Golf San Diego

Golf San Diego

There are two likely scenarios attached to the U.S. Open being held 18 months from now at Torrey Pines in San Diego: Tiger will hoist the silverware, and golfers across America will start a gold rush for tee times at the scenic municipal course. Call it the Bethpage syndrome: the USGA pats itself on the back for taking the national open to a public course, and the rest of us get a backlog. The answer? Get there before Tiger does.

San Diego offers plenty for the family—the Four Seasons Aviara and La Costa resorts for her, the San Diego Zoo for the kids—and you’ll find lots of quality courses to round out the trip. Plus, 18 months from now you’ll have the warm feeling that comes with telling your buddies, “Hey, I birdied the hole that Phil just tripled!”

The Golf

Torrey Pines (South Course)
7,607 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $130-$195

Since Rees Jones began the pre-Open tweaks by giving this layout a steroid boost in 2001, it’s unclear which is tougher: playing the course or just getting on. You have three options: get lucky on the telephone lottery system, walk on, or stay at the Lodge at Torrey Pines or the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines. When you’ve gone through all that, prepare to be flagellated. To an already punishing layout, Jones added 28 bunkers and more than 500 yards. That’s the architectural equivalent of tossing another box of doughnuts at Kirstie Alley: unnecessary and resulting in a look that not everyone may find appealing.

The roster of big-hitting winners here (Tiger, Phil, Daly) should serve as ample warning to choose your tees wisely. Opt for the macho tees and you’re in for a very long slog. The hole you’ll remember is the 483-yard, par-4 fourth, perched on a bluff with the ocean left and two fairway bunkers waiting to catch tee shots carried right by the breeze. The hole is typical of the South: short on subtlety and imagination, but a rugged test nonetheless.

Torrey Pines (North Course)
6,874 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $80-$132

The North Course at Torrey co-hosts the first two rounds of the PGA Tour’s Buick Invitational with its brawnier sibling. You won’t find better views along this coastline, particularly at the tee of the seventh hole. Be sure to linger a while, because that’s the end of the appeal—the rest of the round is strictly mediocre municipal golf with conditions to match. But the lower price tag (it might be worth $80, but certainly not the $132 peak rate), friendlier challenges and extra photo ops make the North every bit as tough a tee time to obtain as the South.

Maderas Golf Club
7,115, par 72; Greens fee: $155-$195

San Diego’s premier inland golf experience is in Poway, 30 minutes east of La Jolla. Maderas offers the whole package: rolling terrain, tournament-worthy conditioning and great service. That goes some way toward justifying the hefty price tag. Trees or environmentally sensitive areas frame most holes, and jaw-dropping mansions ring the canyon tops. (Don’t miss San Diego Charger LaDainian Tomlinson’s house at the 15th hole.) A few design quirks detract from the overall feel, but the canyon-laced stretch of holes from Nos. 14 to 17 will bring you back.

Barona Creek Golf Club
7,088, par 72; Greens fee: $100-$150

Take the winding, 40-minute hike inland to Barona Creek and the rewards are immediately apparent: the personal service and immaculate course conditions are impressive, and the design is an entertaining and challenging romp right from the start. The first hole, a 541-yard, par 5, has a strategy-infused fairway, some tough ragged-edged bunkers, and inspired contouring on the green. And those qualities last throughout. No. 14, an uphill 316-yarder, is one of the prettiest short par 4s in golf and will provide plenty of drama when the Nationwide Tour Championship comes here in 2007.

The Cark Wrecker

Torrey Pines, South Course, No. 12
504 yards, par 4

Playing uphill and into the wind, this cliff-hugging monster was statistically the second-toughest hole on the PGA Tour in 2004. Bunkers on both sides pinch the landing area, but it’s the approach that usually sends scores soaring, thanks to a pair of bunkers that guard the slightly elevated green. We asked CBS announcer Peter Kostis, who regularly calls the action here, how to handle it.

Peter Kostis on how to play it

“First, beat the crap out of a driver—but make sure you find the fairway. Then hit a long iron or fairway wood with perfect trajectory control, making sure to hit the green and keep the ball below the hole. Then carefully read the putt and hope you two-putt. If the above scenario doesn’t work—or you don’t hit it three miles— then play it as a par 5. This hole is unbelievable!”

Local Knowledge

What to do

    [LIST “Next Level Sailing will take you out on San Diego Bay on the only two America’s Cup yachts (Stars and Stripes and Abracadabra) licensed by the Coast Guard for charter in the U.S.
    800-644-3454,“] [LIST “Panda-monium reigns every day at the sprawling San Diego Zoo, near downtown in Balboa Park.
    619-234-3153,“] [LIST “Catch some NFL action: take in a San Diego Chargers’ game at Qualcomm Stadium.

    Where to Eat

      [LIST “George’s at the Cove in La Jolla combines innovative California cuisine with superb ocean views. The corn and lobster soup and braised short ribs are sublime.
      858-454-4244,“] [LIST “The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ A.R. Valentien offers views of the South Course, and you’ll enjoy chef Jeff Jackson’s emphasis on fresh local ingredients even more.
      858-453-4420,“] [LIST “Both La Valencia’s Sky Room and the Whaling Bar & Grill are great, but the crab and avocado omelette at the hotel’s Mediterranean Room is a must. 858-454-0771,“]

      Where to Stay

        [LIST “Opened in 1926, La Valencia is an Old World gem on the ocean. Rooms from $275. 858-454-0771,”] [LIST “The Craftsman-style Lodge at Torrey Pines offers superb Pacific views and access to Torrey Pines. Rooms from $325. 858-453-4420,”] [LIST “The huge casino and the topnotch Oaks Steakhouse elevate Barona Valley Ranch. Rooms start at $119. 888-722-7662,”]