Golf for Beginners: Maderas Golf Academy

In San Diego, there are a few sports everyone should try. Surfing is one, and after living in San Diego for many years, I finally tried getting up on a board last year. Golf is another – after all, San Diego is home to more than 90 golf courses. When Maderas Golf Club was recently named one of the top 100 best public courses in the U.S. by GolfDigest, I knew it was time to give it a shot…even if my shot ended up in the sand.

Welcome to Maderas Golf Club.

Welcome to Maderas Golf Club.

Located in the rolling desert hills of Poway in San Diego’s North County, Maderas feels a world away from the city streets of downtown San Diego but can be reached in an easy 30-minute drive. Upon arriving to the green oasis spotted with golden lillies and sparkling fountains, I was greeted by Chris Mayson, Director of Instruction for the Maderas Golf Academy. Since Chris also happens to be the director of the USA Junior National Golf Team and was an accomplished NCAA golfer, I knew I’d be learning from the best…but it would take the best to get this klutzy kid to make it through even one hole.

Chris Mayson explains the different clubs to the beginning student.

Chris Mayson explains the different clubs to the beginning student.

Fortunately for beginners like me, Chris’s instruction was thorough, patient and kind. His enthusiasm for teaching didn’t even wain when I explained that I’d never so much as picked up a golf club before! We began by heading out to the range for a few practice shots. After explaining and demonstrating the proper grip of the club and mechanics of the swing, it was time to give it a try. WHIFF!! (That would be the sound of my club swinging right past the ball without making contact.)

But it wasn’t long before I was making progress. On the second shot, my club made contact, and the ball hopped down the range. Within the first 15 minutes, I managed to get one or two shots out to about 120 feet!

The scenery of Maderas Golf Club.

The scenery of Maderas Golf Club.

After trying out the different types of clubs and building up some confidence on the range, it was time to try the course. As we set off in a cart down the course designed by Johnny Miller and Robert Muir Graves, I could see why GolfDigest would rate Maderas so highly. Each prestine hole surround by flower beds, creeks, trees and rocky cliffs called out to be played on. Teeing off for the first time was a challenge; Chris reminded me that beginning golfers often have a hard time getting lift, so he reminded me to focus on hitting the tee underneatch rather than the ball.

Ok, so exactly a flawless first attempt.

Ok, so exactly a flawless first attempt.

On a hole with a par 3, I managed a respectable 7, though I think Chris shaved off a few shots and permitted me a few more “do-overs” than most golfers would be allowed. But when I sank the final putt, I understood why Maderas embraces the slogan “Golf is its own reward.” Golfers of all skills levels would do well to spend an afternoon at the Maderas Golf Club, and beginners, rest assured that if they can teach me, they can teach anyone!

Do you have a favorite San Diego golf course? Share it in the comments below!


San Diego Golf: From Sunrise to Sunset

There are more than 90 golf courses in San Diego County, which provides a wide variety of golfing experiences. Here are three to consider:

Maderas Golf Club

Best course to enjoy the sunrise
I was in a foursome for a winter round at Maderas two years ago in which we were the first group off the tee. The temperature gauge in my car read 18 degrees as I drove into the parking lot. I was wearing shorts, which says something about my state of mind while getting dressed at an early hour. I remember willing the sun to rise over the mountain just east of the course. It sure took it’s time that day, but it did finally peek out. Was I ever glad to see it. The temperature would rise more than 40 degrees before we putted out on the 18th hole. If only my game had warmed to the occasion as well.

Torrey Pines Golf Course

Best course to enjoy the sunset
In January, I watched visitors staying at the Torrey Pines Hilton snap pictures of the sunset from a patio off the lobby. If they had planned ahead they could have arranged a tee time at the Torrey Pines Golf Course and been in an even better position to see. The first tee from both the North and South courses points golfers directly toward the ocean. Afternoon golfers keep one eye on the sundial, watching the sun sink slowly in the west as they sink putts. A perfect finish is walking off the 18th hole just as the sun disappears. Even if you don’t make it to the finish, there’s no better spot to end the day.

