Goat Hill 9th

Life is good at
The Goat

I keep getting asked: “How’s life in San Diego?”

I’m home and I’m in Heaven, which, for me, is Goat Hill Park.

Goat Hill #17
Of course, there’re other reasons why life is so good. And most are more important. My wife and kids are happy. My parents are in their 80s and need some additional support at this time of their lives. The public schools, weather, coastline, food, diversity, Del Mar’s Dog Beach and a built-in inner-circle of good friends are also on the list.
Del Mar Dog Beach
But as a golfer covering an always evolving game that I love, it’s Goat Hill Park and all that happens around the literal and figurative fire pit of social dynamics that continues to blow me away.
Life is good at the goat
The first time I played it was July 16, 2012. It just happened to be my birthday. I played it six times that day for a 100-Hole-Hike, raising money for Kyle Lograsso and Retinoblastoma, which is cancer in the eye. I played it with John Ashworth, who was trying to raise awareness of the flailing municipal, built in 1952, which was on the brink of extinction. Ashworth had played it a lot while growing up in Escondido, had started a business in Oceanside, and knew fighting for the course was the right thing to do.
Goat Hill GPS

“We couldn’t just let it go away,” says Ashworth, who admits now he had no idea what he was getting himself into. He literally came home and said to his wife: “Honey, we bought a zoo!”

Almost two years after that hike, which resulted in blisters the size of the bottom of my feet, the city of Oceanside did what so many more municipalities need to do: Admit they don’t know anything about the business of golf and hand the wheel to someone who does.

Ashworth signed a lease agreement on July 1, 2014, which now ends in 2064. And in his first year running the Goat, Ashworth did 12,000 rounds at $25 green fees. That’s 32 rounds per day, or just eight foursomes. Needless to say, he lost money.

John Ashworth & Max Ashworth

“There was no grass, no cart paths, and the greens were shitty,” says Ashworth, who, early on, while walking the course, had to defend himself against a gang of kids with knives by swinging a flagstick and telling them to go home. “It was a joke,” he says. “It’s hard to think back on those days. It was brutal.”

But this wasn’t a short-term commitment. And there was something bigger in play than just trying to improve the bottomed-out bottom line.

The day John Ashworth signed that lease was the day the man who co-created Linksoul, was in fact linked to the soul of Goat Hill Park. If they weren’t already.

John Ashworth- Gandalf
This was a connecting of forces that has resulted in the resurrection of the golf course itself, the hang, the neighborhood, the city and the experience for everyone who stops by. And they’re coming from all over the world just to say they’ve tapped into and tasted the greatness that flows through the land and the trees as if Ashworth is Gandalf the Grey wielding his persimmon staff. And if you’ve seen Ashworth lately, he’s looking every bit the part. Except, he isn’t fictional and he isn’t acting. He’s out there in the dirt, on the tractor, holding the shovel, picking the rocks, redesigning the bunkers, adding a kid’s course, picnic tables, sand boxes, fire pits, and most recently, a new souped-up and technologically advanced driving range. Next up, more revetted bunkers on 10, 7 and 13. New greens on 5 and 13. And then there’s talk of a revamped clubhouse with a rooftop deck and an amplified view of the ocean.
Goat Hill

How’s life in San Diego?

My handicap is down, my steps are up, and I’m spending more time at Goat Hill Park off the course than on the course. Which is the aforementioned and often underestimated, “hang.” Adults have more fun on The Playground, the kid’s course, than the kid’s do. Which is saying something. The music is always on, the pit is always smoking, the local Dogleg Brewing beers are always cold, and the answer is always, Yes! (Too many municipals say, No!)

“Can I get a bag of beers on ice?” Yes. “Can we play five if we don’t slow anyone down?” Yes. “Can I bring my dog?” Yes. “Can I play in a t-shirt?” Yes. “Can I get in the skins game?” Always.

Goat Hill new driving range

Ashworth will be the first to tell you he’s not caretaking “The Goat” alone. He constantly deflects attention and credit to his staff and appreciates the growing support from a deeply committed community. He gives them everything he’s got, and they give everything they’ve got right back. You can’t step out of your car without feeling this harmonized and synchronized investment into something so much more than the business of golf. There’s Eli Ivey, who manages the place, the people, tournaments and events. Laz Flores, the superintendent, has been there over 30 years. And then there’s Fernie, Richie, J-Bird, Simzy, Hunter, Lisa, Eric, Will, Big Sean, Luis, August, two Gavins, Gip, the Wood brothers, Mikey, G-Money, LoMil, Wardy, Junior, Chuy, Tam, the Leovao family, and so many more. Truly, so many more.

