Goat Hill Park

by

Laz Versalles

October, 2017

A West Coast Revival

Goat Hill Park tests your mettle and touches your soul

Take the Oceanside Drive exit off Interstate 5, make a left just before the Payday Loan establishment and drive up the hill. Pass through the gate and you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of a spiritual revival that happens to be taking place at a golf course called Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, California.

Let’s establish something early: Goat Hill Park keeps it real. Don’t expect manicured fairways, yardages on sprinkler heads or a locker room with crisply folded towels and mouthwash. Expect to play golf in an unadulterated form; fully exposed to the rub of the green, the will of the wind and the irresponsibility of your imagination. Expect that as you trek over 4,454 feisty yards you will absolutely have to golf your ball. And, finally, expect to have a blast doing so.

The walk from your trunk to the modest club house holds a few surprises for the first-time visitor. You’ll likely hear some crunchy reggae filling the air (Santa Barbara’s own Iration set the tone when I last visited.) There’s probably going to be a dog or two on the driving range. And … Are those surfboard popping out of the range? Yes, Sir. That they are … And there’s actual Bermuda grass on the range, as well – a rare treat in southern California public golf circles.

“World Class Working Class”- The Goat Hill motto welcomes all.

The Goat Hill Park story starts in 1952 when golf course architect William H. Johnson built a regulation 9-hole course and called it Center City Golf Course. Some forty years later, Ludwig Keehn morphed City Center G.C. into an 18-hole par 65 short course commonly referred to as “Goat Hill” by the townsfolk.

Unfortunately the course struggled financially and civic leaders had little appetite to improve, or even rightfully maintain, the golf course. Billionaire developers circled and the property seem destined join the list of San Diego area golf courses that died in the name of Commerce, as Escondido G.C. and San Luis Rey Downs had perished in the not-so-distant past.

But Oceanside’s golf community wasn’t ready to let that happen to them. A revitalization project led by John Ashworth has revived what is now officially called Goat Hill Park into a golf community boasting a junior program, a women’s league, disc golf and even a Friday skins game. A course For The People, Saved by The People.

When you first enter the golf shop, brace yourself for a bit of a time warp. Persimmon drivers on one wall, cans of domestic beers at reasonable prices displayed on the other. Goat Hill’s ethos and motto of “World Class Working Class” is on full display. The vibe echoes a time and place when a trip to the golf course meant seeing as many Teamsters hats as Titleist. You feel like you belong at Goat Hill Park because everyone does. Pictures of celebs like Bill Murray, Adam Scott and Kelly Slater decorate the wall, but this is truly a place for anyone who loves golf. As Geoff Cunningham of Linksoul said about Goat Hill, “People from all walks of life…walking together.” He’s spot on.

An arsenal of persimmon woods is complimented by a vast array of cold domestics brews.

And So The Walk Begins…

T-shirts and music are widely accepted at Goat Hill Park and on this quiet September morning I am “all in” on both fronts. I clip a speaker on my bag and opt for a soundtrack with a bit more intensity than the reggae flowing from the Goat Hill speakers. My practice swings slowly build pace with Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy” and I’m ready to roll.

Hole 1: “Luds”: Par 4, 290 yards. A relatively mild opener at 290 yards with a slight dogleg right. Longer hitters can make a run for a green that is defended by a bunker on the left side and gnarly kikuyu grass (which is everywhere.) Best to hit a tee shot down the eucalyptus-lined fairway that leaves you with a comfortable yardage for an approach into a small green. As you walk off the green, be sure your calves are well-stretched and your cardio is on point because the walk is about to get very real.

The warm and welcoming tee shot on #1. #2, Junior. No quarter given.

Hole 2: “Junior’s” Par 3, 177 yards. Named for local hero Junior Seau who’s foundation sits behind the green. This hole is all carry and accuracy is required. A slightly errant shot will be dismissed by the slopes of this mildly perched green leaving you with fearful odds of making par. As quarterbacks from Miami to Minnesota will tell you; Do not mess with Junior. Do not underestimate Junior. Do not look Junior directly in the eye. Hit a 180 yard club at the heart of the green and move along. If you make a par, that’s great. But you certainly won’t have to apologize for making bogey on the #2 ranked handicap hole.

Hole 3: “The Aviary” Par 4, 289 yards. Just as the 3rd green at the St. Andrew’s Old Course is a shared green, so it is at Goat Hill Park. This slight dogleg left is well served by a draw off the tee as the pin is on the left of the large double green. Big hitters can take aim at the green, but the sound play is hit it in the fairway to your preferred number. The green on the left side has some tilt to it, running back to front (a theme at Goat Hill) so mind the pin position as you hit your approach.

Left: a view of the double green for holes 3 and 8. Right: A fellow golfer assessing her putt on #8.

Hole 4: “The Point” Par 4, 328 yards. The play here is 200 yards off the tee. I repeat: 200 yards. Long hitters need to relax here, OK? Hear me on this; you do not want to end up back down in the valley. And do yourself a favor; hit enough club into this green because if you come up short there’s a chance you’ll roll down in the valley. By the way, the green moves pretty hot from back to front. Putt with caution.

As you reach the 5th tee your heart rate will likely be somewhere between 120-140. But you won’t notice because your breath will be taken away by the next three holes. Holes 5,6 and 7 are all par 3s that are a mixture of inspiration, danger and natural splendor. I could spend a month playing these holes on loop.

Hole 5: “Palomar” 139. Hit the green or miss left. Do not miss right. A miss right is certain death. Palomar calls for little more than short iron but it’s an intimidating endeavor, no doubt.

 

#5 “Palomar” #6 “Ralph” #7 “Freeway Hole”

Hole 6: “Ralph” 158 yards. Hit the green or hit it in the trees. Seriously. Just do not hit it left. Left is no bueno. Ralph also features a 2-tier green to further complicate your ability to score.

Hole 7: “Freeway Hole” 147 yards. This is the most timid of the triumvirate but its still no cakewalk. Be grateful for the bunker left of green. It could save your ball from rolling down I-5 North.

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