Because I live in Southern California – and write about golf for a living – people often ask me where to play in San Diego while on vacation. And I generally steer them to Carlsbad, an upscale suburb located a half-hour north of the airport. There are three courses in town worth playing, especially if you’re on a short trip, don’t want to do a lot of driving, and want plenty of activities and good food beyond golf at your disposal. And you can almost always count on warm sunshine during your rounds – regardless of when you visit. Maybe that’s why this is also the golf equipment capital that plays home to Callaway, Titleist, Cobra/Puma Golf, adidas Golf, Fujikura, Full Swing Golf, TaylorMade and Aldila. Regardless of the sunshine, golf is always in the air here.
Omni La Costa Resort & Spa is a world-renowned destination in the southeast part of Carlsbad. It has two courses – the Legends and the Champions – but as of the end of this month, you’ll only be able to play the Legends. And that’s if you stay at the hotel. The Champions is undergoing a major renovation by the acclaimed Gil Hanse, so it will be closed for play for roughly a year. Thus, everyone will be shifted to the Legends for play. That includes members and resort guests. The course will be closed to the public for the interim. I personally prefer the Legends, as it is a more player-friendly layout that plays 6,996 yards from the tips. It’s a parkland style course that features mature trees, gentle doglegs, and water features. But it also places a premium on driving accuracy. The back nine – combined with nine holes from the Champions – used to be a PGA Tour stop. Regardless, it’s a fun layout that’s a locals’ favorite. And the hotel is totally worth staying at, to have access to the course. Expect a very lively vibe, with plenty of activities on property. And it’s less than two miles from the beach.
Just one mile to the northeast lies Aviara Golf Club. The 7,007-yard Arnold Palmer design just completed a six-month-long renovation. And the results are stunning. Many of the greens were leveled out to make them more playable – the upscale course is built on hilly terrain – and much of the penal rough was either removed, tightened, or made easier to hit the ball from. As a result, I’ve noticed that the course now plays faster. Plus because it’s mostly a resort course, first-timers will tend to score fairly well. It can play extremely difficult if you miss shots, and because of the elevation changes can also play long. But in its 31-year history, it’s always been known as one of San Diego County’s best-conditioned courses. As at La Costa, the staff is extremely friendly and helpful. And you’ll probably want to come back for more.
The third course in town to play is The Crossings at Carlsbad, a 6,835-yard public layout that was rumored to be America’s most expensive municipal course to ever be built at roughly $80 million. But that’s not to say all the money went into the course: A chunk of it went to the California Coastal Commission, to help define how the course could be designed on the land to avoid affecting wildlife. As a result, it’s a rather funky layout – there’s a 1.25-mile drive from the 11th green to the 12th tee. And there are huge elevation changes. Yet the greens and tee boxes are usually in pretty impressive condition. And I’ve noticed the fairways have been looking a lot nicer the past year or so. Plus it’s fun to play, and is in a great location roughly one mile inland. After your round, enjoy a beverage up on the clubhouse’s wraparound terrace with a panorama of the Pacific. For traveling families, it sits conveniently adjacent to Legoland California.
After golf, there are plenty of nice restaurant options around town, as well, including more upscale places like 264 Fresco in downtown Carlsbad (a bustling village that’s fun to walk around) and Ponto Lago at the Park Hyatt Aviara. For more moderate options for families, consider Black Rail Kitchen and 7 Mile Kitchen – both in the south part of the city and very popular among Carlsbad residents.