At the moment, the course transformation taking place at Carmel Mountain Ranch is more about what isn’t there than what is. What isn’t there: 50 acres of turf and 600 mature trees. The scars of that two-month removal process remain, but they are quickly being replaced by mounds of redwood bark, piles of decomposed granite and a new vision for Carmel Mountain Ranch.

Course officials made a dramatic decision that last fall to close the course and embark on a renovation that would help the course achieve new goals of maintenance and sustainability during the prevailing drought conditions in Southern California. To be more environmentally friendly and water-wise, the 50 acres of turf was removed, largely from around tee box areas and rough areas surrounding the existing fairways. When you walk onto a tee box at Carmel Mountain Ranch now, you’ll see the bordering landscape that is comprised of shaved redwood bark surrounding plantings of drought-resistance plants. The area surrounding the cut-back fairway areas is now comprised of gray decomposed granite and will ultimately play like waste bunkers.

New Carmel Mountain Ranch Head Professional Brandon Delgado says the turf-removal process has made him look at golf courses differently. “You don’t realize how much turf goes unused until it isn’t there,” Delgado says.

And thus the future savings for course and the community. Delgado says that when the plants have matured, the course will converse 400 millions of gallons of water annually, enough to supply 400 households. Barring weather delays, Delgado expects the course work to be complete and the course rounding into shape by the end of March. Until then, two crews from a team of nearly 50 will be working two shifts daily to complete the renovation process.

Through February 19th, players are invited to play the course at a reduced rate ($39 for JC players; $49 for non-JC, 7 days per week) and receive a $25 playback pass good through the end of April.

While the course may temporarily suffer a bit in aesthetics, the fairways and especially the greens are in as good a playing condition as any course in the area, Delgado says. “After two months of no play and a shot of rain, our greens couldn’t be better,” he says. After the turf removal, the first stage of the renovation to be completed was a flattening of all the tee boxes and a re-positioning of some of them, largely to more advantageous angles from the forward tees.

Golfers who’ve played the course in the past will mostly likely notice an immediate difference on their scorecards. “Low-handicappers are probably going to see it get a few strokes tougher,” he says, “but high-handicappers should have their scores go down.” The new tee boxes are also wider and in many cases will allow for a great variety of teeing options, such as on the signature 11th, a par 3 over water.

As someone who has played the course from the blue tees in the past, I could feel my tee shots getting tighter just walking the course. In particular, I recalled a round that started with a tee shot pulled left on the opening hole, a downhill par 4. My ball settled into the rough, but thankfully tree-free, and I was able to recover to six feet for an opening birdie. That shot next time will likely be from decomposed granite and possibly a little more challenging to replicate. The formerly generous 16th fairway renovations also caught my eye. Formerly a straightaway par-4 with a creek carry, the fairway has been tightened significantly, not only near the initial landing area but all the way to the green. In the past, the course has been a mix of tight tee shots and less restrictive ones, but golfers can expect more uniform play from the new design and an increased premium on fairways.

Delgado says the finished product will be unique amongst San Diego courses and ensure Carmel Mountain Ranch’s sustainability for many years to come. “We’re going to have a one-of-a-kind golf experience in San Diego and hopefully one of the best golf products out there.”

Corey Ross is a golf and travel content specialist based in Carlsbad. This post and more of his work can be found at socalgolfblog.com. The Southern California PGA San Diego chapter honored Corey’s work in 2014 with its media award.