By: Andrew Penner
Quick question: What are three things that immediately come to mind when you think of San Diego? For me, prior to my recent family vacation to this laidback SoCal city, it was SeaWorld, surfing, and a sublime climate. After our week-long visit – we rented a house in the classic “hippie” community of Ocean Beach – I can honestly say my preconceived ideas were well founded. Actually, in a perfect world, I’d include one more “s” word: “swinging.” (Of golf clubs, that is.) Unquestionably, this charming seaside city is blessed with an abundance of fabulous courses.
Indeed, beautifully manicured turf, especially for golfers living in the northern climes, is a magical wintertime thing. Like Palm Springs, Phoenix, and other sunny spots in the south, it’s not surprising that snowbirds flock to San Diego during the off season. Certainly, the near perfect climate – San Diego averages 70 degrees year round – is one of this city’s major selling points.
At last count, there are over 90 courses to choose from in the San Diego area. Many are tour-ready tests you can play. For example, Torrey Pines, the stunning seaside gem owned by the city and host of the 2008 U.S. Open, belongs on your bucket list. And the Coronado Golf Course, another municipal gem that is often considered one of the best city-owned courses in the United States, should also not be missed. It hugs the sea and is just minutes from downtown.
After settling into our comfortable rental house (we rented through VRBO), the week’s activities were planned. So much to do, so little time! Sadly, not everyone wanted to play 36 holes a day. In a city as interesting and diverse as San Diego, I have to admit this was completely understandable.
The kids, for instance, had theme parks and sand castles on their mind. LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, the famous San Diego Zoo, and historic Mission Beach were all pegged as “must do’s.” We did them all.
Interestingly, we were hunkered down in an area of the city that felt miles and miles from the country club crowd. Located just minutes from San Diego International Airport (also known as Lindbergh Field), Ocean Beach, or OB, is a unique, throwback surfing community within greater San Diego. It’s one of the last remaining authentic beach towns on the Pacific coast; an eclectic place where time has stood still. Classic burger joints – you’d be silly if you didn’t sink your teeth into a classic bacon cheeseburger at the legendary Hodads – surf shops, tattoo parlors, ice cream stands, and buskers pepper Newport Avenue, the main drag. And the vintage 1960s-era pier – at just shy of 2,000 feet, it’s the longest concrete pier on the West Coast – is the perfect place to go for an evening stroll and soak in the ambiance. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a brave surfer or two ripping along the top of a wave directly below the walkway. If you’ve never tried surfing, rest assured, there is plenty of inspiration to be found here.
Truth be told, my idea of “ripping” typically involves a tee, a Titleist, and a titanium driver. And, not surprisingly, on the second day, after the tots got their thrills at LEGOLAND, I high-tailed it to the Maderas Golf Club with my oldest son. Located twenty minutes north of the city in Poway, Maderas is a slick, Johnny Miller-designed track that packs a mean punch. The course tumbles and rolls through arid, mesquite-covered hills and, without a doubt, is one of the more challenging courses in the entire state.
Even though Maderas was a tad too tough for my liking, the terrain really is spectacular for golf and the course is well worth playing. But expect a score that’s at least five shots higher than your norm. Interestingly, Maderas recently hosted a local qualifier for the Farmers Insurance Open and only a couple of players matched par. I shot 72 as well…after putting out on the 13th green.
With one enjoyable round under our belts it was time to switch focus again to the little guys who, not surprisingly, were not even close to satisfying their theme park addiction. Located just minutes from where we were based in OB, SeaWorld is the quintessential San Diego theme park experience. I found Wild Arctic, an exhibit where you can get up close to polar bears, walruses, and beautiful beluga whales, an awesome experience. And, of course, all the shows, particularly the dolphin show, are worth the price of admission alone.
The other park that should be on your itinerary is the San Diego Zoo. With over 4000 wild animals to see – including pandas and polar bears – the zoo is a sprawling (although extremely hilly) paradise for nature lovers. One day barely does this world-renowned zoo justice.
Speaking of justice, after dad succumbed to the theme park madness, it was time to investigate parks of a much different nature. I’m talking about parks with golf holes. Next on the docket was the beautiful Aviara Golf Club near Carlsbad (approximately half an hour north of city).
Without a doubt, Aviara is a top-tier resort course that should be high on your list. Aviara boasts ample width, beautifully contoured greens that are not overly difficult to putt on, few forced carries, and a wonderful variety of holes. In short, this is resort golf at its finest and easily one of the best Arnold Palmer designs in North America. The only two downsides here are the price ($255 on the weekends) and the riding-only policy.
Fittingly, our golfing grand finale was the famous South Course at Torrey Pines. Situated high above the coastal cliffs in La Jolla, Torrey Pines is about as memorable as golf gets. The views are jaw-dropping, the quality of the golf holes is off the charts, and the conditions (for a municipal golf facility that sees over 90,000 rounds a year!) are fantastic. It’s not hard to see why locals start lining up in the middle of the night to secure their tee times. Incidentally, local residents pay a third of the cost ($76) when compared to non-residents ($229).
Although the booking policy at Torrey Pines is somewhat complicated (check out www.torreypinesgolfcourse.com for more information), the golf scene in San Diego is pretty straight forward. It’s all about putting on a pair of shorts, a short-sleeve shirt, grabbing some sunscreen, and swinging till your little heart is content. And in a city as fine as San Diego, “content” is never too far away.
Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary. Visit him at www.andrewpenner.com