Most golfers will tell you that San Diego has more golf courses than any other area in the country. They say this not out of affection for San Diego nor because the tourist bureau has perfected a lightning-quick brainwashing technique. They sax it simply because it is most likely true.
There are some 56 golf courses in San Diego. And 38 of those are full-size regulation 18-hole courses.
That's quite a few. especially when you consider that the lion's share are open to the public. Couple this hefty number with a near perfect climate and it is not difficult to see how San Diego got its reputation as “Golfland U.S.A."
There are golf courses of every size, shape, and description. You find them hugging the coast, and you find them in the mountains. And in the desert, and in the woods, and in the middle of shopping centers, and in the parks. There are pitch-and-putt courses and par-3 courses and executive nine-hole courses and 18-hole courses and 27-hole courses. There are easy courses and hard ones. There are rolling terrain courses and a few that go up and down the sides of hills. Some are cheap; a few are staggeringly expensive. There are country-club golf courses that cost a few dollars to join and others that can cost over $100,000 (you get a house thrown in with the membership).
There are so many golf courses, in fact, that you can sit down and select the type of course with the right surroundings and the price you w ant to pay. and be there within an hour's drive of downtown. It's possible in this town to become, if there is such a thing, a gourmet of golf courses. You could start with a long desert style course in the morning (Cottonwood, Singing Hills), take in a coastal 18-holer at mid-day (Torrey Pines), then pause for a quick late-afternoon nine in the mountains (Rancho Santa Fe). and then follow up with an evening snack at one of the city's two night-lit courses.
Most golfers, however, like to stick close to home. A South Bay golfer, say, might try a resort course on a vacation (Warner Springs, Lake San Marcos) or slip over to Carlton Oaks and see if it's as windy as they say it is. But generally, he stays home playing the municipal courses in Coronado and Chula Vista, or he takes a whack at Bonita.
Vacationers are pretty much apt to stay close to home, too. “Snowbirds" vacationers from Canada, Minnesota, and points north, where snow interferes with their game flock to the cluster of golf courses built along Interstate 15. They typically are up bright and early and try to work in 36 holes a day while enjoying our climate. When they leave the resort, it is usually to try the course of the next resort, a few miles down the highway.
The purpose of this guide, then, is to let all those golfers know that there are many fine golf courses to play in San Diego. And if you find one crowded, or discover upon arriving that your reservation has been misplaced, lost, or ignored, don't give up. Chances are there is another course located within a few minutes. The tourist bureau assures us that “no other area in the world possesses more golf curses per capita (or) a wider variety of golf course architecture or more varied surroundings."
There are five municipal courses in Sark Diego County and another half-dozen that cater exclusively to the public. Torrey Pines, the eternal home of the Andy Williams Open, is probably the most famous. It's also one of the best. Golf Digest rated the South Course among the top 100 courses in the nation. Not far behind in popularity is the venerable Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course. It is shorter than Torrey Pines, but equally hilly, with several tough holes like the so-called “razorback” 16th, a nasty hole that has driven more than one golfer over the brink. Also well- played and well-maintained are the Chula Vista and Coronado Municipal Courses, which are scenic courses and are usually crowded on the weekends.
If you don't like the ocean breeze, you can travel east to either Cottonwood Country Club or Singing Hills Golf Course. They are long flat courses built into valleys and are tailor-made for the man with the big drive.
Not far away is the Carlton Oaks Country Club, a resort lodge that is open to.the public, and the Navajo Canyon Country Club, a short, challenging course with steep up and down fairways.
To get further away from the city, go north on Interstate 5 and catch the semi-public courses that seem to have sprung up faster than the condominiums. Whispering Palms Golf Club is a 27-hole flat course and home of the Gene Littler Golf Course Inn of American Classic. It's also nearby the crowded Torrey Pines course, and there's less waiting time to play. Oceanside Municipal Course is a brand new course with a strong westerly wind, few trees, and lots of potential.
These courses vary in difficulty, but each has its advantages. Torrey Pines and Balboa are jammed, especially on weekends. So are Coronado, Chula Vista, and Carlton Oaks, though you can get a starting time in the afternoon without reservation. Singing Hills and Cottonwood are overrun by golfers on weekends; but with six golf courses between them, they can handle the crunch.
- Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course, Golf Course Drive. San Diego. 232-2470. Green fee. $3.50.
- Bonita Golf Course. 3200 Sweetwater Road. National City. 475-3375. Green fee. S5.00.
