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Mt. Woodson GC: Golf Is Only Part of the Experience

RAMONA, CA – Mellow, laid back, friendly, accommodating, picturesque, rugged, fun and narrow. That’s Mount Woodson Golf Club located in the boulder-strewn hills and among ravines above San Diego and near Escondido.

Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt carved out this hilly 6,004-yard, par-70 beauty in 1991 and it has had its management problems and surly attitudes through its life under several golf course management companies.

But that all changed when Daryl Driscoll, and his Alliance Golf Management Services, purchased the property.

“We decided to manage the property with a family style feel and not so corporate.  We want the customers to experience that ‘Cheers’ feeling of everyone knowing their name and being glad they came,” Driscoll said.

I was greeted in the Cheers fashion by Ron Gorski, general manager, a 30-year veteran, plus Perry Dotson, a 30-year plus head pro. One of Mt. Woodson staff’s favorite story to tell is the day Phil Mickelson visited (he lives in nearby Rancho Santa Fe).

“Gosh, he had just won the Masters a few days before his visit in 2004,” said Ray Bozek, a staff member. “We don’t know what he shot, he wouldn’t give us his score card to frame, but I saw a lot of threes and twos on it. We did get a photo with him, his brother Tim, and a couple of friends that’s hanging on the pro shop wall.”

Don’t think the average golfer is going to have a lot of twos and threes. It’s narrow and has tricky greens, great views and an incredible 450-foot wooden bridge that goes over a canyon between holes two and three — traffic jams possible.

The third is a 186-yard par-3 that has the canyon right so if you don’t hit the green bailing out left gives you the best chance to par on this hole called “Ledges”.

You will find multiple chances to get in deep trouble during your round but it’s a great challenge to make good contact to green grass fairways and not the trouble.

“We are continually working on improvements,” said Driscoll. “Our new golf course superintendent Kelly Halsey has a crew of seven workers the golf course conditions have improved drastically.  The course that was in bankruptcy for eight years received limited resources to maintain the golf course.

“Today’s maintenance has included replacement of tools, turf, irrigation heads, aeration equipment, greens roller we have improved our turf mowing equipment.  The course had lost much of its Bermuda fairway and rough and had various grass species along with weeds due to weak health of the turf.  We have been pushing and promoting the Bermuda Turf and eradicating the other strains of grass to get back to a wall to wall Bermuda playing surface,” Driscoll said.

All the latest agronomy practices have been put into place along with new sod, new bunker sand and repairs on the cart paths. Also in the plans are landscaping, tree trimming, building a new practice putting green, relining of lakes and damaged PVC. The front entry to the property will be receiving a face lift with new landscaping, landscape lighting and showcasing the recently repair waterfall.

Driscoll also thinks Mt. Woodson is a great venue for tournament groups again with the creation of the Stony Mountain Bar & Grill and a full liquor license and improving menu.  The golf carts were recently outfitted with a GPS system to assist golfers with their club selection and a six-station warm-up center to allow golfers to hit live range balls prior to their round.

Also, Mt. Woodson wants to create golf lesson programs, leagues and junior golf programs that will create new golfers and promote the game of golf.  Another goal is to promote more tourism and get more visitors to experience the property.

“We continually see new faces and poll them after their round to hear how they found us and how we compare to the other course they played,” Driscoll said.  “We get powerful positive feedback and we hear that we surpassed the experience and expectations. They even say the experience is right up there with Torrey Pines for conditions and scenery.”

Mt. Woodson was built on an original 320-acre homestead of Dr. Marshall Clay Woodson. He was a Confederate Army surgeon and settled the property in 1875.

And there’s another historical treasure within sight of your drive in and the 18th green. The Mt. Woodson Castle, designed by John Vawter and Emmor Weaver, owned by Amy Strong, a San Diego dress designer.  She directed the building of this 27 room, 12,000 square-foot mansion with stone fireplaces – it combines a French castle with an English cottage, complete with a windmill straight out of the Dutch countryside. The project was started in 1909 and finished in 1921.

Don’t forget to try the Stony Mountain Bar and Grill.

Story by David R. Holland


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