For 25 years, San Juan Creek Country Club has been on the brink of fulfilling its promise of making the course as spectacular as its setting.
But nettling problems, such as recurring fungus attacks on the greens, have haunted the place, and no one has ever been able to figure out why play bogs down at certain holes no matter how much distance there is between you and the group ahead when you tee off on the 364-yard No. 1.
It's like a quality car that just won't let loose of certain squeaks and knocks no matter how many times it's been in the repair shop.
Last year, the greens were in great shape and up popped the weird summer weather that took its toll on so many coastal courses.
But while other courses (such as San Clemente Municipal) rebuilt the greens with fungus-impervious grass, San Juan owners are apparently content to let nature take its sweet time making repairs.
Consequently, a number of greens are still suffering, marked by bald spots and extremely rough surfaces.
The recent rains didn't help, either--other than making the 348-yard No. 4 hole more challenging than it has always been.
No. 4 is extremely narrow, with trees and water on the right and the creek on the left. The creek rose so high during the mid-January storms that it widened its banks, taking with it a good deal of the rough.
And although this is a relatively short course (total distance from the men's tees is only a tad over 6,000 yards), San Juan is deceptively difficult even when in good shape because many of the holes, especially on the back nine, are almost straight uphill.
The par fives on the back nine (Nos. 15 and 17) are studies in contrasts. No. 15 is 564 yards long. You tee off from an extremely elevated tee downhill with a dogleg left about 200 yards out (actually, it's a 90-degree left turn). Then you have to negotiate the hills on the left and trees and traps on the right to an elevated green surrounded by bunkers. The average golfer can be pleased with a bogey here.
No. 17, on the other hand, is about 80 yards shorter, starting with an elevated tee to a sloping dogleg right and a straightaway run to the pin. Long hitters should be embarrassed with only a par here; it's one of the surest birdie holes in South County.
Hazards abound at San Juan. Water comes into play on three holes, and the course is well-bunkered. Then, in the summer, rattlesnakes become a serious problem on the hillsides (which may account for the placement of three emergency phones on the course), although ongoing residential development around the course will probably take care of that threat.
San Juan is relatively easy to get on, and the rates are fairly low ($26 with a cart during the week and $35 with a cart on weekends). Carts, incidentally, are mandatory Thursday through Sunday but are not required Monday through Wednesday. Other than a regular twilight fee for play after 1 p.m. ($10 Monday through Friday and $13 on weekends), there are no discounts offered.
A Matter of Course
* San Juan Hills Country Club, 32120 San Juan Creek Road, San Juan Capistrano, 92675.
* Distance: 6,003 yards.
* Par: 71.
* Greens fees: Monday through Wednesday before 1 p.m., $17 without cart, $26 with cart (carts not mandatory); Thursday and Friday before 1 p.m., $27 with cart (carts mandatory); Saturday and Sunday before 1 p.m., $35 with cart (carts mandatory); twilight fee $10 Monday through Friday, $13 Saturday and Sunday.
* Lessons: $25 per half-hour session.
* Driving range: None.
* Reservations: One week ahead of time. (714) 493-1167.
* Amenities: Pro shop, restaurant, full-service bar, putting green.
* How to get there: San Diego (405) Freeway to San Juan Creek Road in San Juan Capistrano. Go east to golf course.
Los Angeles Times