Opened at the start of the new millennium, the 18-hole layout at Maderas Golf Club nestles in the rolling hills to the north of San Diego, where it winds its way around a landscape of rocky outcrops, winding creeks and mature woodland.
Laid out by former professional Johnny Miller, in association with architect Robert Muir Graves, the course was one of the last golfing projects undertaken by this esteemed designer in a career spanning almost half a century.
Water comes into play on several holes, including the par four 9th, which features ponds on both sides of the fairway, narrowing the landing area for the drive and challenging the approach to a double tiered green complex.
The hilly terrain is bound to throw up a number of uphill or downhill lies during the course of a round but the biggest obstacle to a good score here is probably the severity of the bunkers as many of these traps are penal with high lips.
There are no sure fire signs of when great architecture is likely to be present but one aspect often bears fruit in this regard. How good is the land for the golf? In my mind, no less than 60% of any evaluation rests on this dimension. If the land is dead flat then the architect will have to be careful in adding a number of man-produced creations to break up the monotony.
On the flip side if land is particularly hilly and abrupt then great care must also be done.. Such situations can be difficult to route and often times you get shot value distortions -- with either severe uphill, downhill or side hill situations in awkward circumstances.
Maderas, is an upscale country club for a day layout that's open to the public. The course is set on quite hilly terrain about 45 minutes northeast of San Diego. The course does provide a range of amenities and is well managed by Troon Golf.
The issue facing architect Robert Muir Graves and his consultant Johnny Miller was how to provide for a quality golf experience knowing full well how the site would be a tough one to route. I chuckle when people mention the Miller connection as if Johnny were the architect. Graves provided a number of top courses in California during his long career -- including one of my personal favorites La Purisima in Lompoc. Maderas is a worthy play but it's not at the same level as La Purisima.
When creating golf on difficult terrain there will invariably be compromises because like a crossword puzzle when one needs to fit everything together that can invariably mean results not necessarily optimum. Severe land often begets numerous compromises.
You see this immediately with the opening holes. Maderas climbs uphill noticeably for the first two holes. This can be a tough slog for the players not capable in sufficiently being able to carry the ball. While both holes are less than 400 yards -- the effective yardage plays longer. The flip side is having holes that play abruptly downhill and you see this with the long par-5 3rd which provides a tremendous scenic view of the landscape from its high perch.
Graves had to work through tight corridors and fortunately much of the surrounding housing is set either above the course or far enough away to keep the feelings of being cluttered mitigated.
The dog-leg left par-4 5th is a solid hole -- here the player must decide how much of the corner to cut. The ending hole for the outward side is a well-crafted par-4 of 382 yards. Here positioning is central to the play -- with water an obstacle to a smartly defended green.
The inward half commences with another uphill hole -- parallel to the 1st. At this point Graves follows a back and forth situation in which the holes run perpendicular to the hillside.
The par-5 14th is a long and tortuous hole that mandates three fine shots to get to the green. Playing uphill -- most notably the final 150 or so yards. The strength of the hole is a barranca - which runs diagonally near to the green. The player must decide whether to lay-up short of it or attempt a Herculean carry for a better angle into the flag. While I am not normally a fan o directly uphill holes the 14th is quite exceptional. Birdie is not on the radar screen without the execution to earn it.
The par-3 15h is also well done -- one of the few attempts where a long par-3 play a key role. This time you head downhill and the green is angled so shots coming in from the left have a better opportunity to find the putting surface. Usually, this hole is into the prevailing wind so the downhill aspect is somewhat mitigated.
The par-4 16th at 450+ yards is one of the better par-4 holes at Maderas. Again, you descend from an elevated tee box with a barranca running across the fairway at 300 yards. Decisions are crucial -- play conservatively or attempt a much bolder play.
Graves concludes the design with an ordinary par-3 and a quality closer -- a long par-5 of 600 yards at the 18th.
Given the site he had to work with Graves provided a quality routing for the land he had to work with. Where Maderas comes up short is the lack of details for many of the putting surfaces - often devoid of complexity and exhibiting a mundane style.
Maderas is clearly among the best playing choices in San Diego County, but, as I said throughout this review, one needs to be mindful of how the golf is forced upon the terrain. Maderas is a mixed bag and while there's a number of fine holes there's just too much mediocre elements that hold it back in my mind from being even rated higher.
M. James Ward
I live in the San Diego area and play Maderas a couple of times a year. The best public 'rota' in this area to me are: Torrey Pines (both), Coronado, Barona Creek, and Maderas. I always enjoy my round at Maderas as a 'good' golf course will make you use every club in your bag.
The other reviews of Maderas are spot on, so I will not duplicate. It is a challenging course, but also very enjoyable to play. There are good elevation changes and side-hill lies to make you think a little bit before playing the shots. Approach club selection is probably the biggest consistent challenge. The par 5 #14 is a great example as I typically up-club 3 clubs on the approach.
I do seem to play more driver than they other reviewers. #6 is a great example. The first-timer will see a short par 4 with a very narrow landing area framed by trees. So they will play a long iron on hybrid for accuracy and then a PW. I discovered that the tree on the left is much closer than it looks - think the Road Hole at St Andrews - and rip it over it. The fairway feeds towards the green leaving an eagle chip.
You will might see someone well known on the driving range. Charlie Hoffman and Brenden Steele practice there. Last time I had a UCLA female collegian next to me.
Lastly, I NEVER play there at the rack rate. Yes it is too expensive. But the there are many discount options available.
Nice course with beautiful views of the desert and one of the best you can play in the San Diego area, ideally at a $85 twilight rate. Not particularly long but with quite narrow fairways the course presents quite pleasant desert views and several changes of elevations with several spectacular uphill or downhill holes, with a remarkable par three on the second 9 (200 yards from an elevated tee). In particular the last 5 holes are quite interesting with the par 5 14th goiing up and the two par three 15th and 17th and the par 4 16th playng downhill with very nice views. The course was in exceptional conditions with perfect fairways and smooth and fast greens. Definitely fun to play, but not 5 balls in my opinion because the course misses some character.
Maderas is one of those courses you enjoy but you can't quite put your finger on why. The routing is narrow and takes driver out of your hands on many holes but that adds to the challenge of trying to figure out the course from the tee box. Once on the fairways you will find them and the rough spongy and without many flat lies but at the same time you will be having fun trying to figure out how to hit it to the green from that lie. The greens are fine although the amount of unrepaired ballmarks is disconcerting for a high end course like Maderas.
The back nine is similar to the front 9 but plays easier although if the wind is up on this course, either 9 is going to be a difficult test.
I haven't played many Johnny Miller layouts but this one has a good mix of water features, strategic choices and the course was in good shape that made it a really engaging round. The course is good but not great and considering the rack rate, it definitely is an expensive meatball and one should try and look for deals if thinking about playing here.