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If you've never been to San Diego, the fact that it is the second largest city in the Golden State and the seventh largest in America may surprise you. However, if you have visited the site of the oldest of California's famous missions (San Diego de Alcala', founded in 1769), then you are no doubt well aware why almost 3 million people would want to live within the county. The weather is glorious - an average daily temperature of 70.5 degrees Fahrenheit (21.4 Celsius). The beaches are beautiful -70 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. The nearby mountain ranges are magnificent. The interesting and enjoyable things to see and do are endless. The dining is to die for, and the golf ... well, the nearly 100 luscious layouts in and around San Diego are to live for. Listen, now you know the real reason the gray whales can be seen cruising off the coast between mid-December and mid-March every year. Those giants are not heading south for some "hubba-hubba" like the scientists tell us; they're hoping to suddenly sprout legs so they can come ashore and take part in all the fun.
Pardon the pun, but you'd better be a "whale" of a player if you plan to take on Maderas Golf Club in the town of Poway a half hour north of downtown San Diego. Opened in 1999, this gorilla of a golf course is a collaboration between two-time major championship winner Johnny Miller and veteran architect Robert Muir Graves. At 7,115 yards from the tips, Maderas is not particularly long by today's standards. However, the fact that its slope rating and course rating are amazingly high at 145 and 75.6, respectively, should tell you that Maderas is no walk in the vineyard (although you may wish there's a wine tasting room nearby when you're finished). Somewhat surprisingly, the ratings don't go down a great deal from any of the shorter tees. In fact, the slope and course rating for women from the closest tee is a whopping 142 and 75.0. Any way you add up the numbers, the bottom line is clear: this is a tough golf course. In addition to the usual amount of hazards to be found on this lovely layout, much of Maderas' difficulty is due to its terrain. There are creeks, rocky outcroppings and ravines to play over, canyons to squeeze through, and lots of thick, native grasses to avoid. On top of all that, the large putting surfaces here are well bunkered, well sloped, and very much on the slippery side. Take heart, though. If Maderas was that impossible, the highly respected Zagat Survey would not have ranked it as the No. 1 course in San Diego County three years in a row and the No. 6 course in all of California. Challenging? You bet. But it's also extremely pretty, definitely playable, and always in perfect condition. Yo, Adrian. What more could you ask for?
Several other fine choices to the north of San Diego include the 27 holes at the Temecula Creek Inn in Temecula, Eagle Crest Golf Club in Escondido, the Vineyard at Escondido, and the world-famous La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad. The Temecula Creek Inn is a rustic, designed-for-relaxing 130-room hotel nestled within a range of mountains inland from the coast. The resort's original 18 holes (Creek nine and Oaks nine) were designed by Dick Rossen in the late 1960s. The Creek is the flatter layout of the three nines, while the Oaks (as the name implies) winds its way through the numerous beautiful trees on the property. The third nine at the facility was designed by Ted Robinson in the early 1990s. Called "Stonehouse" (after the circa 1825 building along the 7th hole that once housed workers at a nearby quarry), this lovely collection of holes takes advantage of the mountains in the area by offering a variety of uphill and downhill shots due to the elevation changes. Each of the three nines is enjoyable to play and each combination will provide you with a challenging - and very different -18-hole round. From the back tees, Creek/Oaks measures 6,784 yards; Oaks/Stonehouse is 6,693 yards; and Creek/Stonehouse comes in at 6,605 yards.
Eagle Crest Golf Club and The Vineyard at Escondido were both designed by David Rainville and both opened in 1993. Since each of these layouts is a bit on the short side, one or both might serve as a wise way to get your game warmed up before you take on something bigger in the San Diego area. Eagle Crest tips-out at 6,417 yards; The Vineyard measures 6,531 yards from the back markers. Don't be fooled into thinking that "short" means "simple", however. Several of the most famous and revered courses in America (Cypress Point, Crystal Downs and The Country Club, among them) are barely over 6,500 yards from the back tees, and most would eat your lunch - and your breakfast and your dinner. Suggestion: Don't take Eagle Crest or The Vineyard lightly. By the way, if you love trivia you'll love this: The Vineyard's front nine is owned by the City of San Diego, it's back nine is owned by the City of Escondido.
