Our (new) modest Top 10 list of So Cal’s must-do par-3 tracks (for the right price and atmosphere)

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Another day of vacation is another opportunity to run up to the Links at Terranea (linked here) — that’s Terra, as the Latin for “earth” as in “terra firma” or “terra cotta”, and then “nea” as in, the 8th most popular Finnish girls’ name in 2004. Something like that.

It’s the Rancho Palos Verdes ocean-cliffs resort that’s only a couple months old (with rooms starting at … if you need to ask, then you probably don’t possess a gray AmEx card) wrapping around a stupendous nine-hole, par-3 course — about 1,200 yards short from the tips.

Check out Jill Painter’s review of it before it disappears into library archive land (linked here).

Jill mentions how the holes each have a name. No. 9 is “Whale Road,” according to director of golf John Fitzpatrick, is a reference to Beowulf, where the ocean is known as Whale Road — which, in this case, affords a view of whale pods occasionally as they migrate north (whites tend to do it in winter, blues at this time of year). There’s a better chance at some magnificent dolphin schools splashing about at the former Marineland site (there’s a reference for someone over 40 who actually learned about sealife from the tidepools and killer whale tanks from the tourist attraction that went away far too soon).

At “Captain’s Bluff,” No. 3 on our scorecard, you aim at the Point Vicente Lighthouse (still very functional), but there’s often a stiff breeze blowing back at you. From 172 yards, I needed a 3 rescue wood and somehow watched it slice and land on the right of the green, then roll toward the ocean (a common occurance) to where it stopped about 4 inches short of a hole-in-one. I had to snap a shot of it from my cellphone, and Daily News videotographer/Internet love guru Ryan Garfat captured it for one-minute presentation (linked here, with my near crowning achievement in the final scene).

Some friends have asked how Terranea’s nine compares to any of the other short tracks we’ve been on in and around So Cal. Considering the whole package — and factoring in the $35 weekend fees — it’s tough to put this anywhere but No. 1 on our destination map. But we’re open minded.

From our experiences, we’ve decided to try to construct a short list — our new Top 10 list of golf courses that can be the perfect 2-hour playdate:

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1. The Links at Terranea: (linked here)

Deceivingly dangerous and deliciously devious. And good luck breaking 30 on the par-27 test.

The key to this being the ultimate stop in a 9-hole golf experience is the complete package. You pay a little more — $35 on weekends, $30 on weekdays, with a reduced rate if you play it a second go-round — but you gain it back, and beyond, in peacefulness, high-class treatment (from the clubhouse starter and pro shop to the spectacular, if that’s the right word, portable restrooms) and staggered tee times that don’t put you into a frustrating situation waiting for the group ahead.

Even if there is a slight backup, what can be more calming than to watch a flock of seagulls swoop across the cliffs nearby, or gauge the speed of a small fishing boat chopping through the water. It’s what you’d expect to see in Monterey off the coast of Pebble Beach. Think of that. Where else can you even come close to that kind of experience in Southern California without paying a fortune?

They’ve also got everything a resort can offer to public scavengers — club rental, pull-cart rental (everyone walks, so no electric carts mucking things up), a beverage cooler rental. Or bring your own Sunday bag and leave the driver in the trunk. You’ll probably consider using every other club, however, at one point or another. No driving range, but a nice short-course practice facility plus instruction if you so desire.

Maybe the thing that really puts this in the special category is you have a view of the money pit known as Trump International just a few miles south. Its tricked-up trickery and trumped-up prices leave you wondering if The Donald himself believes he created the landscape for our pleasure. Then you realize — hey, I’m at Terranea, a much more relaxing experience without feeling as if my credit cards have been stolen. Just a couple miles away to the other side and up the hill is Los Verdes Golf Course — another public 18-hole track that offers a lot of the same views for even less of a green fee that Terranea. But good luck getting on. It’s just been listed as the most-played course in all of Southern California.

2. Roosevelt Golf Course (linked here)

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Again, tough to beat the views (of the Griffith Park Observatory, across from the Greek Theatre) as well as the smell of the eucalyptus trees. A hilly 2,400 yards (par 33) and $22 on the weekends for non residents, but count me in for the $10.25 twilight fees on weekdays. Just time it so you’re not caught in concert traffic.

