Terranea Resort blossoms into a unique golf destination near Los Angeles

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- With just nine par-3 holes, Terranea Resort doesn't stack up with California's best golf resorts at first glance.

Terranea Resort
Terranea sits upon 120 acres on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Terranea ResortTerranea Resort - The spa Terranea Resort - mar'selTerranea Resort - Nelson's firepit
If you go

Staying there isn't your traditional golf resort experience. It's more of a swank hangout for the beautiful people of L.A. who come for the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, the pools, the spa and the food. Guests aren't walking around the lobby of the immaculate hotel in golf shoes. Most days, staff members aren't regularly lugging around golf bags.

Most golfers probably don't realize that the resort has steadily matured into a golf destination as good as -- or better than -- several of southern California's more famous golf retreats. Terranea, celebrating its fifth anniversary in June, has formed relationships with the posh Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles and the semiprivate Palos Verdes Golf Club to complement its nine-hole executive course and popular golf academy.

No other golf resort in America delivers such a diverse trio of playing experiences -- a linksy par-3 course ranked among the country's best, an old-school classic dating to 1924 and a modern brute, all with ocean scenery to spare. A fleet of Lexus cars and SUVs shuttle golfers, Hollywood-style, to Trump's place and "PV" (what locals call Palos Verdes).

"I think we're a destination spot (for golfers) for sure,' said Buddy Nichols, the director of golf at The Links of Terranea. "It's a great mix of golf. It's not PGA West, where there are seven courses, but it's a great golf escape."

Terranea: The golf

Many ideas were bandied about before Todd Eckenrode of Origins Golf Design laid out 1,239 yards of firm, fast and fun golf into a small parcel of land adjacent to the resort hotel.

Playing the nine holes at Terranea, which range from 104 yards to 173 yards, is fairly affordable and popular with the locals. The spectacular views across the Catalina Channel to Catalina Island come from every angle. Jagged-edge bunkers and coastal winds give the round a linksy feel and the layout some teeth.

Contrast that with an afternoon spent at Palos Verdes Golf Club in nearby Rancho Palos Estates. A restoration spearheaded by Eckenrode last year revived the fantastic work of William Bell and George Thomas, the famed designer of Riviera and Bel-Air country clubs. Echenrode's team tore out hundreds of trees opening up ocean views and angles of attack that had been lost over time. The project added length, revamped bunkers and recontoured multiple greens and their surrounds, creating shaved areas where players can chip or putt.

The 6,430-yard course plays much longer and tougher than anticipated because of hilly terrain and natural barrancas. Palos Verdes is only available for public play after 1 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and after 2 p.m. Wednesday and Friday (no weekends), so adjust your plans accordingly to gain access.

Of course, Trump National Los Angeles remains the bucket-list highlight. Golf Magazine ranked the Pete Dye design No. 30 on its "Top 100 You Can Play" for 2012. It's a visual explosion of waterfalls and ocean scenery with a quirky hole or two.

Say what you will about the man himself, but The Donald knows golf. The service, course conditions, the expansive range (a rarity in the area) and the food in the opulent clubhouse are all first rate. The green fee upwards of $275 might sting a little, although it's just another reminder that nothing in trendy SoCal comes cheap.

After being humbled by the ball-gobbling hazards of Trump, head back to Terranea for a tune-up at its new golf academy launched last year. One-day (costing $599) and two-day (costing $1,199) sessions are available. Both packages feature at least one on-course playing lesson at an expansive short-game area and a full-swing analysis in an indoor bay equipped with the Foresight Sports GC2 Golf Simulator/Launch Monitor and V1 Golf Video software. An evaluation from the Titleist Performance Institute Golf Fitness Program could change the way you work out and how you think about your swing. "It is game changing," said Dan Marvosh, Terranea's TPI fitness instructor.

Terranea: The resort

Only a rare resort makes me wish I was a travel writer instead of a golf writer. Terranea, set upon 120 acres on the Palos Verdes Peninsula 45 minutes from LAX and Long Beach Airport, is one of them. There's so much more than golf.

Terranea, run by Destination Hotels & Resorts, isn't as opulent as The Resort at Pelican Hill in nearby Newport Coast, but, to me, its casual elegances seem more welcoming.

It took years for Terranea to get the proper permitting and approval from the California Coastal Commission to redevelop the abandoned site of "Marineland," an old amusement park and oceanarium open from 1954-1987. Amazingly, it only took two years once all was approved in 2007 to completely finish every building of the entire Mediterranean-inspired complex. There's not a bad choice among the accommodations: 326 guest rooms and 34 suites in the hotel; 50 three-bedroom, ocean-view casitas; 32 villas with kitchens and living areas; and 20 two-bedroom bungalows adjacent to the spa for wellness retreats.

All the key hangouts and walking trails make full use of the coastal cliffs. Scan the ocean's horizon for spouts of migrating California grey whales at Nelson's, a great bar with a seasonal beer garden. A magical sunset makes dining at the signature restaurant, mar'sel, even more special. (The Catalina Kitchen is quite good, too, for lunch or dinner.) Cialo Point, an adult-only pool, sits at land's end, privately secluded from the main resort pool and its kiddie pleasures (a water slide and splash pad).

The spa, home to a cafe and another adult-only pool, allows an escape from the fast-paced L.A. life. The views outside take you to a supreme state of calm. The therapist and the echo of the ocean waves inside the treatment room will take you deeper.

I don't usually endorse using resort fitness centers on vacation, but the glass walls of the workout and wellness center adjacent to the spa pool let the sunlight and ocean views seep in. It's almost inspiring enough to sweat down a swimsuit size or two.

If it's excitement you're after, Pointe Discovery can launch ocean kayaks from the resort's sandy beach cove, take you surfing at Redondo beach or on a day trip to Catalina Island. Coastal fishing, whale watching, horseback riding and even falconry are available as well. I didn't have time to try any of them, but that's okay. Everybody who experiences Terranea tends to come back again.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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