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The Summer of Golf examines the sport’s post-pandemic popularity boom at local courses in South Orange County and showcases the play of each course through the eyes of our resident normal, below-average new golfer. Click here to read previous entries in this series.

By Zach Cavanagh

The course at Talega Golf Club in San Clemente has so much going for it.

The Fred Couples “signature” championship course is one of the best tracks to play in all of Orange County with its acres of rolling fairways leading back into the canyons of San Clemente. There truly isn’t a bad hole in the bunch, as even the holes a below-average golfer would call “bad” offer unique designs and challenges.

The greens are soft as pool-table felt. The fairways offer plenty of run for a rolling ball—a great help to the below-average player. The water features are picturesque and stunningly designed. The hazards of the water, sand bunkers or out of bounds areas aren’t all that intrusive, which all in all makes for quite the pleasurable round.

Hole No. 7 at Talega Golf Club in San Clemente. Photo: Zach Cavanagh

Adding to the pleasure, it might just be the best driving course in South Orange County. Not driving as in hitting out of the tee box. Driving as in driving the golf cart.

That’s not to be silly, either. Talega features the smoothest cartpath-to-fairway and fairway-to-cartpath transitions out of any of the courses played so far, and the sometimes-lengthy journeys between holes along the winding paths that traverse the canyons provide a certain bit of joy. That’s not to be minimized, considering how much time is spent in the cart in any given round.

Speaking of the cart, while it is a fairly regular cart, each comes equipped with a GPS navigator that is able to give all the major yardage markers to help your round, as well as track your drive distance, keep tabs on pace of play and provide warnings when the group ahead is lingering in a blind spot. Each cart also has its own side cooler, which is helpfully filled with ice ahead of each round.

Now, while this Summer of Golf series has been mostly positive or at the very least understanding of some circumstances, there are some things at Talega Golf Club that diminished the experience, despite the great play of the actual course.

When it comes to amenities for the golfers, the navigation system and iced cooler on the cart are sort of where they start and stop. For this round, there was a stop at the Signature Grill deli window, but in order to keep up with the pace of play, there was no food purchase made. There was also no beverage cart for this 7:20 a.m. Tuesday morning round, no bag drop despite the sign for it, and while there is a detached driving range, it is a drive away from the clubhouse, and it wasn’t open yet for that time in the morning.

That comes back to a question posed in earlier installments of this series: Is the course worth its value?

Weekday morning rounds at Talega are $105, with cheaper fees in the afternoon and much cheaper fees in the twilight rounds. Morning tee times for this Friday are $120, and morning and early afternoon tee times for Saturday and Sunday are $135.

Was the experience worth that value?

While the golf itself was wonderful, I don’t know if the full experience works up to that value.

Maybe it was just my one-day experience. Readers may notice there are no comments from course management in this story, as there were in others, but efforts were made to get in contact. The cashier at the pro shop mentioned the course was a bit understaffed, and maybe that points to the experience or why I couldn’t connect with course management.

Beyond all that, how does this well-maintained canyon course play?

The Round

Progress has been made, dear readers.

My round at Talega Golf Club was my best scored round in my short history of playing golf. From the 6,187-yard, par-72 white tees, I shot a 33-over-par 105. My previous best was a 107 at Oso Creek Golf Course in Mission Viejo in November; however, that was a round of 47-over-par on a 3,670-yard par-60.

There were two huge factors for me here.

First, my intermediate game came to play. As noted before, I don’t have the biggest swinging driver of the bunch, and while it’s certainly become a more consistent and reliable swing, it still doesn’t go so far. On longer holes, the strokes add up when you’re topping 4-irons 25 yards at a pop. I found a groove with my 3-wood, which allowed me to make up quite a bit of ground.

Second, my short game became acceptable. I don’t even want to say “decent,” because there were certainly missteps. However, my mentality about it became better. I took a “nice and easy” approach to chipping, which didn’t always work out, but I wasn’t hopping back and forth over the green. Then, on the green, I tallied only four 3-putts with an extremely consistent run of 2-putts, even while adjusting to the quickness of the wet morning greens and the slower rolls of the soft daytime greens.

It’s those little things that add up to shave strokes off your score and salvage bad holes in other spots.

Looking back on the monstrous 600-yard, par-5 Hole No. 13 at Talega Golf Club in San Clemente. Photo: Zach Cavanagh

For example, I had only one true “blow-up” score, which came on No. 13. It’s a monstrous 597-yard, par-5 with a split fairway. It was just a long, long, long hole, where I lost my ball and 3-putted on the soft green for a quintuple-bogey—a 10.  However, my two pars of the round on No. 12 and No. 14, sandwiched around the bad hole on No. 13, limited the damage overall.

Overall, outside of No. 13, the rest of the holes were a pleasure to play. The challenges were fun, not frustrating. The back nine, in particular, provides those challenges, but even something like aiming blindly over the trees on No. 15 and toward a 100-foot flag marking the landing zone was a thrill.

Moral of the story: keep swinging away. Keep fine-tuning that game. Keep playing. Eventually, certain things lock into place, or at the very least, you get lucky, which is better than being good, honestly.

Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at zcavanagh@picketfencemedia.com.

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