It has been part of the San Diego golf landscape for nearly three decades, but Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club feels like it’s just now being introduced to the community.

For those who haven’t played the course in a while, you can expect a much different experience this time around. Carmel Mountain Ranch recently completed a $4.4 million turf reduction initiative that eliminated 52 acres of grass and more than 600 trees. In its place are more than 2,000 drought-tolerant plants, shredded redwood bark and decomposed granite.

Think desert golf – San Diego style – with more defined sightlines and a more targeted experience for the par-72 layout located just east of Interstate 15 off Ted Williams Parkway.

“The result is a better golf product,” said Erik Johnson, director of golf operations for JC Golf, which began managing the course in 2014. “The golf course is in good shape.”

While the bunkers and undulating greens remain virtually unchanged from Ron Fream’s original design, many of the tee boxes were moved to improve sight lines. From the tips, the course plays slightly longer at 6,672 yards, while the blue tees stayed almost the same at 6,236. The most significant difference is from the white tees, which moved up 339 yards to 5,488 yards. The forward tees now play at 4,572 yards after a 290-yard trim.

Carmel Mountain Ranch is now a true shotmaker’s course. That is evident on the par-5 fifth hole, a sharp dogleg left that requires a well-placed tee shot if you expect to make par. Once you reach the fairway, shorter hitters will have to negotiate a creek on the approach to the green.

The next hole is just as enticing. The par-3 sixth is uphill and plays longer than the 188 yards (blue tees) on the scorecard. A fairway metal may be in the cards, but be mindful of the bunkers short and left of the green.

With the new desert scape, a wayward tee shot likely will find itself in the bark or resting on the decomposed granite. The feel of those shots take some getting used to, but the course pros recommend playing the bark like you would in longer rough and the granite like a tight lie.

“This course still has teeth, but it’s a lot easier to find your golf ball,” head pro Brandon Delgado said recently.

Considering the serious drought conditions, Carmel Mountain Ranch is certainly doing its part by saving approximately 40 million gallons of potable water every year, enough to supply water for about 400 single-family homes.

And that translates into a new golf experience for San Diego golfers, one we may be seeing a lot more of in the future. For Carmel Mountain Ranch, the future is now.

Marc Figueroa is a freelance writer who has been covering golf in San Diego for more than 20 years.