Finding The Spirit Of Soule At Ojai’s Public Golf Course
By The Unknown Golfer
If you are a golfer of any kind and you’re looking for a world-class public course experience, look no further than the Soule Park Golf Course in the beautiful city of Ojai. The Soule Park course plays 6,856 yards from the championship tees and is a par 72 course with a USGA course rating of 72.8 and a slope of 128.
Soule Park is situated in the heart of Ojai and is surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, with nearly every hole offering a breathtaking view. This course is one of my favorite places on earth, mostly because it has a spiritual feel to it. No matter how my golf ball is flying that day, I truly enjoy being on the grounds of Soule Park. For those of you wondering if you should ride or walk, Soule Park is a pleasant walk, with only a couple of major hills to navigate. The temperature can get a little hot in the summer months, but I still forgo the ride and opt for a pushcart, and rarely regret my decision.
The Course Layout
When you arrive, the pro shop has anything you might need for your golf outing, and the staff go the extra mile to ensure your needs are met. Soule Park offers a top-notch driving range which is always in excellent condition, and there is a practice putting green adjacent to the range. There is also a small chipping area for those golfers looking to refine their short game before heading to the first tee.
Once your group is called and it’s time to tee off, hole 1 offers an elevated tee-box with water on your left and trees lining the right side, so your best bet is right down the middle. Long hitters can take advantage of a hill just in front of the green to gain some extra yardage; but beware of going long on your second shot because there is plenty of danger surrounding the first green. Hole 1 offers you a chance to get off to a fast start, provided you avoid the water and navigate the bunkers protecting the green.
The second hole takes you over a creek, and there are bunkers on the right side that can easily turn a solid tee shot into a mistake. The green can also play difficult depending on the pin placement, but this is another excellent opportunity to card a par or a birdie early in your round.
Your first par-three challenge comes on hole 3, and don’t sleep on this one because it can ruin your scorecard in a hurry. The hole is only 140 yards from the tips, but it is surrounded by bunkers, and they are deep. If you make a mistake you can go from one bunker to another in the blink of an eye and before you know it, you’re looking at a double, triple, or even worse. The green is sloped and tends to be fast, so putting from above the hole will make even the best golfers weak in the knees.
After the dangerous third, you get back-to-back birdie opportunities with two par-five holes, both of which can be kind to your scorecard if you can avoid mistakes. That’s the good news; the bad news is holes 6, 7, and 8 present a difficult three hole stretch for any golfer. The par-three sixth hole is 242 yards from the oak trees, so it takes a poke to find the green. Once you do get to the putting surface, the green has plenty of break to it. I’m generally happy to card a four on this difficult hole. Number 7 is a par-four and is the No. 3 handicap hole on the course. With danger on the left, golfers are well served to work up the middle or right side of the fairway. The green slopes to the creek, so an approach shot on the right side of the green will generally funnel down to the hole. So, this hole can provide an opportunity for a low score if played carefully.
Hole 8 is the most difficult on the course, and it often lives up to that billing. The hole is uphill and rewards a long, straight tee shot. There are trees waiting for you on both sides of the fairway, and the green is well protected with a large bunker. Without a doubt the hardest part of No. 8, for me, is the green. I’ve had more three and four putts on this hole than I care to recount. Much like hole 6, I’m happy to walk off this green with a bogey.
Number 9 offers a chance for redemption before making the turn. It is a pretty straightforward hole and with a decent second shot, you should have a quality chance at par or even a birdie.
At the turn, you have an opportunity to stop by the newly renovated Zaidee’s Bar and Grill, which offers a nice selection of food and drinks whether you are grabbing something to take to the 10th tee, or if you are dining before or after your round. Zaidee’s offers some of the best views in the entire Ojai Valley along with inside and outside bar seating, and a relaxing patio that overlooks the ninth green.
Your back nine experience starts with another elevated tee box and a water hazard you will need to navigate. No. 10 is a short par-three with water on the right and a big drop-off behind the green. If you miss on this hole, play it short to avoid adding some strokes to your card. If you can hit the green with your tee shot, you’re generally going to be looking at a par.
Hole 11 is a long par-five, but it offers plenty of opportunity for a par or better. One bit of advice on this hole: don’t miss left on your tee shot. Pretty much anything else will do. Hole 12 is one that for whatever reason, always gives me problems. The par-four is a dogleg right with an elevated green. So, your approach shot needs to land softly to keep from rolling off. If you can avoid the sand with your tee shot and hit a good approach, you should be well on your way to a good score.
The 13th is a short par-four and is the No. 16 handicap hole on the course. You want to take advantage of this hole because the next two can put a damper on your day in a hurry. The key to 13 is to keep your tee shot away from the trees that line the righthand side of the fairway. Also, avoid going long on your approach to the green or you’ll have a difficult recovery shot.
Holes 14 and 15 are the No. 2 and 4 handicap holes, respectively, and this stretch of the course can add several strokes to your scorecard if you are not careful. Hole 14 is a long uphill par-four with trees on both sides and a green surrounded by sand. It takes two solid shots for your average (and above average) golfer to hit the green in regulation, so this is one of those holes I am happy to card a bogey and move on.
If No. 14 didn’t cause you to toss a club, chances are the 15th might. This downhill par-four brings a creek into play, so depending on how your tee shot goes, you are either looking at a second shot over the creek and onto the green, or you are laying up to cross the creek with your third shot. This hole might be a suitable time to swallow your pride if you are looking at a long second shot; trust me, I know! I’ve put my fair share of balls in the creek bed, so take the emotions out of play if needed and opt for the safe play.
The final three holes at Soule Park present both challenges and opportunities. Hole 16 is a par-three with a troublesome bunker on the front side of the green, but the green itself can be a beast. The putting surface is typically fast and can be hard to read. This is one of my favorite holes on the course, but I’ve also walked away with a nine — yes, a nine. So, don’t dismiss this one.
No. 17 is a par-four that runs parallel to the driving range. You’ll be rewarded if you hit a good tee shot down the middle of the fairway. There are trees on the right which can greatly impact your second shot, so beware.
The 18th and final hole is the easiest on the course and as a par-five, is a great chance to end your day on a high note. The green is easily reachable in three and funnels from right to left, so if you hit your approach shot on the right side of the green, your ball will generally run toward the hole.
At the end of your round at Soule Park, you feel like you’ve played a difficult course. The walk along with the challenge of the course makes for a terrific day. There is no better way to cap off your day on the course than a drink or meal at Zaidee’s Bar and Grill. Whether you enjoy the bar, an indoor table, or a nice outdoor experience, you truly can’t go wrong.
Back in July 2017, Keith Brown took control of the Soule Park Golf Course. Prior to Brown’s arrival, Soule Park was somewhat of an afterthought for me and my golfing buddies. The course had dried out to the point we always joked about the “Soule roll” on our drives and quite honestly, the experience just wasn’t that great aside from the beauty and peacefulness surrounding the course. However, now the course offers one of the best public course experiences in all of California, and the nation for that matter.
After more than 20 years with the American Golf Corporation and serving as the organization’s chief operating officer, Brown brought his vision and wealth of knowledge to the Ojai Valley. He can be found helping out in all areas of the day-to-day operation and he is also a stellar golfer who competes in most of the Soule Park tournament events.
Brown has made significant changes to the grounds and completely renovated Zaidee’s and its surroundings — and golfers far and wide are taking notice. It used to be that 90% of the golfers at Soule Park were locals, but now you’ll encounter people from all over California who have made the trip to enjoy the Soule Park experience. This has made getting a tee time a little more strategic, but honestly, that is a small price to pay for the quality of what you get.
In addition to the average weekend golfer seeking out the Soule Park experience, a number of major tournaments have also turned to the Ojai Valley for their events. Soule Park has hosted the likes of the Toyota Tour Cup and several other high-profile events.
Despite the flood of golfers coming from outside of Ventura County, Brown has retained a strong relationship with local golfers. This is evident by the turnout for Soule Park’s golf club tournaments. Additionally, the Soule Park Senior Golf Club showed their love for the course and its employees by raising funds to help support the staff when the course was closed during the pandemic. It is that kind of community support that underscores the importance of having a home course and the plethora of benefits it brings to Ojai residents.
Local golfer, business owner, and community leader James Casey has seen the improvements Brown and his team have made, and he is a big fan. “Zaidee’s Bar and Grill has brought a fantastic gathering place for the entire community. You see golfers and community members alike spending time together and enjoying the new menu and cocktail list. The view is second to none and the entire atmosphere around the course has been reinvigorated,” he said.
Another golfer who has been impressed with the upgrades to Soule Park is Erik Newlove. Although he only plays Soule Park a few times a year, the course has become one of his favorite destinations. He said, “The Soule Park experience is special, and I always leave feeling fulfilled and happy. The course is always in great shape, and I really appreciate the effort Keith and his team are putting into upgrading the entire facility. If you haven’t played Soule Park, you should soon!”
Green Fees and Zaidee’s Menu
Another great aspect of the Soule Park Golf Couse is the affordability factor. The green fees are fair compared to other public courses I play on a regular basis. Currently, the weekend rate is $44 for the green fees and $18 for a cart. During the weekday, the green fees are $34. Soule Park also offers a terrific twilight rate of $25 on a weekday and $32 on the weekend.
If you are looking for a bite to eat, Zaidee’s Bar and Grill is not only convenient, it is excellent. It’s known even amongst non-golfers, who love to come in for a bite, a beer, and the view. In the morning, you can’t go wrong with the Soule breakfast or a big breakfast burrito. On the all-day menu, consider the Zaidee’s classic burger. All of the ingredients are fresh, the food is terrific, and the service is fast and attentive. If you have time to enjoy the dining room, the views and the vibe are truly unparalleled in the Ojai Valley. The full menu for Zaidee’s Bar and Grill can be found on the Soule website.
Soule Park offers an easy online option for making a tee time, which can be found at soulepark.com. It is located at 1033 East Ojai Ave, Ojai, and staff can be reached at (805) 646-5633.