CORONADO, Calif. -- If someone ever built a monument to outstanding, affordable golf it would be a memorial to Coronado Golf Course.
Phil Mickelson makes an appearance from time to time. President Bill Clinton has played here, among other former presidents, and the 1957 opening day foursome was a legendary group -- Billy Casper, Gene Littler, Paul Runyan and Coronado Head Professional Don Collett.
No telling who is going to show up on any given day to play in perfect 75-degree weather, sunny skies and views that are pure USA. The U.S. Navy surrounds you, the magnificent Coronado Bridge is prominent, the world-famous Hotel Del Coronado comes into sight on the final holes along with the Glorietta Bay Marina and Coronado Yacht Club.
"More courses should be like Coronado," said Head Professional Ron Yarbrough, who was born on the island, did an Army tour and came back as an assistant for 23 years and head pro for 23 more.
The legend of Coronado -- could it be that good?
It has been widely reported that Coronado hosts 100,000 rounds a year. "That may be a little much," Yarbrough said. "I think 97,000 is more like it, but one year, 112,000 were reported." That comes to $4.5 million a year that is funneled right back to the course.
There are 27 versions of tee time prices -- resident, non-resident, twilight, pre-paid multiple rounds, morning back nine, weekday, weekend, holiday, juniors, seniors and so on. But a visitor from Texas can play for $35 on a weekday, walking. Many walk and use a pull cart. You just can't beat it. Well, in 1957, the green fee was two bucks.
Sure, tee times are a challenge, but you can try two days in advance by phone or in person or you can book in advance electronically that includes an extra non-refundable fee of $16.25 per golfer. There's also a daily lottery. Check golfcoronado.com for instructions.
Before and after the Coronado Bridge
The 1957 version of Coronado was designed by Jack Daray and did not include the famous Coronado Bridge. In 1967, bridge construction required re-routing of the original 6,100 yards. The bridge opened in August 1969.
So Jack Daray Jr. redesigned the first nine holes to its current configuration, and in 1997, a new clubhouse was built, and the ninth and 18th holes were changed to today's look. All the changes made the routing a 6,590-yard par 72.
But one of the key early-day construction elements was making the course a sand-based layout.
"Whoever made that decision was a genius," Yarbrough said. “We don't get many hard rains around here, but in 1983, we had a heck of a flood that closed down Singing Hills and Cottonwood (two local courses), and we missed a half day of golf."
Actually, there had been golf courses dating back to 1898 on the island (a nine-hole course and an 18-holer) that were victims of either "residential progress" or expansion of the North Island Naval Air Station. There just wasn't any room left for a golf course.
After World War II, advocates for a golf course got a break. The Port of San Diego dredged San Diego Bay to increase the depth of the shipping channel and the fill produced approximately 120 additional acres of land along Glorietta Boulevard that, when added to an existing 20 available acres, permitted construction of Coronado Golf Course.
Coronado Golf Course: Today's layout
What surprised me most about Coronado was the almost flawless putting surfaces, especially with so much play.
Fairways are lined by palms, oleander and eucalyptus trees, with the rough non-penalizing. The penalties come when you miss the fairways behind these trees or find one of the bunkers that have soft, fluffy sand.
There are few water holes, but you can dunk one into the lake on no. 1, which also could bother you on the eighth (404-yard par 4) and ninth holes (195-yard par 3).
San Diego Bay borders only one hole on the opening nine -- the third, a 406-yard par 4 -- but 16-18 bring you home with Glorietta Bay and San Diego Bay on the right.
Coronado Golf Course: Final thoughts
"Hit it straight; keep it in the fairway," Yarbrough said. "Someone came up with the NBC thing -- that stands for no break Coronado. I'd say 90 percent of the putts are straight with very little break."
Coronado has better weather, is scenic and is the most affordable excellent routing in the U.S. Take that, $500-a-round Pebble Beach!
"Golf should be fun and affordable," said Yarbrough.
Amen, brother. You get it. It's sad that so many golf courses and public relations people just don't.
Make your tee time today, because Yarbrough -- who has been at the course for 46 years -- will be retiring soon. And when he's gone, no telling what the leaders at The City of Coronado will do with this gem. The fees may sky rocket overnight.
Coronado Island: Dedicated to outdoor fun
Besides golf, Coronado offers bike lanes throughout its streets and plenty of shops to rent your ride.
Orange Avenue, Coronado's main street, features countless restaurants, cafes and antique shops. And then there are beaches -- Coronado City Beach, named one of Southern California's best beaches by the Travel Channel in 2002.
Every 4th of July, the City of Coronado turns the golf course into a gigantic picnic park where families get together to watch the fireworks off Glorietta Bay.