Ever since it opened in 1965, La Costa Resort & Spa has been hailed as one of the most beautiful, enjoyable, and desirable destinations in the entire world - for pleasure or work. And no wonder. Encompassing over 400 acres of pristine property just north of San Diego, this renowned resort features spectacular Spanish-style architecture, nearly 475 fabulous guest facilities, a 50,000-square-foot conference center, a multi-million-dollar spa, four fantastic restaurants, 21 tennis courts, a state-of-the-art 8,000-square-foot fitness club, and two of the best golf courses in the country. How good is the golf at La Costa? Well, the fact that it has been the site of a PGA Tour event for going on 40 years should tell you that it's a lot more than just good. Initially, the North course at La Costa - designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee in 1964 - was the long-time site of the Tournament of Champions (later called the Mercedes Championship). More recently, though, a composite of holes from the North and the South course (also designed by Wilson and Lee) has been used to bedevil the 64 players from around the globe that qualify for the prestigious WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. (Yep, that's the tournament that you watch on television each February.) Believe it: the opportunity to test your skills against either - or both - of these exceptionally designed and superbly conditioned layouts will no doubt become a big golf memory in the years ahead (and the emphasis is on big). From the tips the North course measures a sturdy 7,021 yards, while the South is just a shade shorter at 6,894 yards. And if you're really lucky (meaning: you plan your visit to La Costa perfectly) you might just get to play the same tough tract that the pros have to tackle each February. That's because - on occasion - La Costa sets aside a single day so that guests can play the same composite of holes from the North and South courses that are used for the Match Play Championship. It's known as the "Tournament Course," and from the back markers it measures a very demanding 7,277 yards. For probably the only time in your life, it's your chance to go one-on-one with a Tiger. How "grrrr-ate" would that be?
Okay, so you say your plans for San Diego don't include much driving time. No prob-lem-o. One of the nicest and most picturesque courses in town is Del Mar National, a Tom Fazio design that opened in 1999. Typical of a Fazio layout, Del Mar can play as formidable or as friendly as you want it - depending, mostly, on which of the four sets of tees you choose. From the tips, Del Mar measures nearly 7,100 yards. Yet, even from one of the shorter markers (also typical of Mr. Fazio), this very attractive golf course will challenge every aspect of your game. To suggest that it's "overly demanding," however, wouldn't be correct. Otherwise, Golf For Women Magazine would not have placed Del Mar National on its list of "Top 100 Women Friendly Courses."
Among your many other fine choices in town are Rancho Bernardo and Riverwalk. Rancho Bernardo was designed by Billy Bell Jr. and built in 1962. Mr. Bell was the son of a much admired golf course architect so he learned his trade from one of the best. (Bell Sr. often collaborated with an even more famous designer named George C. Thomas. Two of the celebrated courses that Thomas and Bell Sr. are credited with are Bel-Air Country Club and Riviera Country Club - site of the annual Nissan Open on the PGA Tour - in Los Angeles.) From the tips, Rancho Bernardo measures a very manageable 6,631 yards. It was once the site of the San Diego Open on the PGA Tour, and it has recently been renovated to ensure that its conditioning is of the highest quality.
The father/son design team of Ted Robinson Sr. and Jr. has also done a lot of work in California, and their effort at Riverwalk is indicative of why they're so popular. Originally, the golf course here was a flat, 18-hole layout called Stardust Country Club that was built in 1947. In 1997, the Robinsons transformed that lackluster layout into a beautiful 27-hole facility that features rolling terrain, gorgeous views, and exiting golf. Now taking full advantage of the San Diego River, the three nines at Riverwalk (Presidio, Friars and Mission) offer golfers distinctly different combinations of play. None are brutally long, but all are challenging and enjoyable. From the back tees, Presidio/Friars measures 6,627 yards; Presidio/Mission is 6,550 yards long; and Mission/Friars tops out at 6,383 yards. Riverwalk is a beautiful place to play golf, and it's right in the heart of the city. It's close to the airport, too. So if you're short on time, this is a good pick.
Other good picks in the area include Steele Canyon in Jamul, just to the east of San Diego, and East Lake and The Auld in Chula Vista just to the south. The three very pretty and very different nine-hole layouts at Steele Canyon were designed by Hall of Fame golfer Gary Player in 1991. The Canyon nine sits high in the hills and is highlighted by dramatic elevation changes; the Meadow nine is spread across the valley below; and the Ranch nine is routed around a working ranch. The Canyon/Meadow combination measures a very friendly 6,479 yards; Ranch/Canyon is a bit longer at 6,741 yards; and Ranch/Meadow is even sturdier at 6,808 yards. Steele Canyon is one of only a few San Diego-area layouts to receive a 4½-star rating from Golf Digest.
Length-wise, East Lake in Chula Vista is fairly friendly, too. Designed by Ted Robinson Sr. in 1991, this wide-open-appearing layout tips-out at only 6,435 yards. Looks can be deceiving, however. This golf course is loaded with trouble - six lakes, 72 bunkers, 1,800 trees - and you will need to avoid as much of it as possible. Or else your day at East Lake will be a long one.
For a wee bit of Scotland, make sure you don't say goodbye to San Diego without taking on The Auld. Located within the foothills of majestic Mt. Miguel, this lovely links-style layout is the collaborative work of architect Cary Bickler and PGA Tour veteran John Cook. The Auld is one of the newest courses in the area (2000), one of the prettiest, and definitely one of the best. Five sets of tees are available, with a back-marker measurement of 6,889 yards. As it often is in Scotland, though, whether you have a great day or a tough one depends on the wind. If the prevailing breeze is down, you have a good chance to score here. If it's up, you may find yourself wishing for a wee nip of something or other a lot sooner than expected.
Whatever the case, what you'll also find yourself wishing for is another opportunity to tee it up in one of the top golf destinations in the entire country. San Diego.
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