Finishing Strong in San Diego County

My quest to play all the public, regulation 18-hole courses in Southern California continues with a goal of completing the primary list in February. Saturday found me finishing things up down in beautiful San Diego County. There are still many private clubs and plenty of executive courses I may play someday, but from what I can tell, I’ve now played all the true “public” options.

I started the day by taking care of some “unfinished business.”

Riverwalk Golf Club • San Diego, CA • 2/1/14

I had played here for the first time two years ago, ironically enough on Super Bowl weekend. However, on that visit I was only able to check out two of the three nines at this 27-hole facility in San Diego. Then, I played the Friars/Presidio combination. Yesterday, I played Mission/Friars to round out my Riverwalk experience.

I waited all week hoping the rates would go down at the last minute and my patience paid off a little. I saw the early morning prices fluctuate from $64 to $74, which is indicative of this course. Their rates vary so much it’s really hard to keep track. If you look online, you’ll see wild price swings and there seems to be no rhyme or reason. You just have to hope you stumble upon the best deal. I ended up paying $59 for a 6:37 time, which isn’t too bad for a weekend morning.

I ended up in the first group out on the Mission nine, paired with a twosome. We had the whole nine to ourselves and finished in a nice 1.5-hour pace. Things were going great until we hit the turn. When we got over to Friars, the starter had us wait awhile because there were still 9-hole groups going out. He said they block out about two hours of times, which is way too much if you ask me. For us dawn patrollers on a 27-hole course like this, it sucks because the first nine is great and then you get to the back nine and it’s waiting on every shot. It’s a poor system and one of many reasons I’m not really a fan of 27-hole tracks.

Anyway, it was very slow going throughout the Friars nine with usually one or two groups waiting on every tee box. It ended up taking about 2 hours, 45 minutes to complete our back nine, which was brutal. This was pretty much the same thing that happened last time I played Riverwalk, so the lesson to learn is if you want to get around super early and quickly, don’t go to Riverwalk unless you are content playing just nine!

And if you do only play nine, you’ll be playing the Friars course, which is reserved for the early morning 9-hole times and unfortunately the weakest one if you ask me. Now that I’ve played them all, I much prefer the Presidio/Mission combo. Friars doesn’t do a whole lot for me outside of a couple holes—namely the par-4 3rd and the par-3 4th, which are fun ones with water in play.

The Mission course was very fun and there’s plenty of water in play throughout this nine. This course would probably categorize more as “target” golf. None of the holes are super long, but you have to strategically play several of them to be successful. This shows the most on the 2nd and 3rd holes, which are great. The 3rd is the signature hole with some pretty water features around the green.

Riverwalk is pretty forgiving from tee to green. A lot holes run next to one another as all 27 holes are pretty compacted into a relatively small property. Still, this Ted Robinson layout never feels too cramped. As long as you avoid water hazards and the San Diego river itself, there’s ample room for error on most holes. Where Riverwalk shows its teeth is on and around the greens, as you would expect with a Robinson course. They are relatively large with some significant undulation, and they are generally well protected by mounds and bunkers.

The last time I played there, the greens were super firm/fast and they had some insane pin placements because of a tournament going off that afternoon. Yesterday, the greens were much more receptive (soft and medium speeds) and the pins were more accessible, so it was a different experience. We ended up playing the whites, so the course wasn’t long and overall was set up for a good score. So I will have a fond memory from this visit to Riverwalk because I posted one of my best scores ever!

Aiding the experience was the fact that the course was in fairly good overall shape for winter. The tee boxes were great. The fairways were very tight with a mix of grasses growing in various patches, but they were mostly in good shape and I generally had good lies. The rough was quite patchy, with some great lush/thick areas that were brutal to play from and other spots where thin rough was no factor at all. I would say both the fairways and rough were significantly better on the Mission nine than on Friars. Friars had a lot more thin spots. I was in one bunker and it was damp, but the sand seemed fine enough. As mentioned already, the greens were the highlight as they were in really nice shape.

If you can get the right price, Riverwalk is worth a visit. It’s a step above your average “muni” course (unless those munis are Torrey Pines, Balboa Park or Coronado, when speaking about San Diego), but still in the middle of the overall pack. There are so many great courses throughout SD County and you can expect slow rounds on this crowded 27-hole track, it will take a really good deal to make it worth my while as someone driving in from an hour away. For locals, they do offer some decent resident rates, so that would make it a more appealing option with a convenient location and generally solid conditioning.

