Seven miles of cream-colored beach line Pacific Coast Highway 101 in Carlsbad, California, with plenty of positions to park and watch the waves. What we perceived back in the day, as a bedroom community for commuters to San Diego or Orange County, is now a really good, idyllic location for golf vacationers.
Play at Aviara Golf Club, familiar to all who watched the LPGA tournament play there for 9 of the past 11 years. The course stood out on the screen as a floral fantasy. Golfers are happily greeted with cart service, coffee, and cookies. The Director of Golf, Renny Brown, warned that the flowers are not as brilliant due to the unseasonably cool and cloudy winter that drew into spring. But despite the May gray that gave way to June gloom, we found the variety of blooms still captivating.
The Arnold Palmer design is a visual beauty throughout with par 3s especially adorned with bright gardens around ponds. This season an abundance of tiny frogs, the size of a pinky nail, hopped along the tee boxes and greens.
Number 3 introduces the full park sense with all ilk of ducks floating and diving. Floral trees flank the green which is reached by a cute little bridge. Hillsides are dotted with luxury homes and the associated Park Hyatt Aviara Resort is perched above number 10. The course is as always, in pristine condition with the finishing hole alongside the Batiquitos Lagoon. Chairs above that green give a bird’s eye view of the triumph or tragedy of the closing hole at Aviara.
Stay at Cape Rey, a boutique hotel under the Hilton brand that is situated on a sweet spot across Highway 101, facing the Pacific. Ocean views are delivered from the restaurant, fitness room, pool, and accommodations. A corner king room doubles down on the ocean scenes from the south and west windows. The balcony is entertaining as surfers crash against the rushing waves with bonus performances by pelicans’ air ballets.
In addition to complimentary coffee and tea, every room includes a refillable water bottle for filling at the ice machine stations – serving as hydration and a souvenir. For a sweeter sip, snow cones are occasionally spun poolside where there is often a surprise in store.
Chandler’s Oceanfront Dining, the restaurant on the first floor at Cape Rey, is known for the best sunset view in Carlsbad with service and concoctions to match. Inside or on the patio, happy hour apps make a delicious meal sharing ahi tuna, burrata caprese, and flatbread. The varied main menu offers an indulgent Ocean Chilled Plate with salmon, crab claws, oysters, shrimp, and sauces. With three meals served here along with complimentary bike rentals, beach chairs and umbrellas to walk across the street, you needn’t go anywhere else. They even have a spa. But golf is a must, especially when they partner on packages.
The Crossings Golf Club begins at a high altitude for southern California and a splendid view of the ocean from the practice area. Good morning, Pacific! The cart ride to the first tee box sets the stage for elevation changes. Caution signs warn of speedy, steep downhills as well as coiled rattlers. We gratefully encountered zero snakes until we went to the Discovery Center (but we’ll save that for later).
The Crossings was designed by Greg Nash and named for the five bridges that cross over canyons and creeks to preserve the coastal ecosystem at a construction price that is said to be the most expensive of public courses in the state. Reasonable green fees deliver high value.
A new maintenance team have it well conditioned from tees to greens. Every hole has a distinct strategy and beautiful view of surf or turf. Number 7’s green requires crossing over a pond with spectacular waterfalls.
The birds’ symphony contrasts with the hum of planes from Palomar Airport crossing the sky above and on the 9th green, coaster screams are heard from Lego Land across the road. The Crossings is a must play in Carlsbad. Book early in the day for a well-paced round leaving time for more Carlsbad fun.
Visit Downtown Carlsbad where crosswalks include a diagonal option for pedestrian speed of play while shopping and dining. In addition to boutique shops, there is a Ceramics Studio and Barrio Glassworks which on Valentine’s Day, hides glass hearts around the village. Don’t miss the full block of booths at the Farmer’s Market every Wednesday for the heavenly aroma of springtime strawberries, also found at the Carlsbad Strawberry Co. with a U pick option below the famous flower fields.
Stay at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, a luxurious California icon which has been pleasing renowned guests, corporate groups, and distinguished members since 1965. The entrance never fails to excite because guest service folk are efficient and welcoming like clockwork, directing cars around the circular drive, pointing to registration and handling luggage and clubs. A VIP lounge serves snacks and beverages if the room isn’t quite ready. Spend the time touring the grounds that are forever stunning. Kudos to Solomon, a horticulture whisperer. After 25 years, he knows when to trim or plant replacements for a meticulous, colorful display throughout the resort. It helps that many on his team have been with him for as long.
