La Costa Resort and Spa: Walk in the Footsteps of Golf's Legends

By Art Stricklin, Contributor

One of the many alluring charms of golf is the chance to walk in the footsteps of legends. To play the same courses, the same holes as a Nicklaus, a Palmer or a Woods. To be faced with the same shots, the same difficulty and sometimes even the same thrills they have enjoyed.

After all, you can't play centerfield in Yankee Stadium with your slo-pitch softball team, you can't play touch football at Texas Stadium and score on the Cowboy's star and you can't play a pick-up game with your buddies at your local NBA arena.

But in golf, sometimes you have the chance to tee it up where golf's best have stood, and challenge yourself the same way they have been challenged over the decades.

Among the many pleasures at the La Costa Resort and Spa are the chances to do just that, as you play two of the PGA Tour's finest and most tradition-bound layouts in the North and South Course.

Starting in 1969, the PGA Tour moved its season-opening Tournament of Champions to La Costa and since then, all of golf's greats have come to this picturesque village just north of San Diego for a chance to confront the La Costa challenge.

Past winners include names like Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Tom Kite, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. In the last couple of years, La Costa has twice been the site of the World Golf Championship/World Match Play Championship, and is slated to host the 2002 tournament. In 1999, Texan Jeff Maggert chipped in on the second playoff hole to win the first WGC $5 million dollar tournament, taking home the $1 million dollar first prize.

When the PGA Tour comes to La Costa, they play a composite of the North and South courses to form the championship 18, but either side gives players, pros and amateurs, plenty of challenges with large, deep, high-lipped bunkers on many holes, large expanses of water and sneaky streams with fast bent grass greens and lots of dense trees and vegetation just off the fairways.

They have the winds from the Santa Ana Mountains and periods of relentless sunshine and squalls of rain, but most importantly they have a touch of history on every shot.

"There are no Mickey Mouse holes on that course, but there are a lot of holes where you think you can make par and it can catch a lot of guys asleep," Maggert said. "I think most people who play here a lot know that you have to start aggressive off the tee, because you might not make a lot of birdies or pars after the front nine."

There is not a lot of chances to get lazy or loose at La Costa, especially with the four final finishing holes on the South Course, which constitute the La Costa Mile. It has three long par 4s and the longest par 5 on either course at 569 yards known as, "The Monster" by members or regular players.

Another common feature, especially on the North Course, are tough par 3s. Two of the par 3s (8 and 16) feature direct shots over water with a third (No. 3) forcing an uphill shot with the green guarded by a massive bunker in front of the putting surface.

"That must be a La Costa tradition because all of them are really tough," Maggert said.

For professional tournaments, the North Course (1-3, 13-18) forms the front nine and the South Course (10-18) forms the back nine, but amateurs playing for the first time will enjoy the challenge of either.

Among the best holes on the North Course, which was opened in the early 1980s, is the par 3 third hole which is only 187 yards from the back tees, but faces a green elevated above the tee and a large bunker guarding the front entrance. The temptation is not to take enough club and wind up short and sandy. There is also a large ridge, which divides the green and can lead to several three-putts even if you reach the green with your tee shot.

The par 3 8th hole is a dangerous hole at 199 yards with a large lake covering almost the entire front portion of the green. The only bailout area is to the left, but that usually forces another chip over water to find the pin.

On the back nine, water comes into play on seven of the nine holes with accuracy a must off the tee. The most challenging holes include the par 4 14th where the small creek starts on the right side, moves all the way across the fairway to the left before heading back across to the right next to the green, creating a small island to drive your ball into and forcing one if not two shots across the water to find the green.

The par 4 15th has a large lake which cuts across the green about 100 yards from the putting surface with large, deeply shaped bunkers on all four sides. Miss the green in any direction on your approach and your chances of making par or even bogey are not good.

The par 3 16th is a 189-yard shot across more water with a large lake on your left and a good-sized stream cutting across the fairway. The large green slopes from the back to the front, with shots hitting short on the front edge of the green having a chance to roll back in the water.

The finishing hole, a par 5 measuring 540 yards, forces a player to cross the water twice, once off the tee, and a second time 50 yards in front of the green. There are more bunkers on either side, with the green backed by a huge red and pink colored clubhouse with a flagpole sporting a large American flag overlooking the first tee and 18th hole.

On the South Course, built in the early 1950s, the La Costa Mile is comprised of the par 4 15th hole (378 yards), the par 4 16th (423 yards), par 5 17th (569 yards) and the par 4 18th (421 yards). Three of these holes usually play into the wind and not only is the 17th the longest, it also boasts a 240-yard lake to the right of the fairway which can come into play on both the second and third shot.

The finishing hole features a well bunkered and elevated green with the clubhouse and flag, along with large spectator mounds, in the background.

No matter which course you choose for your La Costa experience, both will give you a sense of raw beauty, challenge, frustration and joy, and most importantly, a strong feeling of history as you walk in the footsteps of golf's legends.

La Costa Resort and Spa
Costa Del Mar Road
Carlsbad, California
Phone: 800-854-5000

Par: 72 (North & South Courses)
Yardage: 7,007 (North), 7,022 (South)
Director of Golf: Golf Shop
Green Fees: $185 (every day) includes cart and range balls
Facilities offered: 36 holes of championship golf, practice facilities, golf school, world class spa and luxury La Costa hotel and villas on property.

Art Stricklin, Contributor

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