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A SAN DIEGO GOLF COURSE REVIEW

Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club

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Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club - Local Golf History Still In The Making by Martin Olivera

The United States Golf Association (USGA) is the foremost golf authority in the country. Not only it oversees the rules of the game and the conformity of equipment, but also organizes -- annually ? the most important national tournament: the United States Open. In addition, this supreme institution organizes twelve other golf competitions, all of them aimed at identifying the best golfer in those different categories. Ten of them are dedicated to amateur golfers only.

Playing in any USGA competition is not only a privilege for any competitive golfer -- in fact, just playing in a USGA qualifier is a thrill -- but also a sign that you are playing top-level golf in a particular age and gender group. For golf courses, hosting a USGA event is a recognition to the caliber of its design and historic relevance. Just one look at the list of venues hosting USGA competitions and you will notice the name of superb architects whose work has outlasted the test of time ... and modern equipment. It comes as no surprise, then, that one of San Diego's treasures, the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Course, was selected by the USGA to host the 2006 Junior Amateur. At the end of this competition, the best male golfer in the country under the age of 18 will reign supreme. This is the same championship that Tiger Woods won three times in a row (1991-93) on his way to winning three US Amateur and two US Open. He's the only player who has won it more than once since its inception in 1948.

If you see the names Clambake and the USGA in the same sentence, you -- the knowledgeable golfer -- will instantly picture Pebble Beach and the Monterey peninsula. If the names are the San Diego Open and the PGA TOUR, Torrey Pines may appear as the common ground. But if you know your golf history, in both cases it is the name Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club that should pop up first. The famous Bing Crosby's annual event that gathered the top golfers and entertainment celebrities of the time was first staged at this course in 1937. Back then it was a 36-hole event, and Sam Snead won this rain-shortened get-together shooting a 68 over 18 holes. Five more times was the Clambake held at Rancho Santa Fe -- Snead winning two more. There was no tournament between 1943 and 1947 due to WW II, and then it returned but to the Monterey peninsula.

In 1954, the third San Diego Open was won by Gene Littler. He shot a 274 at Rancho Santa Fe and became the first and only golfer to win this tournament as an amateur. His prize: a silver tea service presented to him by famous actress Esther Williams. He turned pro two days later.

In 1954, the third San Diego Open was won by Gene Littler. He shot a 274 at Rancho Santa Fe and became the first and only golfer to win this tournament as an amateur. His prize: a silver tea service presented to him by famous actress Esther Williams. He turned pro two days later.

This Max Behr exquisit and classic design -- his last one -- opened to play on June 5th, 1929. Behr's architectural philosophy was that the natural terrain, bunkers, trees and hazards were to be used to defend the green, not to penalize errors of skill. He didn't believe in using rough, much like his friend and colleague Alister Mackenzie. The layout is such that a sense of balance can be perceived throughout the course. Nine of these Bermuda fairway and Poana green holes -- five through 13 -- run east-west into the prevailing afternoon sea breeze, and the remaining nine run in the opposite direction. Two par-5 holes into the wind, and two downwind. "The 13th hole -- fondly known as ?Clambake? by some members -- is both, the signature hole and perhaps the most challenging", denotes Host Committee member Gail Kendall. A 411-yard par-4, the last one into the wind, 13th features four bridges and has a creek running on the right side and across the fairway for a dramatic visual effect. A pond guards the front of the small green. Egrets, ducks and Blue Herons guard the pond. Sam Snead once said that the 412-yard par-4 16th, aptly nicknamed "Slammin' Sammy", was one of his favorite golf holes. It invites a high draw off the tee to negotiate a slight dog-leg left, although a straight drive down the center would do just as well. The green is well bunkered and somewhat elevated. Danger is all along the left side -- La Orilla Creek, which also runs behind the green. But the right side also presents its perils, guarded by large eucalipti and a bushy area marked as a lateral water hazard. This hole was pivotal in Snead's third win in 1941.

Dormant to the high-level golf competition public eye for many years, the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Course is getting ready to continue its tradition as venue of really important golf -- USGA golf. It'll be the eighth time the Junior Amateur is held in California, and the third time in San Diego (Singing Hills, 1973 and 1989). "It's an honor to have been selected to host this event. The club members are ecstatic about it. It's our way to give back to golf, and to help grow this great game for future generations", indicates Host Committee Co-Chairman Ken Bien. All proceeds from sponsors and fundraising will go to the Pro Kids Academy, which is a part of The First Tee program. One more fact is also certain, come July 17th the top Junior golfers arriving in town to play this "major for the minors" will no doubt be treated to a fun and fair test of golf, and make history.

For more details on the USGA Junior Amateur go to http://www.usga.org. If you would like to read more about the rich history and tradition of this fine golf course, I encourage you to read "70 Years at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club", by club historian Randy White. Starting on March 10th, the registration of volunteers to help run this event will take place through the club's own web page: http://www.rsfgc.com. For a good source of information about San Diego golf courses, visit http://www.sandiegogolf.com/.

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