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Patrick hasn’t been playing golf lately. Three years ago, he played a game about every two weeks. That became a weekday-morning nine-hole at Mission Trails near our La Mesa home ($15 to play the back nine holes before 7:30 a.m.) once every three weeks, then every month, then every few months. Then, last week, as I drove down Interstate 8 past Riverwalk Golf Course in Mission Valley, it hit me. The last time Patrick played golf was a year ago.

Later that day, I asked him why. “Oh,” he hesitated, “I want to spend more time with you and the kids.”

I know the man. He wasn’t lying. But I could see he wasn’t telling the whole truth either. “And…?” I said.

“And…golf’s expensive and times are tough. I thought it was an easy way to save a few bucks. Heck,” he forced a laugh, “golf just frustrates me anyway.”

That might be, but I also know he enjoys it. I’d like my man to be able to hit the links every now and again without feeling like he’s hurting the family financially. So I set out to see what I could find for around $30.

My first call was to Mt. Woodson, Patrick’s favorite course in San Diego County. It’s just off Highway 67, near Ramona, in beautiful oak-strewn chaparral country. Mt. Woodson’s normal green fees are higher than my $30 budget: $50 Monday–Thursday, $60 Friday, and $75 weekend. But the twilight rates, after 2:00 p.m., offered some deals: $35 Monday–Thursday. At this time of year, Patrick should easily be able to play 18 holes between 2:00 p.m. and dark. Mt. Woodson’s super-twilight rates, which start at 4:00 p.m., are $25 Monday–Friday, $30 on weekends (prices include a cart).

“If you join our player’s club,” Mt. Woodson’s assistant pro, Daniel Benn, told me, “you get the twilight rate at 1:00 p.m. It’s $99 for a one-year membership, and it comes with a free round of golf and discounted rates. If you play two or three rounds of golf this summer, it more than pays for itself.”

Patrick has wanted to play a course in east Chula Vista called Salt Creek. Salt Creek was built in a links style usually associated with golf in Scotland and Ireland but hard to find in Southern California. I checked the website, and the regular rates were far over my budget: $63 Monday–Thursday, $73 Friday, $95 weekend for county residents. Their best bet for Patrick was the $35 Monday–Thursday twilight rate starting at 2:00 p.m. or the $27 super-twilight starting at 3:30 (prices include a cart).

Patrick is not a military man. Too bad, because both Mt. Woodson and Salt Creek offer “Military Mondays” for $30. Patrick isn’t eligible for Mt. Woodson’s “Super Senior Tuesdays” for $35, either.

GolfSD.com calls Chula Vista Municipal Golf Course “one of the best golf values in San Diego County.” I like the sound of that. Regular rates at Chula Vista — which was designed by local golf legend Billy Casper — run $25, walking; $38 with cart Monday–Friday; $34/$47 on weekends. Twilight rates are $16/$29 weekdays, $19/$32 weekends.

“Send Patrick down to Balboa Park,” said my pal Bernice’s husband and avid golfer Frank. “It’s a great old-fashioned layout with lots of character. It has a nostalgic mid-20th-century American golf vibe to it. You expect to see Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus coming down the fairway in cardigans and plaid pants. And it’s cheap. I play there for $29 with my annual city resident’s card [$25]. Patrick would have to pay $36 since he doesn’t live within the city of San Diego.” (Twilight rates: $17 residents, $22 non-residents.)

“Another great value is Coronado,” Frank added. “For years it’s been listed in all the golf publications and websites as a top value in Southern California. The setting is beautiful, the grass is gorgeous, and it’s cheap. Consequently, it can be a little bit hard to get a tee time.”

Frank’s right. Coronado was listed in Golf Digest’s Best Places to Play 2008–2009. And GoGolfSanDiego.com raves, “Coronado is a fantastic municipal golf course and a signature course in San Diego.”

He’s also right about the tee times. You can make tee times for free one to two days in advance. If you want to reserve a time 3 to 14 days in advance, you have to pay a nonrefundable $38 fee just to make the time. And if you want to play between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m., you have to show up at the course and receive a time by a lottery system. The reward for this hassle, GoGolfSanDiego.com says, is “one of the best golf experiences of your life.” And at one of the best golf prices of your life: $25; $13 after 4:00 p.m. in summer, 2:00 p.m. in winter. Carts aren’t required, and Coronado, Frank says, is flat and easy to walk. But if you want to ride, it’s $16 per rider, $11 during twilight hours.

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