On Friday, I made what is now a long journey for me down to Coronado Island across the bay from downtown San Diego. Most people know about the nice municipal golf course on the island (Coronado Golf Course), but not as many people are familiar with the other course located on the north side of the island.
That’s because Sea ‘N Air Golf Course is located on the Naval Air Station North Island base and is very restricted for public play. Southern California has many different military courses and all others are accessible to the public. Some (Muroc Lake, Seabee, China Lake and Desert Winds) take a little effort to get through the gates. Others (Marine Memorial, Miramar Memorial) are surprisingly easy to access with a quick show of your ID. General Old would be another that comes to mind, but that one is wide open to the public with no gates at all. Sadly, two of the better public-accessible military courses in SoCal (El Toro and Marshallia Ranch) are now closed.
Sea ‘N Air, however, is not so easy to access as a civilian. You pretty much need to get onto the base with sponsorship from an active duty Navy serviceman or retired Naval officer. This is a very active base and the course is close to some of the action, so it’s fairly easy to understand why they keep their guard up more than others.
Sea ‘N Air isn’t known to be a high-end course, but it still kind of falls in the “private” category because of its stingy gates. I’ve met a lot of people over the years that said they might be able to get me on here at some point, but no leads ever came to fruition. Finally, a friend told me about the annual Wings Over America Scholarship Foundation charity golf tournament, which is part of a weekend-long celebration that included a big concert on Saturday night.
I was able to sign up just for the golf portion. It was a bit expensive just to access this course, but at least I knew the money was going to a good cause. I also walked away with some swag and prizes, including a full dozen Pro-V1s and $25 Costco gift card that I won as a door prize. Now, I have to figure out if I can use the gift card without having to become a Costco member!
Anyway, it was a 9:00 shotgun start with a pretty full group of players. My team started on the 2nd hole and I was paired with two retired Navy pilots, who were great guys to play with and schooled me on some of the base activities. I don’t think there were a lot of civilians in attendance and I was probably the only one signed up as a single, so I was a bit out of place. I can say that both my father and his father proudly served in the Navy, so there is some personal connection to this branch of the military.
We finished on the 1st hole, which is temporarily playing as a short 240-yard par-4 instead of its normal length as a par-5. A recent storm blew down a huge section of the driving range fence that lines the left side of this hole, so they had the unsafe areas roped off and eventually that will be fixed so the hole will return to normal.
Most military courses have a pretty similar feel. They are relatively straightforward and traditional designs, usually not meant to wow anyone with architectural bells and whistles. I will say Sea ‘N Air is one of the shorter military tracks I can remember. It plays to a par of 71 and maxes out at 6,359 yards. Most of the other courses I mentioned earlier tend to make up for any lack of style with added length.
The front nine at Sea ‘N Air is pretty flat, but there are quite a few water hazards in play. You definitely have to think your way around most of this course, which is kind of a contrast to the brute strength that is usually more valuable on military courses. This course requires plenty of strategy. Most tee shots are fairly wide open with generous fairways, but there is often a hazard out there that you need to be aware of and you may need to back off on your tee shot in favor of ideal positioning.
The 2nd hole is a really good example of this as the hole doglegs slightly right and then the approach plays over a water hazard on the left, so you want to be careful not to hit your drive too far through the corner or it could be wet.
A couple of the par-5s provide risk/reward opportunities. Both the 12th and 14th have hazards that cut completely across the fairway just inside 100 yards to the green, so many players will have decisions to make on their second shots.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of this course comes once you cross the street and play holes 13-16. This part of the course is situated right next to the beach. You get some decent views from course level, but unfortunately there are no really good elevated spots that allow for any super-stunning vistas. As it is, you get a nice sense of the beach and ocean being right there on the other side of the fence, but it’s not like playing Torrey Pines or anything.
Another interesting part of the Sea ‘N Air experience is that this is a very active air base and the course (particularly holes 13-16) are located just below the flight landing path. Jets, helicopters and and other military aircraft are regularly flying overhead and sometimes buzz by quite low. A group of six F-18s was out doing aerial drills, so we got a brief airshow overhead and then they came in for landings twice. They flew right over us, so fast and so loud! I have to say it was pretty cool.
The course conditions were good overall for winter. The tee boxes were very nice. The fairways were good for the most part. The closer you got to any water hazards, though, the more thin (and poopy) it would be thanks to a lot of coots and ducks hanging around. The rough was decent with kinda clumpy kikuyu and some other grasses in play. The bunkers seemed pretty well maintained, but maybe a tad thin. They also seemed to have some pebbles and maybe some crushed seashells in the mix (I never played any sand shots, but retrieved a few balls). The greens were very nice. They were soft and rolling at medium speeds. Not everybody in the tourney was fixing their ball marks, so I spent some time making repairs. Otherwise, they were nice surfaces to putt on.
Sea ‘N Air might not be worth so much trouble to try and get on as a civilian, but the course is just decent enough and the setting is fairly cool with the combo of beach and base surroundings. If you do have a chance to play it, it’s worth the visit.
Some pictures from Sea ‘N Air Golf Course (3/9/18):
(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)
I tried taking a couple videos. The first is one of the aircraft coming in for a landing, so you can kind of see how they flew right over the course. The second video isn’t very good because I wasn’t in as good a spot, but it shows two of the F-18s coming in. It really doesn’t convey how intense those jets are.