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Villa Poseidon  >  Resources  >  A Guide to Baja Golf


by T.R. Reinman of the San Diego Union-Tribune


It is only one hour and a world away from golf as we know it in San Diego County.  It looks like any number of holes you’ve seen in the advertisements for resort golf in Hawaii, and you can drive there.  It is 14 months late and well worth the wait.  It is only nine holes, and that is a shame.  It is the Oceano nine at Bajamar Resort.

The original 18 holes at Bajamar wend over gulches and through chaparral.  At times on the back side, now called the Vista nine (the front is now the Lagos nine) it is almost, almost, as if you are on a links course in the west of Ireland: a patch of fairway here, a green over there, another strip of fairway heading off that way.

The Oceano layout, designed by Von Hegge Design Associates, and delayed by last year’s crushing peso devaluation, is entirely different from its first tee.  While chaparral and cactus define the first 18 fairways, gentle mounds of grass line these.  After two straightaway warm-up holes, the 409-yard third (all distances from the back tees) doglegs right, toward the ocean, and the game is on.  The fourth is 376 yards between two fairway bunkers and across a deep chasm to a green that’s 18 paces deep and 43 wide.  That brings you to the 183-yard fifth, the start of a stretch director of golf K.C. Crandall calls “The Gauntlet.”  This and the next three tees are built on precipices about 25 feet directly above the pounding surf.  On each hole, coves cut into the right side of the fairway.  Holes 6 (411) and 7 (438) are similar, distinguished by contouring along the left side of 6 and a shortish carry over a cove into the seventh fairway.  The 545-yard eighth swings to the right along the coastline, and it offers the temptation for big hitters to bite off more than they can chew.  The 366-yard ninth is an uphill climb made challenging by rough-covered mounds in the fairway and an enormous three-tiered green.

Though the last grass was seeded in December and the new nine opened June 14, the course is remarkably playable.  The greens hold, the rough is thick if not deep, and there are virtually no bare spots in fairways.  The wind generally helps at this time of year, coming from behind and right to left through “The Gauntlet.”  Unlike on the other 18, where the longest hitter will likely use every club in his bag, big boys on the Oceano probably won’t need more than a 5-iron to get home on any of the nine holes.  But the Oceano nine is in fine shape.  Its look is unparalleled in the area.  And couple with either of the other two nines – the primary course will be the Oceano and Vista nines – it affords a unique golf experience, stuck on a coastline an hour from San Diego and right between Ireland and Hawaii.

Phone: 1-800-BAJA-4-18

Local color: Dolphins working the kelp beds 300 yards off holes 5 through 8.


A few years ago it was reported that the Tijuana Country Club was designed by Alister Mackenzie in the late 20’s, about the time he did Cypress Point and Pasatiempo and not long before he helped Bobby Jones on Augusta National.  According to “The Architects of Golf,” though, an encyclopedic listing of architects and their works, Tijuana was designed in 1928 by Billy Bell.  That would have been seven years after he did San Diego CC, and the year after he did La Jolla and collaborated with George C. Thomas on Riviera in Los Angeles.

That says something about Tijauana’s layout: like Bell’s other courses of that vintage, it hasn’t undergone significant changes.  That’s good and not so good.  Good, in that it was done right in the first place.  It’s a little short by the standards of modern equipment.  But the prevailing westerly wind, the routing of its holes uphill and down, and tough Kikuyu grass that grabs short approach shots and weak chips all are great levelers even today.  Not so good, in that while San Diego, La Jolla and Riviera all have replaced their original greens in the last five years, Tijuana has not.

But after losing the battle of the greens to creeping Bermuda, the club membership lately has given its support to superintendent Nacho Martinez, and results have been positive.  Aprons on several greens have been replaced to stem the tide.  Other greens have been resodded with bentgrass; more will be done this winter.  Additionally, there are plans for two new reservoirs on the course, and irrigation work is being done on several holes.  Baked brown in recent summers, Tijuana is green and in better shape than it has been for years.

Only 30 minutes from Mission Valley, Tijuana averages fewer than 75 rounds per day.  Last Friday morning one player walked the course in 3 hours, 40 minutes, played through one twosome on the front nine and didn’t see another group on the back.

Local color: Beverage cart with mixed drinks available, an idea borrowed by other Baja courses.


In its routing, Real del Mar Resort is reminiscent of two San Diego County courses: Aviara and Tecelote Canyon.  The front nine winds out, up around and down a mountain, much like the front nine at Aviara.  But Real el Mar is narrower, maybe tougher.  The back nine loops out and back through a steep canyon that may kick out slices, and it’s bisected by a creek that eats hooks.  It’s Tecolote on steroids.  It also has something few, if any San Diego courses have: Bermuda greens.

Open for four years, Real del Mar’s maturity is showing.  Its bare spots are gone and its grand plans for a hotel on site, housing units, an equestrian facility and marina are coming to fruition.  Real Del Mar, 12 miles south of the border on the Ensenada toll road, is “only” 6,403 yards from the back tees, but its 131 slope indicates how challenging it can be.

Accuracy and patience are the keys here, not strength.  Holes 6 through 9 on the front play downhill but directly into the prevailing sea breeze.  Staring down those fairways at the Coronado Islands is like looking down a gunsight.  Holes 7 and 8 are “only” 334 and 383 yards, but on the tee it’s better to think about getting the ball in the fairway than way down the fairway.  Similarly on the back nine, after turning for home into the wind on the 15th, two par-5s and a short 4 called “Temptation” make you work for your margaritas before the short 18th.  So much for accuracy.  As for patience, there are those 18 greens.  NBC’s Johnny Miller may wear us out talking about “grain” when the PGA Tour heads to Florida in the winter, but here the difference between bentgrass and Bermuda is as obvious as a 5-foot putt left short.

The key: leave your approach below the hole and you can charge your putt.  Above the hole, heading downgrain, think “back of the cup” instead of lagging.  Be accurate at Real del Mar, and patient.

Local color: One of the best 18th holes in the area has view of other groups playing into 17’s island green.