The first hole at San Juan Oaks provides a preview of the great golfing experience that lies ahead. A meandering creek falls along the entire far left side of the hole, dramatic bunkers frame the fairway and the subtle contours of the green offer challenge and opportunity. The fairway is split by two large bunkers that are a 220 yard carry from the white tees with additional bunkering framing the outside corners of the fairway. Players driving over the middle fairway bunkers will have the best angle to the green.
In the 1960’s and 70’s rancher Everett Nutting’s cattle watered in the creek that crosses about 75 yards in front of the second green. This long par five plays with the prevailing summer afternoon wind. The gamble from the tee is to drive over the right side bunker just beyond the lake’s edge to a large fairway swale. Player’s accomplishing this can attempt to clear Nutting’s creek on their second shot leaving a short bump and run or even an eagle putt. The large green is wide open in front, receptive to either a long approach shot or the short iron in regulation, and should yield many birdie putts.
San Juan Oaks’ third hole is a short dogleg right par four that sets up perfectly for a moderate fade. Long hitters can cut the corner but a large sycamore tree just past the inside creek corner guards against cutting too much off the dogleg. The safe drive is directly on line between the two traps at the far end of the fairway, leaving a short iron to the green. The green slopes strongly from back to front – when the pin placement is left keep the approach shot below the hole.
Heading out to the farthest easterly point on the golf course, the fourth hole is a slight dogleg left par four that plays more uphill than it appears. Accuracy off the tee is a must as the fairway tightens up between the right side and large native grass mounds on the left. Don’t be fooled on the second shot, that “sucker” bunker is 60 yards short off the green. You might want to hit one “extra club” as you approach this large, well contoured green.
San Justo’s Shadow
The narrowest driving hole on the course sits just below the face of San Justo Reservoir. A fairway wood or long iron off the tee may be wise in order to avoid the left side native grasses or deep seasonal creek on the right side of this fairway. The left side of the fairway is the best place to approach the green while avoiding the deep front right greenside bunker. Anything right or long on the approach will leave a difficult recovery. Playing this hole cautiously on the drive and to the left center of this small green will produce birdie chances.
Enjoy the natural beauty of this picturesque par three, but remember that nature’s kiss can be fickle. Proper club selection is a challenge here with a swirling wind around the oak and eucalyptus trees behind the green. The green is large but well protected front and right by a series of bunkers and a grove of willow trees. Aiming toward the left side of the green is the play here with a mellow fairway bailout wrapping around the entire front left side. This is one of Fred Couples’ favorite holes on the golf course.
Of Mice and Men
For the cautious who hit straight away, this hole plays every bit of the yardage on the card. For the gutsy, a drive over the left side fairway bunker dramatically shortens the second shot to the green. But beware, left of the fairway is a deep and large seasonal wash area that will lead to many a double bogey. The well contoured green falls from back left to front, with a large bunker on the front left side. The safe play to this green is short and right. Going directly at a back, left side pin placement will take all the courage you can muster.
Don’t let the lake fool you, the real action on this par three is on the green. The nearly 10,000 square foot putting surface is over 40 yards long with a thirty foot wide swale on the right side. The green falls from left to right into two deep hollows in front. Players who judge the true distance to the pin should have makeable putts for birdie. For those who do not, two putting will be the exception rather than the norm.
The front side finishing hole is an eye catching par five dogleg left with a beautiful little tee-side waterfall and a fairway seemingly surrounded by sand when viewed from the tee. There is more fairway here than meets the eye. This par five is reachable in two for longer hitters who drive the ball over the first left-side fairway trap into a somewhat hidden large fairway area. A generous fairway bail-out area behind the green may entice players to go for the green in two. A strong hook or pulled shot may prove costly however, as a creek runs the entire left-side before falling into the green-side lake.
Pastures of Heaven
Cattle grazed this beautiful “pasture” during the time Steinbeck wrote nearby. Now this rather long par four plays with the prevailing summer wind over a slight rise and then down to the green. The best play is to the left side of the fairway, as the right side falls off into a series of grassy lows. The putting surface is somewhat crowned and falls off into several green side hollows. Shots to the center of this green will yield makeable birdie putts.