- Chula Vista Municipal Golf Course. 4475 Bonita Road. 479-4141. Green fee. $5.50.
- Carlton Oaks Country Club. 9200 Inwood Drive. Santee. 448-8500. Green fee. $8.00.
- Coronado Municipal Golf Course, 2000 Visalia Row. 435-3121. Green fee. $5.00.
- Cottonwood Country Club. 3121
- Willow Glen Road. FI Cajon. 442-9891. Green fee. $8.00.
- Navajo Canyon Country Club. 7380 Golfcrest Place. 460-5400. Green fee. $6.99.
- Oceanside Municipal Golf Course. North River Road. Oceanside, 757-6733. Green fee. $4.75.
- Singing Hills Golf Course. 3007 Dehesa Road. El Cajon. 442-3425. Green fee. $8.00.
- Tecolote Municipal Golf Course. 2755 Snead Avenue. 279-1600. Green fee. $4.00.
- Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course, I 1480 North Torrey Pines Road. 453-0380. Green fee. $4.50.
- Whispering Palms Golf Course. Villa de la Valle, Rancho Santa Fe. 756-2471. Green fee. $9.00.
Nine-hole courses are less demanding than the 18-hole ones; but the play generally goes faster and they are perfect for those who hate to walk, who avoid long waits, or who get bored with games lasting longer than two hours. San Diego has a mixed bag of nine-hole courses, some well-designed, others flat and unimaginative. Presidio Park Golf Course, a pitch-and-putt affair, is a challenging little course that is fun and fast-moving to play. Another good course is the Rancho Carlsbad Golf Course, a shady, peaceful course with 18 holes instead of nine. What's it doing in this section, then? It's an executive course, for one. and plays fast like a nine-holer. Perhaps the toughest nine-hole course in San Diego is at the Willowbrook Country Club. Sand traps, lake hazards, and extra yards are being added to this course (it is currently being redesigned by K..C. Crandell). When completed, this twice-around nine-hole course will have an S.C.G.A. rating of 69. one of the highest in the county. The nine-holers;
- Las Palmas Golf Course. 1800 20th Street. National City. 474-2251. Green fee. $2.25.
- Ocean Golf Course, 660 El Camino Real. Oceanside. 757-0088. Green fee. $3.00.
- Oceanside-Carlsbad Country Club. 31 Country Club Lane.
- Oceanside. 433-8590. Green fee. $2.25.
- Presidio Hill Golf Course. 4136 Wallace Street. 295-9476. Green fee. $1.50.
- Rancho Carlsbad Goll Course. 5500 -El Camino Real, Carlsbad. 729-1772. Green fee. $3.50.
- Spindrift Pitch and Putt Course, 2000 Spindrift Drive. 454-7126. Green fee. $1.75.
- Sun Valley Golf Course. Memorial Drive. La Mesa. 463-8488. Green fee. $1.50.
- Vacation Village Golf Course. Vacation Isle. 274-4630. Green fife. $2.00.
- Willowbrook Country Club. 11905 Riverside Road. Lakeside. 561-1061. Green fee $3.00.
San Diego has two golf courses which offer golf under the lights.
The River Valley Golf Course, located in Hotel Circle, is “freeway close” to all parts of the city. It is an executive course with several par-fours and enough water and tree hazards to demand straight shots off the tee. This course plays fast, and even though it is in the semi-exclusive position of offering night golf, there is rarely any wait.
Mission Bay Golf Course is the other course under the lights, and it is bigger, older, and more crowded than River Valley. From the clubhouse you can look out and see a 12-foot waterfall cascading over volcanic rock into the pond that surrounds the putting green. It is a dramatic introduction to this short, but competitive course.
- River Valley Golf Course, 2440 Hotel Circle North, 297-3391.Green fee, $3.00.
- Mission Bay Golf Course,2702 N. Mission Bay Drive, 273-1221. Green fee, $3.50.
A series of golf courses, spread out along Highway 15, north of Miramar and south of Fallbrook, caters to vacationing golfers. Busiest time of year is in winter when the “snowbirds,” as the locals call them, flock to these resorts on special golf package trips. The golf courses vary in degree of difficulty from the relatively easy Lawrence Welk executive course to the more challenging courses at the Escondido Country Club, Meadow Lake Country Club, and the Pala Mesa Golf and Tennis Club. All the courses are meticulously maintained. Traps are raked, fairways are trimmed short, the rough is thick, and the greens are well-watered. They are scenic places with the casual, unhurried pace which accompanies resort living. Of course, you end up paying for this. And if Snowbird Trail is as astonishing as the spiffy brochures say it is, so are the green fees, among the highest in the county.
