Super Bowl, super holes

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Barona Creek Golf ClubSAN DIEGO, Calif. -- The 37th edition of the football's greatest game is ready-made for total media exploitation. Even the local lifestyles reporter could pick up on the storylines this week in San Diego without so much as a single briefing from the sports editor.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden faces his former team, the Oakland Raiders, in a game that pits the best defensive team (Bucs) vs. best offensive team (Raiders) in the NFL.

This is the first trip to the Super Bowl for the Bucs. It's the Raiders first trip since winning it in 1984.

The Bucs gave up four draft picks (two first round, two second) to get Gruden from the Raiders - an unprecedented maneuver that now seems to smack of genius.

With a bevy of aging veterans like receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown and quarterback Rich Gannon, this could be the Raiders last shot at glory before having to rebuild the team with younger stock

Is it possible to sandwich a golf subplot in between the obvious Super Bowl XXXVII headlines this week? It is worth a shot. This is Southern California, after all, where distractions are a way of life. Moreover, the San Diego region is home to more than 90 golf courses, most of which are available for play by Bucs and Raiders fans, alike, and arguable the country's best climate.

The city of San Diego also has emerged as a model for Sun Belt urban planning. Downtown has come alive in recent years with the resurrection of the 16-block Gaslamp Quarter. All of the city's old X-Rated theaters and "morally corrupt" 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."

Torrey Pines Marriott and other major hotel chains have erected monolithic structures along the waterfront, and city planners have coaxed enough of the population to live in downtown condos and townhomes that grocery stores, drug stores and movie theaters are thriving as they might in the suburbs. 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 a centrally located base for accessing some of the region's best golf tracks. The South Course at Torrey Pines in the posh enclave of La Jolla is the best place to kick off Super Bowl week in style. The course recently was awarded the 2008 U.S. Open as a result of relentless lobbying by local leaders and a major makeover by the "Open Doctor," Rees Jones.

With its lofty seaside perch and beefy new 7,400-yard layout, the South Course is widely considered the area's best track. The North Course at Torrey Pines is no slouch, either, and many locals will tell you that it's the more scenic of the two city-owned circuits. Both courses are too popular for their own good, and tee times on short notice are hard to come by.

La Costa Resort's North The legendary La Costa Resort and Spa in nearby Carlsbad is home to two traditional courses designed by Dick Wilson. La Costa also will host the world's best golfers at the Accenture Match Play Championships Feb. 24 - March 2. The South Course gets most the ink and most experts feel it's the better of the two layouts.

In keeping with the posh resort course theme - the Barona Creek Golf Club at Barona Valley Ranch is one of the most ballyhooed courses to hit San Diego in years. The course is set in the arid foothills east of the city, as was designed by Gary Roger Baird and up-and-coming architect Todd Eckenrode. The layout has been praised by a cadre of national golf publications and is more than worth the trek to the mountains.

For the budget minded, San Diego plays host to a number of respectable municipal courses. The Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course underwent a major overhaul in 1996 that brought its venerable greens up to modern standards, and is still one of the only places to play in San Diego for under $40. The Coronado Municipal Golf Course on Coronado Island is a ten-minute drive from downtown and offers spectacular views of the bay.

Sandwiched between the high-end resort courses and the muni's like ingredients in a fish taco is a solid lineup of daily fee tracks that don't get as much attention as some of their flashier So-Cal cousins. The Aviara Golf Club is a former "Top 10 You Can Play" selection from Golf Magazine sporting 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 in Santee is a punishing layout that many golfers consider to be the toughest course in the county. Perry Dye redesigned the course, and deep pot bunkers, multi-tierd greens, and plenty of water adorn almost every hole.

Off Course

Head to the San Diego Zoo and its 4,000 animals - one of the largest collections of critters outside of 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. Don't forget Shamu and Sea World, and Balboa Park has plenty of non-golf activities to offer, including one of the best local sports museums in the U.S. For an awesome warm-up course, or if you just want to experience on of the worlds' best par-3 courses, check out the Reidy Creek in Escondido.

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 TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


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