A Sure Thing

The plan seemed simple enough: Take my father on a golfing excursion for his 72nd birthday.
And, between rounds, the two of us would camp in my pop-up trailer at a Los Angeles-area
lake, perhaps land a few largemouth bass and try not to argue around the campfire over
world affairs. It would be our first time camping together in many years and, I figured, no
matter how poorly we played golf and no matter how few fish we caught, we’d enjoy each
other’s company and create a few good memories. Little did I know …. The logical place
for our purposes seemed to be Castaic Lake — once one of the best bass fisheries in the
world and still quite fecund — a fine Los Angeles County location from which we could
track down any number of worthwhile golf courses, the lake less than an hour’s drive from
my door. My father hemmed and hawed when I suggested Castaic. “OK,” I said, “How about
heading north to Ventura County’s Lake Casitas, another fine fishing venue with
better-than-good golf courses in the vicinity — also within easy striking distance of both
our homes?” Vague and half-formed negations emanated from my father, and I realized that
there seemed to be a perfectly valid reason why the two of us had not camped together
recently. “Any objections to Cachuma Lake, prickly birthday boy?” I asked. “Nope,” my
father responded. “That sounds great.” Since I long ago stopped trying to figure out my
father’s thought process, I said, “Cachuma it is, then,” and started to pack. The pop-up
acquitted itself nicely as we drove north on the Pacific Coast Highway in high winds, the
early-October temperature still summertime hot. We drove through Santa Barbara on the 101
Freeway, negotiated the mountains that stand between the Pacific and the Santa Ynez Valley,
drove north along Highway 154 until we reached Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, then had our
pick of the more than 500 campsites — 90 with full hookups — strewn beneath majestic
California oaks. WE SETTLED INTO A LARGE site with views of the lake, within easy walking
distance of the shower facility and not too far from the general store and the dock, where
I hoped we’d rent a boat. It was late afternoon, and as we set up camp I wondered if we
should try fishing from shore once we had organized our site, or should we go for a
leisurely bike ride throughout the almost-empty campground? Or maybe we’d just settle in,
light a campfire and rest up for our early round of golf the next morning. But instead, my
father dropped his sleeping bag on his side of the trailer, then turned to me and asked,
“Ready to hit the casino?” The casino. Of course. What a bonehead I was for not
comprehending my father’s objections to the two other lakes I’d suggested. Chumash Casino
Resort sits, tauntingly, about a dozen miles from Cachuma Lake, and I obviously should have
factored my father’s fondness for games of chance into my birthday-bash plans. Sure, I’ve
been known to tickle the cards on plenty of occasions, but it had not occurred to me that
this trip would involve gambling. Little did I know … As my father fiddled with electronic
ways to squander my inheritance (he was partial to a no-armed bandit that — very
infrequently, upon paying off — featured a pair of disembodied boots scootin’ across the
multicolored screen), I admired how impressive the casino had become. A couple years
before, I had visited the facility and had been thoroughly underwhelmed. Such is definitely
not the case now. The building itself is handsome, and the employees are friendly and
accommodating. And visitors — gamblers and otherwise — can receive countless free
non-alcoholic beverages, a nice touch considering that in Las Vegas these days it’s harder
to receive a freebie than it is to hit a jackpot. I settled in to watch the ball game on a
large flat-screen TV mounted above the blackjack tables, dropping a nickel in a machine
occasionally in the name of protocol. My dad noticed a line forming and asked what the
commotion was about. It turned out that the casino was holding a blackjack tournament that
night that required only a $5 entry fee, a blackjack tournament that provided plenty of
excitement among the 158 participants that night, a blackjack tournament that my father and
I participated in, a blackjack tournament that I won. THE GOLF THE NEXT FEW DAYS was, in
effect, on the house, rounds comped unwittingly by the Chumash Casino Resort. If only the
casino could have done something about my putting …. Rancho San Marcos Golf Course sits
off Highway 154, south of Cachuma Lake. The course provides beautiful vistas of the
surrounding mountains, delivers numerous undulations that make the layout engaging and
serves up challenges for golfers of all abilities, without being absurdly difficult. The
way my father putted that day was almost illegal, since he sank four putts of more than 20
feet. The way I figured it, he was as lucky on the golf course as I had been in the casino
the night before. Of course, as soon as we changed out of our golf spikes, my dad was ready
to hit the casino again. The next morning, we drove north to Solvang, where we teed up at
the River Course at the Alisal. The course was better maintained than Rancho San Marcos,
and I preferred the greens there, too, since I actually made a couple putts longer than
tap-ins. The seventh hole — a 438-yard, uphill par-4 with a lake on the left and a
vineyard on the right — is particularly challenging and memorable. Parring the short par-3
17th hole was the highlight of my round. We played Rancho San Marcos again before we left,
and decided we’d fish Cachuma Lake on the next trip. And we almost made it home without an
argument.

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