“It really is one big extended family,” says Ashworth. “The people who have been there from the beginning know who they are. And we know who they are. And it has been pretty frickin’ cool to be a part of.”

Goat Hill Buddies

Which is why the greens are now some of the best in the county, membership is up, and getting a tee time isn’t easy.From 12,000 rounds in 2014, Goat Hill Park did 42,000 rounds in 11 months of 2020. They had about 100 members of their golf club when Ivey started in 2017, now they have over 400 who pay $150 per year, which gives them a handicap, discounts on green fees, drinks, merchandise and access to all of the club tournaments.

“He’s got the vision, the plan, and I enjoy watching it all happen,” says Ivey, who credits the lack of bureaucracy within the process as a key to their success. “John thinks about it, we talk about, then we do it. It’s that simple.”

And some might say, they’re just hitting their stride.

Bubba Watson Instagram
Bubba Watson was in town last week to finalize a deal in which he’ll be wearing Linksoul on the PGA Tour. He spent two days at the Linksoul Lab in Oceanside immersing himself in the brand and the culture it cultivates around art and design. The best part about the Bubba story is that he picked Linksoul. And it wasn’t just because he wants comfortable clothes he can wear on and off the course, Watson told me he has been following along for years and that he appreciates Ashworth and his nephew Geoff Cunningham’s commitment to the community spirit.
Bubba, John & Geoff
“I want to be a part of what John and Geoff are doing, not just by wearing their clothes, but also what they’re trying to do for municipal golf,” says Watson, who is simultaneously investing into his community driving range in Pensacola, Fla.
Bubba Watson Linksoul Shoot
After a day trying on clothes and posing for pictures, Watson rolled up to the Goat to see the course for himself. All of a sudden it was me and Ashworth, as a two-man scramble team, versus Watson. He drove the first green, a 300-yard par 4, with a 3-wood. He almost chipped in for birdies at 2 and 3. He putted across 40 yards of gravel, down a slope to five-feet from the hole on the fourth. Almost aced 5. Chasing the sun, we jumped to 12, where he almost drove the green and nearly chipped in for eagle, and then made an easy par at 9. He left Ashworth and I feeling like a couple of balatas at impact. And then we all circled the fire pit where he talked about his latest goal in golf: To break the course record, which is -9, held by Colin Featherstone (three times) and Michael Sims.
As far as I can tell, Linksoul and Goat Hill Park add some soul to Watson’t brand, while Watson adds eyeballs to Linksoul’s brand. Both will benefit from the bump.
Meanwhile, Watson isn’t the only notable Tour player or celebrity who frequents the Goat when they’re in town. Xander Schauffele and Dean Wilson host the Wishbone Brawl around Thanksgiving, which has included Charley Hoffman, Chris Riley, Mike Weir and of course, Geoff Ogilvy, who, in 2019, swished a 9-iron on the 9th hole to end a sudden-death playoff.
John Ashworth & Kelly Slater

Don’t be surprised if you see Dave Stockton and Stockton Jr., the Geiberger boys, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Bill Murray, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, countless Tour caddies, including Bones. On the day they poured concrete for the new driving range, Tyrell Williams, wide receiver for the Las Vegas Raiders, was first off as a single.

How’s life in San Diego?

I get a front-row seat to the game’s greatest blueprint of how and why giving back to your community course is where we can all start unifying as a society. And I recently asked Ashworth if he gets the sense the city understands or appreciates what he’s doing for Oceanside.

“The feeling I get is that they now know it’s not something they need to worry about. That it’s being looked after. But I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.”

Bandon @ The Goat

Which I did. I called Peter Weiss, a former Oceanside mayor and currently a city councilman.

“When John took over, the course was being subsidized significantly and there was pressure to close it,” says Weiss, who likes to stop by the Goat after work and hit balls before going home. “But what John and his team are doing is drawing people to the course for more than just golf. He has transformed it into a community asset. There are people spending the day with their kids and pets. And when they go, it’s an enjoyable event.”

Goat Hil 1st tee

Weiss says Goat Hill Park and the deal they made with Ashworth is just one good example of the city’s commitment to forging public/private partnerships with passionate people who know their business. But it’s not magical and mythical for all.

“The only problem with the Goat is that the balls don’t go straight,” says Weiss. “At least mine don’t.”

How’s life in San Diego?

Well, that just about sums it up.

Hope to see you out there for Friday skins. After all, at the Goat, golf is mandatory on Fridays.

Ginella Family @ Goat Hill

As for launching a travel-centric production company in the face of a global pandemic? What could possibly go wrong?

If all else fails, maybe I too, will buy a zoo.

–Matt Ginella

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