Goat Hill Park


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.

Hole 8: “The Alley” Par 4, 328 yards. A blind tee shot over an aiming post sets up a short iron back to the double green shared with the third hole. The Alley has a nuance to it. If you can keep the ball within 10 yards of the center of the fairway you can fire at the pin without issue. But a little leakage off the tee will bring overhanging trees into play on the approach. And the farther you decide to drive the ball, the tighter the fairway gets and the harder it is to get over the trees. Like I said, you are going to have to golf your ball at Goat Hill Park.

You’ll notice as you approach your tee shot on #8 that it’s dry and barren- and that’s by design. Not every inch of a golf course needs to be grass. Turf reduction is part of the Goat Hill Park vision and environmental stewardship matters here. When you consider the fact that turf reduction lowers water cost and actually speeds up play it’s a wonder more courses aren’t on board. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

A walk to the 8th fairway The 9th green and amphitheater

Hole 9: “Oz” Par 3, 122 yards. Every course should have it’s own Oz. A green surrounded by a natural amphitheater that sits a mere 120-some yards away. There’s no bunkers here, no false-front, no trickery. If you can carry a shot 100 yards, then you’ve got a shot at an ace. Tee it up and fire away.

Hole 10: “Hawk’s Realm” Par 4, 305 yards.(Bear with me here) In the book of Genesis when we first meet Abraham he’s living a safe and comfortable life in Harran with family, droves of livestock and servants. God appears to Abraham and says “Go from the house of your father…go to the land I will show you.” And it is in this moment that Abraham makes the decision that gives birth to the entire Judeo-Christian world as we know it. Because as Genesis 12:4 tells us, “Abraham went” and his offspring become the children of Israel.

Is the choice you make on#10 tee as crucial as Abraham’s? No, but the Promised Land is right there in front of you. You can see it. If you can hit a low runner 250 yards on the dry fast fairway then go for it. It’s definitely not the safest play as there’s a bit of a wasteland/waste bunker short of the green left, and missing big to the right exposes you to a dry patch that seemingly runs for miles. Laying up is no picnic, either. The fairway is a bit of a crap shoot with plenty of quirky lies. I guess what I’m saying here is; Be like Abraham, leave the house of your father and go for it. Sure, you might experience famine and have to flee to Egypt, but we’re all going to die. Take the shot if you can.

The tempting 10th tee box Bunkers await approaches short left of 10

Hole 11: “Nemesis” Par 3, 161 yards. Like the second hole, Nemesis plays into the same prevailing wind and requires all carry. Coming up short means traversing the moguls in the turf- a brilliant touch. Once you get to the green catch your breath and tighten your focus. This is a surface where you can make some putts.

Hole 12: “The Shoot” Par 4, 318 yards. A significant dogleg left that requires a targeted tee shot to about 220 yards which leaves you about 100-110 yards up to the green. The green’s design is multi-tiered and almost feels like a Biarritz-style green that is a few earthquakes from fully emerging. The Shoot has teeth but also a certain warmth. It’s a brilliant little par 4 that sinks teeth into your attention and doesn’t go.

Tee shot at # 12 The Shoot Approach into the green on #12

Hole 13: “Crossroads” Par 3, 175 yards. A fairly pedestrian par 3, with a beautiful vista. You absolutely have to favor the right side of this hole because you can’t score if you miss left. Crossroads gives a great example of the Goat Tee system that is available for any player who wants to play the hole from a shorter distance and easier angle. The Goat Tees: Great for kids, great for variety and great for the game.

Mini Goat Tee box Looking back at the tee from 13 green

Hole 14: “The Rise” Par 4, 253 yards. Not the longest par 4 you’ll play, but it’s called The Rise for a reason. You’re going to be climbing the whole way to the green and likely into the wind. Accuracy matters off the tee so don’t get too greedy. But if you really feel like today’s your day to hit that high soft draw and carry it the equivalent of 290 yards then Godspeed, my friend. Have at it. Many have tried to over-power Goat Hill. Few are successful.

14 tee: Play it safe and prepare to climb 14 green: Catch your breath and enjoy the view.

Hole 15: “The Par Five” Par 5, 450 yards. A lot going on here. Eucalyptus trees line the hole which is complimented by the starkly beautiful contrast created by turf reduction efforts. From the tee a straight ball is fine but what this dogleg right really calls for is a Gentleman’s Fade with just enough check to prevent the ball from running out of the fairway. Long bombers shouldn’t be salivating too much on this hole; you can run out of fairway pretty quickly and a having to play your approach from a hard pan dry patch is a real possibility (and fun!) The Par Five is one of the few holes protected by a bunker in front of the green, but it is a receptive green where you can make some putts. You’ve probably left a few strokes out there by now and The Par Five is a real chance to get one back.

A high, soft fade works nicely off #15 tee The view from 170 yards out on #15

Hole 16: “The Plank” Par 4, 346 yards. You’ve seen pirate movies, right? You know what happens to those who walk off the plank, yes? Hit the ball in the fairway. Just hit the ball in the fairway and beware that the fairway gets narrower as you get closer. As you approach once again you’ve got the Junior Seau Foundation behind the green, and the spirit of Junior is about the only thing defending this small green. Be aggressive on the approach.

Hole 17: “Elks” Par 3, 168 yards. Beautifully framed by the natural contrast of the terrain, Elks is begging you to hit a baby draw into the front half of the green. Just begging you. If you go a little long there’s a bit of a backstop and a miss left can also trundle down onto the green. Enjoy Elks as it’s the last par 3 on a course full of great ones.

The Plank awaits #17 Elks

Hole 18: “Greenbrier” Par 4, 300 yards. As physical as Goat Hill is, it is equally cerebral. Greenbrier offers you a slight respite from the cardio and precision needed on some other holes, but don’t fall asleep here. Stock 300 yarder straight down the pipe. Play to your yardage off the tee and mind that the ball might be a little below your feet for your approach. Worry not- if you push a shot right, you might make a few new friends as they enjoy a cold one around the nearby fire pit. And if you’re a dog lover, I’m sure there will be a golden retriever or Labrador somewhere close by looking for some love.

Looking back on it all from behind 18 Organic seating available nearby

As your round comes to a close take some time to reflect, add ‘em up and kick back. Hopefully you walked the course (you don’t have to) and enjoyed a 3+ mile hike, 18 holes of golf and likely did it all in under 3 hours. And if you love the game and the outdoors your heart and your soul will feel revived, just as this golf course was only a few years ago. Somebody told me not long ago ‘golf is dying’ but I’m not buying it. Sometimes we just need a some love and a little vision to make it all come together.

Golf Communities of The World take note: You don’t have to be 7,000 yards long. You don’t have to guzzle water. You don’t have to charge $8.00 for a beer. And you don’t have to make kids and women feel like second-class citizens. Grow the game and shrink the course. Ease up on the water. Embrace kids and dogs. Have a grass range. Loosen up a little and have fun. Visit Goat Hill Park and see how it’s done.