Scouting San Diego: Five must-play golf venues

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- While San Diego arguably has the best golf weather in the United States, it also has a pretty good collection of courses to go with it.

La Costa Resort - Champions golf course - 16th
One of the signature holes on La Costa's Champions Course is the picturesque par-3 16th.
La Costa Resort - Champions golf course - 16thMaderas Golf Club - 18thTorrey Pines - North golf course - No. 3Barona Creek Golf Club - hole 5Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad - 11th hole
If you go

There are a number of outstanding golf venues in the area, but we narrowed it down to five must-plays, especially if money is no object.

Most of these command healthy green fees, but they are well worth it if you're making the trip:

La Costa Resort and Spa

This 36-hole venue, which has hosted numerous PGA and LPGA Tour events over the years, has certainly been elevated in stature with the recent renovation of the North Course, now known as the Champions Course.

The team of Damian Pascuzzo and Steve Pate completely redid Champions with new bunkers, greens complexes and the redesign of several holes. Adding seven inches of sand-capping also made this Dick Wilson design drain much better.

Four holes were also redone on the former South Course, now known as the Legends Course, which currently hosts an LPGA event. The work was all part of an overall $50 million expansion and renovation of the resort, which also included new guest rooms, an expanded athletic center, a renovated events center and an all-new lobby bar.

Maderas Golf Club

Some say Maderas Golf Club has the best views of any course in San Diego, including Torrey Pines. While that's certainly debatable, what's not is that Maderas is one of more picturesque courses in the state.

Located in Poway, this Johnny Miller-Robert Muir Graves design, which can play almost 7,200 yards, has plenty of dramatic features, five live waterfalls, three lakes and more than 40 acres of wildflowers.

It also has one elevated tee after another, a terrific Tuscany-style clubhouse and a very accommodating and friendly staff.

Torrey Pines Golf Course

Probably best known for the classic 18-hole U.S. Open playoff duel between Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods in 2008, Torrey Pines has been a mainstay for the PGA Tour and more recently major championships.

The latter came on the Rees Jones-renovated Torrey Pines South Course, where Woods defeated Mediate by one shot in a dramatic playoff (his last major win, by the way).

Both the South Course and North Course were designed by William P. Bell and his son William F. Bell, but what really attracts golfers are the views of the Pacific Ocean. The North probably has better views, and both courses are used during the PGA Tour's Farmers' Insurance Open.

Because it's a municipal, locals can play the courses for next to nothing, but out-of-towners will have to pay green fees north of $200. In either case, getting a tee time isn't always easy, but it's certainly not impossible.

Barona Creek Golf Club

With no homes on it and plenty of views from the tee, golfers get a real sense of being away from it all on this very forgiving, enjoyable and beautiful layout located about 45 minutes outside of San Diego.

Barona Creek Golf Club is also always in great shape, thanks in large part to longtime superintendent Sandy Clark, one of the most respected in the business. Built on the Barona Indian Reservation in 2001, Barona Creek was designed by Todd Eckenrode, who really did craft the course around all handicap levels.

While the fairways are wide, there are more than 100 foreboding bunkers, tough putts, and ponds and lakes to challenge low-handicappers. The golf course is also a Bronze Signature Sanctuary Course of Audubon International, and you certainly get that sense of nature when playing it.

Aviara Golf Club

Just down the road from La Costa is Aviara Golf Club at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort. This is unlike any golf course you will play in America.

First of all, it's the only Arnold Palmer design in the area, but what makes the biggest impression is the incredible plant life. The course is as much botanical garden as it is golf. Overlooking the Batiquitos Lagoon just a hundred yards or so from the Pacific Ocean, the course moves up and down hills and around seven lakes, presenting an unforgettable variety of lies and scenery.

But, incredibly, some 20 percent of the maintenance budget goes toward the carefully nurtured 100 varieties of plant life. Besides the Torrey Pine trees and large eucalyptus trees, Aviara also has plenty of purple ice plant, Pride of Madeira and agave plants.

In all, there are some 60 acres of landscaping on the course, which doubles as a nature preserve. The course itself is tight but most enjoyable. At more than 7,100 yards from the tips, it's a real championship test, especially with six acres of water hazards and more than 70 bunkers.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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