Mt. Woodson Golf Club

Best course to enjoy fireworks
Mt. Woodson’s location in Ramona offers some of the best views in the county. It can be almost distracting, which is a concern on a course that demands attention to shot-making to keep from going out of bounds. Here’s the plan: Make an afternoon tee time and be mindful during the round of where a good vantage point is to look west over the rest of the San Diego County. Afterward the round, drive to that spot and enjoy the show(s). If you get the golf cart back a little late, they’ll understand. In fact, maybe you can even work something out ahead of time for them to send up a signal flare for you to make your way back to the cart barn.


San Diego Golf: Give Dad His Day in the Sun

Sure, you can give dad another tie. But why not give this a try? Here are three San Diego County courses offering something special on Sunday for Father’s Day:

Cottonwood Golf Club
Fit in a round of golf either before or after a special Father’s Day brunch from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm that includes everything from scrambled eggs, country potatoes, buttermilk pancakes and fresh fruit to corn on the cob, BBQ chicken and ribs and carved Tri-Tip. The Ivanhoe Course, which measures nearly 7,000 yards, and The Lakes Course, which is just under 6,600 yards, are both challenging and enjoyable layouts. Although Ivanhoe is longer, it is easier to avoid trouble there than The Lakes, which lives up to its name with water coming into play at some point on more than half the holes. That includes the par-3 16th, which features an island green. The brunch is $19.99 for adults ($16.99 for seniors). Call 619-442-9891 (ext. 3) to make a reservation.

The Grand at Del Mar
Fathers staying at The Grand on Saturday or Sunday can take advantage of an offer to pay for 18 holes but play unlimited golf for the day. The special includes a custom club fitting and a complimentary logo golf hat. The Tom Fazio-designed course measures 7,160 yards at the tips and features rolling hills, lush surroundings and beautiful views, enough to make any golfer want to head right back out after putting out on the 18th. Or after a bite to eat, anyway. The Grand also will be featuring a three-course Sunday brunch ($45) from 10:00 am to 3:00 p.m. Room and golf reservations are available at 888-314-2030.

Maderas Golf Club
Playing the Johnny Miller-designed course, which measures nearly 7,200 from the tips, is a reward in itself, but on Father’s Day there’s also a $25 gift card when dad and a guest play. A brunch ($32.95) with salads, a BBQ station and desserts is available from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm. If dad can’t make it to the course that day, then there’s the Ultimate Father’s Day gift package. It includes five one-on-one golf lessons with PGA pro John Darling, a custom driver fitting and a new TaylorMade R11 driver. Valued at $1,000, the package is priced at $499. Call the golf shop at 858-451-8100 for tee times or gifts.


Golf Channel Amateur Tour Event Gets Juices Flowing

A threesome in the Golf Channel Amateur Tour's San Diego Open putts out Sunday on 18th hole at Rancho Bernardo Inn.

Standing in front of the scorer’s table Sunday afternoon at Rancho Bernardo Inn, Steve Sitar reacted as if he had just won the Masters when results were announced for his flight in the San Diego Open, a two-day major on the Golf Channel Amateur Tour.

And that was for finishing third.

“Yes, I’m going to nationals,” exclaimed Sitar, a 58-year-old engineer from Las Vegas. The top three finishers in the Senior Jones Flight all earned exemptions to the Tour’s national championship event in September at PGA West in La Quinta.

It was a lot of excitement coming from someone who just shot a 17-over-par 89.

“I’m not Tom Watson,” said Sitar, whose handicap is similar to what he shot. “I just do it for the fun of it. If I don’t stink up the place, then I’m usually pretty darn happy.”

That’s the type of enthusiasm the Golf Channel Amateur Tour has generated among its players. They’re treated like professionals in many ways — for example, their names are announced when they approach the first tee — but there is an Everyman quality that encourages all comers. The Tour has 12 different flights to account for every level of golfer, so there is competition within each grouping. Performances Sunday ranged from an even-par 72 shot by San Diego’s Thomas Isaak at Maderas Golf Club to win the Championship Flight to the 62-over-par 134 one golfer recorded in the Senior Snead Flight at Rancho Bernardo Inn. The 20 he carded at the par-4 ninth hole didn’t help, but that’s another story (eight balls in the water? Really?).