Some pictures from Riverwalk Golf Club (2/1/14):

Mission Course

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Friars Course

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Riverwalk was just the warm-up round and a convenient excuse to check out the Mission nine while down in San Diego County. The main course was a pretty decent finale to my list down there…

La Costa Resort & Spa (Legends Course) • Carlsbad, CA • 2/1/14

There were a couple reasons this one ended up being last on my list. The first is price. Golf at La Costa costs a pretty penny because of the swanky resort, and even what are considered “good deals” still seem a bit too inflated for my tastes. I was extremely fortunate to be able to play the Champions Course (formerly North) last summer for free as a guest of a guest. It was enjoyable, but definitely didn’t “wow” me too much considering how much they normally charge. I walked away a little underwhelmed.

On top of the price deterrent, La Costa’s South Course has been closed for most of the past year during its renovation and reopening as the Legends Course. In talking with the starter, I learned that this course’s renovation wasn’t nearly as extensive as the other course, which had more of a design facelift. They made some minor design changes and redid the fairways and greens with brand new turf, but otherwise the Pascuzzo & Pate design team didn’t significantly alter the original Dick Wilson South layout too much.

Yesterday, I was able to get on the Legends Course for a somewhat reasonable price of about $77. I booked a 1:20 tee time through EZLinks that was $94, but I used a 20% promo code to make it more palatable.

I checked in with the starter early in hopes of getting out ahead of my time and increasing my chances of finishing before dark. Though the course was steady with foursomes ahead, there were some open times after 12:30 and he gave me the choice to wait until later to play with a group or just play on my own. I waited until about 12:50 to give myself as much gap as possible and then went off as a single even though I knew it would slow down and be somewhat painful for me at times. I caught the groups ahead after a few holes and then a foursome behind me ultimately caught up, so I was stuck in no man’s land—hurry up and wait all day. It seemed slow for me, but I finished all 18 in about 4:20, so nothing I can complain about. Either way, I appreciate the starter giving me some options and letting me decide what I wanted to do.

I had never played either La Costa course before the renovations, so I don’t have much frame of reference other than spotty memories of any pro events held at this resort in the past that I might have watched on TV. Whatever they did, I ended up enjoying the Legends Course more than I did the Champions. Perhaps it was because my expectations had been lowered some or just because the layout suited my eye better or conditions were nicer. Overall, I do think it’s a more aesthetically pleasing course, but that’s just my opinion.

The front nine is especially enjoyable as parts of the course go back into a nice residential area and feels a tad like the Bay Area or Monterey at times. There are some minor changes in elevation in play before going back to the flat part of the valley where most of the course sits. Most of the fairways are relatively tight with plenty of trees in play. From the blues, the course plays at over 6,500 yards, so it presents a good test because accuracy and distance are required. The black tees top out at just under 7,000 and the white tees are probably more accessible for the average “resort” player at around 6,100.

One element of the Legends Course I was a little disappointed with was the par-3 holes. The 6th is the most interesting with a little creek cutting across and a very narrow-feeling tee shot, but otherwise they all felt a little bland. With the great property here and all the resources they have, it seems there should be at least one really “signature” par-3—whether it was part of the original design or something they altered during the renovation.

La Costa’s Legends Course was in very nice shape overall. It will take some time for all the new turf to mature, but it’s looking and playing great right now, especially for winter. The tee boxes were excellent. The fairways were good. It still seems like some tufts of different grass were trying to fight through the new sod, but nothing that affected play. I always had great fairway lies. The rough was mostly quite lush and thick. It was definitely penal with the ball sinking down most of the time. The sand traps featured gorgeous soft white sand. The greens were very firm right now with the brand new surfaces, but they sure were nice on top with smooth, pure bent grass rolling at medium speeds.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to play either La Costa course again if it requires paying a lot of money out of my pocket. Certainly, if I get another invite to play for cheap or free, I will be all over it. I just couldn’t imagine paying $150 or even $250 for a round here. I’ll leave that to the rich folks and resort guests. These are good courses, but not great. And if I was shelling out this much money to play a high-end San Diego course, I would probably opt for Aviara, The Grand, Maderas or even Torrey Pines at non-resident rates. Personally, I think they are all better courses than La Costa, but to each his own!

Some pictures from La Costa Resort & Spa (Legends Course) (2/1/14):

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