The wide open par five eleventh is the transition hole from the gentle rolling terrain of the valley to the more dramatic topography of the foothills. Longer hitters can shorten this sharp dogleg right by placing the tee shot to the right center of the fairway, past the first of two giant valley oaks (“valle robles”) which frame the inside corner of the dogleg. From here, a shot between the oaks can reach the green or leave a short bump and run shot. Or take the safe route to the left center of the fairway between the first valley oak and the bunker, setting up a fairway wood or long iron and then a short pitch to the green. The stadium green setting is supported on the left by a steep hillside and on the right by two small bunkers.
This uphill par three has the most challenging green on the course. There is a three foot rise halfway through the green similar to those found on the old style courses of the nearby Monterey Peninsula. Two of the course’s deepest sand traps protect the right side of the green, with the surface of the green generally not visible for shots from the bottom of these bunkers. Unless putting is a specialty, keep the ball below this hole.
The thirteenth tee sits at the base of the beautiful foothills surrounding San Juan Canyon and offers a panoramic view towards the mission city, San Juan Bautista. Don’t get too relaxed by your surroundings, as the thirteenth is considered the most difficult hole on the course. Any downhill advantage is negated by summer’s afternoon prevailing wind which is directly in your face. Play your tee shot to the left center of the fairway, avoiding the lone right side bunker, and for big hitters, the seasonal creek beyond the bunker. The second shot must clear the creek with the safe shot favoring the right side and using the hillside to bring the ball into the green.
Split The Difference
One of the most unique holes on the course, the tee shot on the fourteenth requires players to choose between two separate fairways split by a seasonal creek. The left side is narrow with a large carry bunker looming on the left side of the fairway, but successful tee shots will have a relatively short open shot to the green. The right fairway is wide open but plays uphill and longer and leaves a more difficult approach. The right fairway sits thirty feet above the green and players contend with a large valley oak that fronts the right side of the green. Checking pin placement visible from the tee, and playing to the strength of your driving game will help you decide which way to go.
Scene of a famous 1800’s squatting rights gun battle between Spitts and Bixby, the fifteenth hole is a strong uphill par five (par four from the red tees) that plays across a deep creek protected by mature oaks. Let it rip off the tee as the hole plays more and more uphill than it appears and the longer the drive the more open the second shot over the creek. The key to success on this hole is the second shot which must angle across the creek to a narrow fairway. The fairway widens as it approaches the green, so play the second shot up the canyon as far as you dare. The beautiful green setting is nestled between a steep hillside left and the deep creek and two large bunkers right. Play this hole conservatively and to the left center of the green and par will be your reward.
Kipp’s Wild Ride
Don’t be fooled by this downhill shot. This stunning little par three appears longer than its actual yardage. From the tees the putting surface looks relatively flat but actually has more undulations than most San Juan Oaks greens. The green is long and very narrow front to back. Recovery from the front bunkers will be easier than from the high rough behind the green. Trust the yardage on the score card.
The signature hole at San Juan Oaks has easily the most spectacular tee shot on the course. Standing 150 feet above the green, players can see for miles across the fertile San Juan Valley to the mountain range far in the distance. Many of the bunkers visible from the tee are not in play for the average player’s drive. The best play is to the right center of the fairway, where a good drive will catch the downhill side of a designed speed shot adding 15 to 20 yards to the drive, leaving a mid to long iron to the green. Players who fly the green on their approach shot will find a forty foot drop into a creek with only two small bunkers to save the most fortunate.
San Juan Oaks’ finishing hole is a dramatic sharp dogleg right. The tee shot must carry an area of native grasslands and two bunkers. The second shot angles across a deep ravine to a large stadium green perched above the fairway. There are plenty of bail out areas here as the fairway wraps around all sides of the green. The key to this hole is a drive to the left center of the fairway. A tee shot too far to the right will have to contend with large oaks blocking the second shot.