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Five Shoulder Season Favorites

Heron Point
Michael Clemmer
Heron Point No. 18.
Serious golfers everywhere warm to the term "sweater weather" and understand that winter golf vacations don't always have to be in the tropics. Temperatures might be less than ideal in the five destinations below, but to the hardy, they are worth the trip. The bit of winter chill in the air may necessitate an extra garment, but it also means extra savings.

As a bonus, playing in something other than prime time usually means less crowded courses, which means you have time for more golf. Don't be dissuaded by morning frost or a lack of daylight. For many, winter golf is the best of all.

Few more glorious summer golf spots exist in the U.S., but winter in San Diego is a pleasant surprise. Average daytime highs from December through February range from 65 to 68 degrees, but better yet, the normal low is only 50 degrees, with only 1.5 inches of rain per month, which means you can play early-and often. Here's where to play.

Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course)
7,607 yards, par 72; Green fees: $87-$181

Already one of the nation's busiest municipal courses, Torrey Pines South is basking in unprecedented demand, with the 2008 U.S. Open due in June. Still, you've got a fighting chance to duel with the South in shoulder season, when tourists are elsewhere. Play the tips at your peril. Rees Jones' 2001 re-design stretched the layout to exhausting lengths, with 28 new bunkers in the process, yet he amp'd up the drama quotient as well, by moving greens closer to the canyon edges. Steroids seem to have bloated the 483-yard, par-4 4th, which is perched on a bluff with the ocean to the left and the 504-yard, par-4 12th, which is just plain brutal, but the risk/reward, par-5 closer offers even 12-handicappers a legitimate shot at birdie, if they can avoid the pond that fronts the elevated green.

Barona Creek Golf Club
7,088 yards, par 72; Green fees: $120-$200

Players who arrive at the 2007 Nationwide Tour Championship should sharpen their spikes, so firm and fast are the fairways and greens at this rolling tribal course that twists through rock-embedded mountain foothills 40 minutes inland from the coast. Ball control is a must at Barona, because more than 100 large, tattered-edge bunkers await sidespinning or poorly struck shots. Punch shots from the firm turf will test your recall from playing across the Pond, but the British Isles have few holes that resemble the 566-yard, par-5 17th or 472-yard, par-4 18th, each with water that spells a miserable end to a hooked shot.

La Costa Resort & Spa (North Course)
7,021 yards, par 72; Green fees: $100-$205

Believe it or not, winter weather is pretty good here, despite the hard rain that used to fall seemingly every year in late February when the pros rolled into town for the Accenture Match Play Championship. For years, La Costa's tournament course was comprised of nine holes from the South course (holes 10-18) and nine from the North (1-3 and 13-18). The South was famous for its closing stretch of into-the-wind holes, known as "the longest mile," but the more attractive set belonged to the North. Best of the Dick Wilson/Joe Lee-designed bunch was the par-3 16th, its tee box in the shadows of the hilltop clubhouse, which called for a mid-iron over water to a shallow green ringed with four bunkers. It was here in 1997 that Tiger Woods stopped Tom Lehman cold in their one-hole Mercedes Championships playoff, nuking a 7-iron to a few inches to seal the deal.

Great Value: The Crossings at Carlsbad
6,835 yards, par 72; Green fees: $59-$120

Open only since July 2007, this municipal layout was 15 years in the making, but where value is concerned, it was worth the wait. Designed by veteran Phoenix-based architect Greg Nash, who formerly partnered with Billy Casper, The Crossings trots out a fistful of holes that overlook the Pacific, along with wild elevation changes, canyon-framed fairways and swatches of coastal scrub dotting the rough. It's not terribly long from the tips, but seaside breezes make this a worthy test. Memorable holes include the 556-yard, par-5 7th, its back tee stuck into a rock wall ledge and its shallow green guarded by a cascading water feature; the 402-yard, par-4 11th, with its 10-story drop to the fairway and the 407-yard, par-4 18th, with its Pacific Ocean backdrop. Best of all, non-residents can enjoy the ride for under $100, Monday through Friday.

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