Course Review: San Diego's Balboa Park Golf Course
Word is that the City of San Diego has plans for a new watering system and clubhouse renovations at the classic muni near the San Diego Zoo - Balboa Park Golf Course.
I just hope they don't do anything to take the charm out of it. From the views of the downtown skyline, to the way the course wraps around a canyon, to the classic (albeit in need of repair) clubhouse and grill, everything about Balboa Park is the way municipal golf used to be before cities built golf courses that look like private clubs.
Hit is straight, have a handy wedge, make a few putts and Balboa can play as easy as a freeway drive at five am. Miss the small greens in the small places, get some bad bounces off the tee, and they add up quickly.
From a classic clubhouse on a hill that looks out over much of the course, the first hole tees off straight downhill with a 225 yard layup a wise choice to avoid the end of the fairway and a number of small pines that guard the smallish green. The 2nd is a windy par five that is very reachable in two, but there is plenty of trouble off the tee.
The 3rd is a relatively straightforward par four of 379 yards - just avoid the hazard on the left off the tee by playing down the right side (it cost me a big number recently).
Onto the fourth, a crazy hole with a split fairway and a straight uphill second shot to a sliver of a a green. It's the longest 371 yards you'll ever play, and rated the number one handicap hole for good reason. Push your second shot right, and it's down a big slope with a perilous pitch shot to try and save par. The safe approach into the green is playing to the left side and getting out with a par if at all possible.
The rest of the front nine passes through some interesting San Diego residential architecture (I would love to live in one of the cool Craftsman or Spanish style homes on the right side of the 7th hole, with views of the course and city skyline).
The back nine wraps around a huge canyon and the hole that always gets people talking in the San Diego City Championship (Balboa Park hosts the first round) is the 16th. This 555 yard par five is an almost horseshoe dogleg left guarded by a o.b. fence (protecting balls from the road) on the right, and the canyon on the left, which plays as a lateral. Usually tough par fives are made that way by either a tee shot or tight approach - this one has trouble looming all the way. The smart play off the tee is a 200 to 215 yard shot depending on the wind, setting up a mid to long iron to a tight landing area to get to 150 yards. The shot into the small green will seem easy if you pull off the first two.
Balboa is very walkable, but only for those in fairly good shape with light bags. A cart is definitely advisable for twilight golf - get stuck out on the back nine as I did one night, and it's a long dark walk through the canyon back to the clubhouse.