small green, and just getting your ball on the putting surface could take three or four shots.

The final hole on the front nine is a challenging par-5. Measuring 500 yards from the whites and 425 yards from the reds, most golfers will not have the length to go after the green in two shots. A creek runs through the fairway where most lay-up shots will be hit, so it is important to control your distance.

This small green is surrounded by sand traps that demand excellence if your ball lands in the beach. The traps are extremely steep and their overall height makes it very difficult to get onto the green from the sand.

The back nine begins with a relatively straightforward par-4, but it is lined with a waste area that runs all the way up to the green and if you end up in there, you could be looking at a very big number. The next two holes provide some very spectacular golf. Number 11 is a short par-4 (322 yards from the whites, 260 yards from the reds) with a pond located to the immediate right of the fairway.

If you hit your ball to the right side and don't end up in the fairway, your ball is in the water. The left side of the fairway is equally treacherous, as a sand trap sits right where anyone not wanting to go in the water will hit their ball. And since this green is probably the smallest on the course and has water all along the right side, a ball in this trap kills any chance at par.

The par-3 twelfth hole also brings that pond into play. The hole isn't particularly long (129 yards from the whites, 81 yards from the reds), and there is a landing area to the left of the green that will keep your ball dry, but the hole has a sort of mini-dogleg quality to it (if that's possible on a par-3).

To put it another way, the green juts out to the right, leaving water in between the tee and the green. Anything short or right on this hole is wet, and if you go left of the green, sand traps lie waiting to swallow errant tee shots. In other words: hit your tee shot on the green.

The par-4 sixteenth hole is another hole that shows great distance isn't required to make a hole difficult. It's only 335 yards from the whites and 215 yards from the reds, but this slightly elevated fairway includes a huge oak right in the middle.

Leave your shot short of this tree and you won't be able to reach the green. Try to go right of this tree and you could end up in a sand trap. Go left and you're in the rough or in a trap.

If you do land your tee shot safely, you are left with an approach to a green that is in the middle of a grove of oak trees. Branches over hang the tree, waiting to snag your iron shot, and from many angles, this approach is impossible. It's a beautiful setting, but at the same time, it's an incredibly challenging way to situate a green.

The finishing hole is another short par-4 (363 yards from the whites, 287 from the reds) where water comes into play. The tee shot is one of the easier on the course, with a generous landing area waiting for you in the fairway. That's where "easy" leaves the equation on number 18.

The green is extremely deep. It's imperative that you pay attention to the pin placement to determine club selection. Accuracy is also a necessity, as a pond sits right up against the left side of the green, and a hillside with a couple bunkers lurks on the right. If your approach lands on the wrong part of the green, you could very well be looking at a three putt, or maybe more.

A round at Carlton Oaks is very taxing on even the best golfers. But just because this course demands a lot from you, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself. The challenges provided here are exactly what most golfers want -- it's a course that requires your best play, but also rewards your best play.

And given the relatively low price ($55 per person on weekdays, $65 on Fridays, $75 on weekends and holidays, all including a cart), Carlton Oaks is one of the best golf values in San Diego county. Even if you're not staying at their facilities, it's worth the drive to Santee to find this wonderful golf setting.

Carlton Oaks Country Club
9200 Inwood Dr.
Santee, CA 92071
Pro shop: (619) 448-8500
Reservations / golf packages: (800) 831-6757

Ben Malone, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment