BAJAMAR Vista/Oceano course

11 handicap

A weekly look at golf courses open to the public in Southern California.

* Location: 48 miles south of the border on Mexico 1

* Telephone: (888) 311-6076

* Green fees: $65 Monday-Thursday, $80 Friday-Sunday (includes cart)

* Tee times: No restrictions

The facility: There are three Sottish links-style nines from which to choose. The Vista and Lagos desert layouts opened in 1976, but it was the opening in 1995 of the Oceano course that put Bajamar on the map. Featuring six cliff-side holes overlooking the Pacific, Oceano was designed by noted architect Robert Von Hagge. Also on the grounds are a hotel, bar and restaurant.

The good: Vista-Oceano gives you the desert and the sea, impeccable fairways and greens on holes with varying degrees of challenge. The par-five fourth, for example, requires a blind tee shot up a hill, a tricky middle-to long-iron layup near water and an even trickier shot to a small green just beyond a creek. Oceano is a wonderful way to wind up a round--provided you don't slice. The 170-yard par-three 14th is your first real test. It requires a gutsy shot to a green on a cliff, and a series of bunkers left of the green to guard against the bailout. Not to worry, though: The drink cart carries fine brands of tequila for those wanting to steady their nerves.

The bad: If your handicap is 20 or higher, bring at least a dozen balls--then visit the pro shop and buy another dozen for your second nine. The fairways are narrow and the desert full of shrubbery. If you play on weekends, keep in mind that there's the border crossing to contend with--and it can be dreadfully slow.

The score: A trip to Bajamar is as much an adventure as it is a golf outing and well worth the drive, especially if you make it a two-day affair. That way you can take in the Ensenada night life after the first round, and stop at Puerto Nuevo for a lobster lunch on the way home after the second.

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