Sitar said he was encouraged to join the Tour last year by his son, who is also a member. He has enjoyed the competition and the variety of courses he’s been able to visit.

“These courses are gorgeous,” said Sitar, who played Maderas on Saturday before concluding the weekend at RB Inn.

“Here I shot an 89 and I thought I could easily have shot an 84,” said Sitar, sounding strikingly similar to the PGA pros when they recount their rounds. Sitar was proud of back-to-back pars at 16 and 17, but he double bogeyed the par-5 18th. He’s not alone there. The 18th is a challenging finishing hole, stretching well over 500 yards, the last half of it uphill with water on the left, fed by a stream that fronts the hole’s tiered green. There’s plenty of opportunity to give away strokes before sinking the day’s final putt.

Ah, well. Sitar takes it in all stride. In fact, afterwards he sounded as if he was working up material for a Vegas lounge act.

“Some of the golfers take it a little more seriously than I do,” said Sitar. “I take it like Lee Trevino. I want to win, but I golf for one reason only — beverage cart girls.”

Then he added: “I don’t make my living at golf. I spend my living at golf.”


Players Warm Up To Golf Channel Tour Stop Here

A group playing Saturday in the Golf Channel Amateur Tour completes its round on 18th hole at Maderas Golf Club.

One of the major stops on the Golf Channel Amateur Tour is this weekend’s San Diego Open. It’s a two-day, 36-hole event played at Maderas Golf Club and Rancho Bernardo Inn. There are 21 states represented in the 180-man field, which is divided by handicap into 12 flights. Seemingly all of the visitors came here in search of some sun.

Pat Moore of Aurora, Colo., and Sean Brushett of Seattle, were positioned above the 18th hole at Maderas after completing their rounds, watching other groups finish and marveling at the weather (72 and sunny). Moore said Tour events don’t get going in Colorado until the end of April. Brushett said they begin play in Washington three weeks earlier, but still “it will be wet and cold. Of course, it’s like that most of the time.”

David Saxon of Farmington, N.M. said he couldn’t have picked a better place to play his first Golf Channel event: “With it 40 degrees back home, I couldn’t resist.”

Saxon, 41, owns a business called Sandia Hearing Aids and said he signed up for the Tour because he found himself spending too much time working.

“I joined to get me back into golf and get my handicap down,” said Saxon, who plays to a 15 handicap. He shot a 98 on the par-72, 6,555-yard Johnny Miller-designed course at Maderas. He felt fortunate to avoid triple digits after shooting 54 on the front. Saxon put the driver away on the back nine and carded a 44.

“The fairways are so narrow,” said Saxon. “I realized I was using the driver too much.”

Saxon called Maderas one of the most difficult and challenging courses he’s ever played. It’s certainly much different than what he sees back home in New Mexico. There were the narrow fairways and some blind shots. There were the canyon holes that created some difficulty judging distance. And there’s the price to be paid for leaving shots short — or long.

Said Moore: “It’s unforgiving. I’ll bet I took six to eight penalty strokes (going out of bounds). But I loved the challenge.”

Moore, 61, who also was eager to get out of the Colorado cold. Now if he could just get his game to warm up. Moore, a 22-handicap, failed to break 100 at Maderas. He should fare better Sunday at Rancho Bernardo Inn, where errant shots have more room to roam.

Brushett shot an 88 at RB Inn on Saturday, then came over to Maderas to get another look at the course before playing it on Sunday. He shot 85 at Maderas in a practice round earlier in the week.

“You play for bogeys and if you pepper in some pars it’s a good day,” said Brushett, 43, an executive who joined the Tour two years ago and is playing in his 20th Golf Channel event.

The lowest score of the day was a 2-over-par 74 by Roland Rivera of San Diego in the Championship flight, which includes golfers with handicaps of 3.9 or lower. It was one of 20 scores in the 70s at RB Inn, where most of the lower-handicap flights played on Saturday. They move to Maderas for Sunday’s final round. Rick Labrum of Murrieta, playing in the Senior Hogan flight (handicaps of 8 to 12), had the lowest score at Maderas on Saturday with a 10-over 82.

Here’s more on the Golf Channel Amateur Tour.