La Costa is a resort where you can spend days lost in the lush wonder of bird of paradise and bougainvillea blooms. The variety of amenities in Spa at La Costa is “Spa-tacular” – pools, therapeutic shoulder falls, reflexology path, saunas, café, and boutiques. A slide pool, workout room, tennis and golf provide plenty of exercise on premise or zip down to the beach for a hike in the sand. Shuttles can be arranged.
Two championship golf courses have a prestigious PGA and LPGA history. Now they are getting ready for the nation’s finest collegiate golfers to compete in the NCAA Division1 Men’s and Women’s Golf Championship in 2024-2026.
Enter Gil Hanse who partnered on the restoration of the US Open’s Los Angeles Country Club, to renovate the Champions Course at La Costa for the event. After much surveying, he and his team are expanding it by 2-300 yards and redoing the hole layouts to be more challenging for the future pros of the world. Gil knows how the young guns drive the ball a mile and is converting the course to have more “thinking holes.” On hole 16, he is channeling Augusta number 12 where Tiger hit “the shot” against Tom Lehman.
Gavin Parker, Head Golf Pro, has ridden the original course for 10 years. Now he is hyped every time he gives a member or guest an updated tour of the restructuring under way. “Oh, the green is coming in here… the water is being drained there… bunkers are being filled.” This will be a golf course that is meant to test the best and yet, member and guest tee boxes will be situated in the right ranges for enjoyable amateur rounds.
Dustin Irwin, Club Director, is as eager as anyone for the course completion and NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, the Legends Course is busy with play. The parkland style course is where players follow in the footsteps of golf legends and Hollywood stars like Frank Sinatra. The Legends is very walkable, especially with a Club Car Tempo Walk. It is a caddie on command with a handheld remote control. Give it a name if you wish and it will follow you, give yardage, and never talk back. The only thing lacking is raking the bunker and saying, great shot!
A beverage cart makes happy rounds plus a halfway house is convenient to multiple holes. Ponds and streams are nature lined along the way and the side of a lake is florally engraved with the name LACOSTA.
The single course booking while Champions is being renovated means that public play is limited to resort guests and members only, to the chagrin of other visitors trying to book a tee time like they used to. The goal going forward is to keep an elevated experience at a higher value, to be the Barton Creek of the west. While local golfers may be disappointed by the eliminated tee times, they can happily book a staycation and play.
Celebrate a round with Dogleg golf themed beers or a refreshing Grapefruit Blossom with vodka at Bar Traza overlooking the Legends Course. The Executive Chef, John Beriker, hails from Guam, melding unique flavors. Specialties include Honey Walnut Shrimp and a brownie/ice cream dessert with potato chip topping.
For dinner, Bob’s Steak and Chophouse is one of the best in the nation, where locals as well as visitors count on special occasions. In addition to the extensive menu, they have featured specials like a tasty wagyu tenderloin filet from the snake river region of Idaho. Portions are hefty so there is little room for the fresh bread, tempting apps or sides but don’t skip the Creme Brule, so Frenchly authentic, you’ll say, “Oui oui, oui.”
Eat, Drink and be Merry
The foodie scene runs the full gamut in Carlsbad. The former Pea Soup Andersen’s is now the grand Windmill Food Hall, with global culinary stations and a full bar. Carlsbad restaurants include 3rd and 4th generation ownership and a new Michelin star restaurant Jeune et Jolie. A nationally known food tour includes six restaurants, wine, and murals. We enjoyed the Blue Water Grill for the abundant array of delectable, fresh seafood dishes.
Agua Hedionda Lagoon has a Discovery Center if you have kids in tow. Touch and feel rescued creatures like a horn shark, only between its fins. Jelly, the scaly bearded dragon was a bit startled when placed on Alice’s arm but Pilot, the fluffy brown gecko felt as soft as silk in her palm and scooted up her arm for a snuggle while we asked that the boas stay in their cages.
We had noticed swallows flying around Carlsbad, not realizing they return there as well as Capistrano down the coast every year, precisely on March 15th, LPGA player Christina Kim’s birthday which she shares with our son. Their mud nests hanging from the rafters take 50 trips to make. There’s much more nature trivia to learn at the Discovery Center. With or without kids, the lagoon is fun for kayaking and eco tours. SUP yoga anyone?
Marry your own adventure and golf in a consolidated area with seven lucky miles of beaches for multigenerational fun. Carlsbad is cozy good with coastal charm and a train runs through it. www.Visitcarlsbad.com
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