- Circle “R” Resort Course, Highway 395 at Old Castle Road, Escondido, 743-6212. Green fee, $8.00.
- Escondido Country Club, 1800 Country Club Lane, Escondido, 746-4212. Green fee, $12.00.
- Fallbrook Golf and Country Club, 2757Gird Road, Fallbrook, 728-8334. Green fee, $9.00.
- Lawrence Welk’s Country Club Village, 8975 Champagne Boulevard, 747-3408. Green fee, $3.75.
- Meadow Lake Country Club, 6038 Mt. Meadow Road, Escondido, 749-1620. Green fee, $7.00.
- Pala Mesa Golf and Tennis Club, 2045 Tecalote Drive, Escondido, 728-5881. Green fee, $10.00.
- Rancho Bernardo Inn, 17550 Bernardo Oaks, 487-0700. Green fee, $9.00.
- Rancho Penasquitos Country Club, 14455 Penasquitos Drive, 487-8300. Green fee, $6.00.
- Stoneridge Country Club, 16605 Espola Road, Poway, 487-2117. Green fee. $9.00.
The Resort Courses
Leisure resorts, where the price of a room entitles the patron to golf privileges not normally accorded the public at large, are very popular in San Diego. Usually the resort course is a combination private country -club and lodge. La Costa, the expensive resort-spa is a good example of the resort course. The only ways to-get in here are to join the country club (Initiation fee: $5,000), have a good friend who’s a member, or stay in the hotel, where rooms begin at $55 a day.
Some resort courses, such as the Lake San Marcos Country Club, want you to stay in their hotel or be a property owner in the area. Other resorts, such as Warner’s Springs Resort Golf Course, are set up strictly as a resort, with golf being one of the big drawing cards. And still other resorts, such as the San Vicente Country Club, have both golf course and hotel accommodations, but leave their course open to the public. Like the Snowbird Trail resorts, the courses here are well-maintained. They spread from the coastal regions to the high desert, and no two courses are alike.
- El Camino Country Club, 3202 Vista Way, Oceanside, 757-2100. Green fee, $8.00.
- La Costa Country Club, Costa del Mar Road, Carlsbad, 438-9111. Green fee, $13.00.
- Lake San Marcos Country Club, 1750 San Pablo Drive, Lake San Marcos, 744-0120. Green fee, $9.50.
- Lomas Santa Fe Country Club, Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, 755-0195.
- Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, Rancho Santa Fe, 756-1836.
- San Luis Rey Country Club. San Luis Downs, 758-0330. Green fee, $10.00.
- San Vicente Country Club, 24157 San Vicente Road, Ramona, 789-2505. Green fee. $6.50.
- Stardust Country Club, 950 Hotel Circle, 297-4796. Green fee, $15.00.
- Warner’s Resort Golf Course, Warner Springs, 782-3555. Green fee, $7.00.
While the majority of golf courses in San Diego are open to the public one way or another, there are still a few private-members-only country clubs. They are run exclusively for the pleasure of their members, and the public is asked politely to keep-their distance. Unlike some cities’ golf clubs, which have three- and four-year waiting lists, all the San , Diego clubs are accepting memberships.
- De Anza Desert Country Club, Borrego Springs. 767-5105.
- La Jolla Country Club, High Street, 454-2505.
- Pauma Valley Country Club, Highway 76, Escondido, 742-3721.
- San Diego Country Club, Country Club Drive & L Street, Chula Vista, 422-0818.
Don’t overlook the military courses. They are open to active or inactive military personnel and their guests. Courses range from the championship-size Admiral Baker Field Course to the par-3 course at the 32nd Naval Base. They are inexpensive to play, and there is very little waiting time.
- Admiral Baker Field Golf Course, Friars Road, 281-3447. Green fee, $5.00.
- Camp Pendleton Memorial Golf Course, Camp Pendleton, Ocean-side. 725-4756. Green fee, $3.00.
- Miramar Memorial Golf Course, Highway 163, 271-3431. Green fee, $2.75.
- Naval Station Golf Course, 32nd Street, 235-1503. Green fee, $1.25.
- Sail-Ho Golf Course, Naval Training Center, 225-5450. Green fee. $1.50.
- Sea ’n’ Air Golf Course, North Island Naval Air Station, Coronado, 437-7577. Green fee. $1.50
Bruce Gibney is a frequent contributor to the Reader and is the author of San Diego Golf Guide
which will be published in October.