Tough to Stay Focused at San Diego's Buick Invitational

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

SAN DIEGO - Even with the Buick Invitational in town, it's hard to concentrate on professional golf when you are in San Diego.

It's not that this "So-Cal" swing of the PGA Tour lacks intrigue, history, or a respectable playing field. The tournament has lost only three rounds to weather, had 12 playoffs and is perennially among the leaders in television ratings for PGA TOUR events.

Native son Phil Mickelson is always on hand, and 11 major championship winners won here along with 10 first-time winners and four other San Diego natives In recent years, the Buick Invitational has enjoyed some of the liveliest finishes and the strongest list of winners of any event on the Tour.

But alas, the sun is almost always shinning, the temperature rarely gets above or below 70, the convertibles and bikinis are aplenty, and there's a wealth of great golf to be played outside the friendly confines of Torrey Pines - the only city operated venue on the entire PGA Tour

As a city, San Diego has become both an urban planner and a traveling golfer's dream. Downtown has come alive in recent years with the resurrection of the 16-block Gaslamp District. All of the city's old X-Rated theaters and "morally" challenging land uses have been converted to bars, restaurants and shops in this quaint, happening part of town that is often referred to as Bourbon Street by the Pacific.

Marriott and other major hotel chains have erected immaculate structures along the waterfront, and city planners have coaxed enough of the population to live downtown that you'll find amenities like grocery stores, movie theaters and drugstores. Horton Plaza, in the center of it all, has multiple levels of shopping with 150 specialty shops and three major department stores.

Downtown also provides an excellent, centrally located homebase for accessing some of the region's best golf tracks. The South Course at Torrey Pines is typically hailed as the best course in town, with the South Course at La Costa Resort and Spa not far behind. For the budget minded, San Diego plays host to a number of respectable municipal courses such as Balboa Park Golf Course.

And stuck in between the La Costa and the Balboa's like the ingredients in a fish taco is a solid lineup of championship tracks that don't get as much attention as their flashier L.A. cousins. The Aviara Golf Club is a former "Top 10 You Can Play" selection from Golf Magazine with an Arnold Palmer-Ed Seay designed layout overlooking Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad. The lush fairways roll through strands of wildflowers and the practice facilities are superior to most courses in the area.

If you prefer to head east of the city for a good beating, Carlton Oaks offers a punishing layout in Santee that most consider to be the toughest course in county. Perry Dye redesigned the course, and deep pot bunkers, multitier greens, water at nearly every hole are the name of the game on almost every hole.

Both Torrey Pines and La Costa sport north courses that are worthy of a visit. In fact, Torrey's northern playground is easier and prettier, with its views of the coastline and La Costa's northern version is home to some lush landscape and huge landing areas.

Tournament Tidbits

Golfers camp out over night in the Torrey Pines parking lot Sunday night after the tournament to secure tee times for Monday. It is the only day of the year that Torrey Pines doesn't take advanced tee times. Most folks attend the final day of the Buick, and then just camp out. The course is left in the exact same condition as it was for the tournament. Residents can actually play at Torrey Pines for as little as $28, but out of towners will thrown down close to two bills. Between the two courses, over 100,000 rounds are played annually.

Done with golf …

Head to the San Diego Zoo and its 4,000 animals - one of the largest collections not named Africa. Ocean Beach is just a chip shot away, and is a scene straight out of a Beach Boys' song. Dive bars, tattoo shops and burger joints await. So does 70 miles of coastline. Don't forget Shamu and Sea World.

South Course Skinny …

The South Course was recently revamped. All 18 greens were flattened and enlarged, and some of them were moved. Sixty bunkers were added and new tee boxes were built to lengthen the course for Championship play. For the Buick Invitational tournament the course will play to par-70, as No. 6 and No.18 will be long par fours. The entire 4th hole is placed closer to the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Buick Invitational Overview

When: Thursday, Feb. 7 - Sunday, Feb. 10
Where: Torrey Pines Golf Course, La Jolla, Ca.
Champion: Phil Mickelson
Purse: $3.6 million
Winning Share: $648,000
Winning Score: 269
Yards: 7,033 South/6,874 North

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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