9200 Inwood Drive. Santee, CA
Carlton Oaks is a Perry Dye (son of Pete) designed course which opened its doors in 1958, and was redesigned in 1989. Carlton has a great tournament pedigree, hosting many junior tour events, Canadian Tour Q School, and NCAA Men’s and Women’s Regionals. It’s easy to see why this place hosts some of the best young players every year, it is a classic Dye design.
Dye’s hand in this golf course can be felt in multiple ways. The most obvious being the railroad ties lining the fairway bunkers. The fairway bunker running up the right side of hole 9 has railroad ties the whole way, and is in my opinion the best hole on the course. Another classic Dye touch this course has is a difficult 18th hole that requires a bold approach over water to get to the green. I feel like every Dye course I’ve ever played has a similar 18th hole. Long par 4 over water with a relatively open tee shot but needing a very precise approach, and this course is no different. 18 is borderline too hard, if the wind picks up, which it normally does in the afternoon, your tee ball falls out of the sky and you’re left with a long iron over water into the wind… Very tough.
Carlton has a great mix of holes throughout. It’s not a drive and gouge type of golf course. On the front 9 you can hit driver off every hole, or 2 iron off every hole and both options provide different ways to attack the hole. The par 5s on the front 9 are fun, and the 5th hole is a short par 4 that is loaded with options off the tee and approaching the green. The back 9 has the classic, “hit this shot, or else” feel that we have come to expect with any Dye designed golf course. Water begins to become a factor on the back 9 holes, mainly off the tee. 10-12 are some of the toughest holes you’ll play anywhere. Water is in play on 11 and 12 with 12 being arguably the toughest par 3 in San Diego County. It plays every bit of 200 yards with water guarding the front, right, and back of the green.
The rest of the par 3’s are some of the best in San Diego County. Throughout the 4 par 3’s you hit anything from 9 iron to 4 iron with varying elevation changes and hazards on each hole. The 2nd hole sticks out as the best par 3 of the bunch. It’s a medium length hole, 180 yards with a narrow two tiered green and a big oak tree blocking the right of the green. It’s a great par 3 that can bite you in the butt really quick if you aren’t careful. The green side bunker to the right of the green is the deepest bunker on the course.
What Makes this Course Special?
The course will make you a better player. If you are someone who wants to play golf for the sake of reaching your full potential, this place will be able to point out what in your game needs work. Plenty of strategy involved in every shot, no “easy” holes, and score able if you’re playing good golf.
Tee boxes are close to greens. Routing makes perfect sense. Elevation change is gradual so you never feel like you’re huffing it up huge hills.
The bar is sick! It’s huge, lots of TVs, comfy chairs, and a delicious selection of beer. Place is really fun to hang out after your round.
Is It Worth the Time and Money?
The value of the course is innate. Green fees aren’t very high, the greens are good, and the course is challenging and will give you tangible feedback on what you need to work on. Most Dye designed courses are gonna run you at least $100, and to get out here for a fraction of the price can make the experience worth it.
If you and your buddies like to drink a few beers, have some fun, listen to music while you play, this course may not be the most fun for your group. If your game is not in tip top shape this course can turn into a death march really fast. You won’t lose many golf balls, but the holes can be long and you can get in some very tough positions, especially if your ego gets in the way and you tip it out or play the blues.
The experience when you come here is one of testing yourself and your game. This course is a measuring stick to see if you’re game can stack up to a fair and stern test. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, but if you aren’t expecting this type of experience, you could be in for a pretty rude awakening early in the round.
If you and your buddies have never played the course before, and are into the idea of playing new places, you shouldn’t skip this course. But my advice would be to play the Green Tees. Swallow your pride and move up from what you normally play. The course will be plenty of challenge for a first timer from that distance, and you will be able to enjoy the experience a little bit more. The next time you come back, you can stretch the tees out if you feel confident, but be ready for an ass kicking if your game isn’t firing on all cylinders.