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San Diego Golf Course Review | Carlton Oaks Country Club | Carlton Oaks Golf Course

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Pure Golf at Carlton Oaks - by Martin Olivera

Pure golf is what you will get when you visit the Carlton Oaks Country Club in San Diego. Located in Santee, 15 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, this San Diego golf course is what golf purists look for - a challenging design, a walkable track and excellent conditioning...particularly the Bent-grass greens. Pete Dye is the architect of this championship golf course in San Diego that extends to over 7,200 yards and opened to play in 1989. It was built on land that at one time was part of the Fanita Ranch, a 7,200 acre parcel during the first half of last century belonging to the prominent Scripps family. During World War II a part of this San Diego ranch was purchased by the federal government and was used as military training camp. In 1958, 4,300 acres were purchased by the development firm Carlton Company, hence the name of this San Diego golf course, which gave birth to what is now the city of Santee.

It's a hilly golf course, with undulating Bermuda-grass fairways crisscrossed by a narrow, yet menacing creek tributary of the neighboring San Diego River. Marshes and thick vegetation stand guard along several margins. In spite of the uneven terrain, no dramatic changes in elevation are found here. Bunkering, oak-lined fairways and lots of water are the defense. In fact, only one hole in the front nine is free of water - the 182-yard par-3 second. In the back nine, the 14th thru the 17th has no water, but these holes are well bunkered and "oaked" instead. The Dye trademarked railroad ties are present in some of the bunker walls along the course, which has hosted NCAA Regional and USGA qualifying tournaments in the past. Accuracy is more important than distance at Carlton Oaks Golf Course, to avoid water, trees and sand. Even the shorter holes, the par-4 fifth (305 yards) and 16th (364 yards), the only par 4 holes measuring less than 400 yards, are a mental challenge. The former presents a real risk-reward situation, tempting the player to go long off the tee into a small, and tricky landing area, a depression short of the green, which is also heavily bunkered and among large mounds; a slightly errant tee shot will present a long bunker shot approach into a very small green. The 16th features a large oak in the middle of the fairway, followed by sand left and right, hinting a fairway metal or long iron off the tee for placement to set-up a short iron approach into another smallish green surrounded by a grove of oaks. Another example of great golf course architecture is the par 4 11th (401 yards), a dog-leg right with water along the right side all the way to the green. Trying to "cut" the leg too much may result in a "watery grave"... or in a short iron approach. The risk and reward mental challenge again. The finishing hole, a 441-yard par 4 from the tips is considered by some - local professional golfer Phil Mickelson one of them - to be one of the best finishing holes in San Diego county. It presents a narrow fairway guarded by bunkers on the left and water on the right. It's imperative to land the tee shot on the fairway to have a fair shot at a small green protected by bunkers and even more water. The approach is a forced carry over a creek, adding to the pressure of needing a decent lie. It is well known that Phil Mickelson used to tune-up his game in preparation for the British Open at this very challenging yet fair San Diego golf course.

There are five sets of tees, ranging from just over 5000 yards (forward red tees) to 7,225 yards (tournament black tees), so there is challenge for players of all abilities. Other golf facilities include two practice putting greens and chipping areas, and a driving range. The complex also offers a full-service clubhouse and Pro Shop, a 60-room cozy Lodge, the Casablanca Cafe, and an entertainment cocktail lounge.

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