3. Studio City Golf Course (linked here):

For $9 a round, and less than 1,000 yards, it’s a 50-year-old landmark on Whitsett just off Ventura Blvd., in the Valley where you get to see celebs (and pseudo-celebs) on the driving range trying to work on their game. It’s convenience to Jerry’s Deli is another plus. Although getting this finished in under two hours is a risk.

4. Harbor Park Golf Course (linked here).

Next to Harbor Junior College in Wilmington, right off the 110 Freeway heading toward San Pedro, is this city-run course that has 3,200 yards (par 36) and was designed by William F. Bell more than 50 years ago. It’s another of the places we learned how to use the longer clubs, and try to avoid the water. Get brave and try it out.

5. Manhattan Beach Golf Club (linked here):

It’s tucked behind the Marriott Hotel on Rosecrans Blvd., near the El Segundo/Manhattan Beach city line, and open to anyone who can find it. For $19 on weekends ($17 on weekdays), it’s a little pricey again for a par 27 (1,209 yards). The signature hole is 150 yards over water at No. 8. The ocean breezes also play into shot selection.

6. Rec Park 9 (linked here)

Actually, it’s known as “Little Rec,” across the street from the more challenging Long Beach Rec (still one of our favorite big courses) but with enough character to make it challenging and fun in the late afternoon — a place we’ve stopped by to keep going after playing on Big Rec and we had the bug to keep working on our short game. A snack bar on the par 31 run (1,900 yards) also helps.

7. Armand Hammer/Holmby Park Pony Course (linked here):

A pitch-n-putt, sure, with 800 yards cut into 18 holes, the longest measuring out generously at 68 yards. But consider the surroundings — off Beverly Glen and Sunset, just west of the UCLA campus. And only $4 on weekends. You can bet there’s some high-end skins games going on there with the locals. It’s Hammer time.

8. Penmar Golf Course (linked here and linked here):

They do seem to take their golf at this neighborhood executive course on Rose Ave. in Venice a little more seriouisly than most — just look at the website on the push to get club membership, tournament news, etc. There are six par 4s (the longest, 398 yards) and three par 3s, and it does get backed up a bit. Maybe because a round is still reasonable (less than $20 most times).

9. The Lakes at El Segundo (linked here)

A revamped course from the one where we learned how to swing the 9-iron some 30 years ago, this one across from the Chevron refinery in Sepulveda gets a lot of traffic (from those coming over from the driving range) for $13 weekend/$11 weekdays on a par 29, 1,300 yard course that starts with three shorties and then one longer one to finish (next to the lake). The new eating facility is very decent to hang out at after playing.

10. Sea Aire (linked here)

It’s a piece of land in Torrance where you’d otherwise think is someone’s backyard. Par 27, longest is 90-yards uphill on No. 5, but there’s a small-town charm about it. Kids will be all over it in the summer, and that’s heartwarming. It’s $4 for residents/$4.50 for everyone else. It’s where we took our kids to learn, and they’ve still enjoyed going back for great memories.

Others?

== The VA Medical Center Par 3 course in Brentwood isn’t open right now (linked here) for some strange reasons. But for a nice, quiet secret place to go, call ahead. It’s also a cool place to donate clubs and equipment for the vets to use for free.

==The Dominguez Hills’ Par 3 off the 405 freeway in Carson — you know, with the giant statue of the dude holding the club — at least has lights if you get the hankering to play after dark. The course itself is nothing to brag about, and the freeway traffic noise doesn’t go away. But it can be convenient.

==So too can Alondra Park’s Par 3 course (Lawndale, near El Camino College), next to the Main 18 drag, but it’s far less attractive than what Little Rec does for Big Rec in Long Beach.

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If only we could get on Augusta’s Par 3 course some day …

As an aside, we’d consider The Greens in Valencia — a minature golf course that opened years ago with real grass, but having read what’s become of it (linked here), we’re disappointed to hear what’s happened to it.

Eric Tracy has this list he created for Southland Golf magazine (linked here), places we haven’t ventured to but seem to be worth the effort. But having been to many courses in the past with Sir Eric, we trust his judgement and will be interested to see how his eventually makes it to our revised list someday.

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