CARLSBAD, Calif. -- San Diego represents one of the deepest and versatile golf destinations in the U.S., not to mention a slam-dunk climate -- knock on wood -- year round.
You have top 100-ranked golf, a U.S. Open and PGA Tour host, LPGA venues, numerous golf-equipment headquarters you can visit, a nice roster of name brand golf resorts, casino gaming and some great bargain golf courses, too.
San Diego's food-and-beverage also brings plenty to the table. Its fish tacos are legendary, and the numerous high-end resorts that cater to wellness deliver fairly healthy options. Also, this is one of the country's top craft beer scenes, with more breweries (about 120) than golf courses (90-plus) in the county. The area's brew masters have a natural rivalry with those in Portland, Ore., but in terms of a golf-and-beer mecca -- particularly in the fall through the spring -- San Diego comes up aces.
So, what's not to like? Not a whole lot.
On this particular trip, we stayed in style at the Park Hyatt Aviara, located in Carlsbad north of downtown San Diego. The location gave us access to a top resort course on site and a bed within short distance of area microbreweries, Callaway's HQ for club fitting and a tour, and two of Golf Advisor's top-rated courses in the area: Aviara Golf Club and Maderas Golf Club.
Resort golf at its finest at Aviara G.C. and Park Hyatt Aviara
Aviara is a well known couples and ladies getaway, as well as a major tennis and wellness destination with an international clientele. The first impression of Aviara Golf Club, located just down the hill from the hotel, is the attention to detail on the grounds, from flora to fauna to waterfalls and ponds. It makes for such a pleasant loop that it's easy to forget golf is all too often a maddening endeavor.
Aviara epitomizes resort golf to the fullest: scenery galore, from long views to detailed landscaping, generous landing zones and numerous sets of tees. Designed by Arnold Palmer, the course has some tricky green complexes and risk-reward shots that will keep lower handicaps honest. The host of the LPGA Tour's Kia Classic, it's a rare San Diego-area course that overseeds its fairways and rough with Rye grass in the fall in order to ensure a green look on TV during its March spot on the tour schedule.
Maderas Golf Club: San Diego's 'other' Top 100 golf facility
Architecture and pro golf buffs in San Diego normally point their compass first toward Torrey Pines, the magnificent park and 36-hole facility set on the cliffs of La Jolla. The next top 100-ranked course (according to Golf Digest) in the county, as well as Golf Advisor's second-best area course, is Maderas Golf Club. (One of our reviewers, CaptWillard, titled his five-star review, "Enjoyed It More Than Torrey Pines.")
Torrey Pines is known for its views, low resident green fee and the resulting busy tee sheet. Maderas, meanwhile, is a perfectly sized standalone facility. There is a small membership, many of whom reside in the multi-million-dollar homes perched on hillsides above the course, but this Troon Golf-managed facility is primarily a "member-for-the-day" experience that is more low key than the destination's big resorts.
However, it has everything the discerning top 100-seeking golfer demands: a full driving range to go with a small but well appointed clubhouse with a fabulous bar and restaurant. The course, designed by Johnny Miller and Robert Muir Graves, demands all the shots, with a mix of holes both long and open or short and narrow. The back nine crescendos beautifully, particularly during an afternoon round when the green grass really glows, contrasting with its desert surrounds.
Beer and birdies: Craft beer scene in San Diego as vast as the golf
It seems around every nondescript corner of a San Diego suburb, there's a warehouse or strip mall with a craft brewery. Rip Current Brewing, for example, has a small space where it brews excellent beers and has a tasting room. This little upstart, founded in 2011, keeps a dozen-plus varieties on tap at any given time, from session beers to imperial stouts and IPAs.
Enthusiastic, usually unshaven brewmasters are all too eager to tell you about their unique recipes. Brief tours of its facility or tasting sessions are a great way to up your beer IQ, but you don't have to go to a microbrewery to sample local microbrews in San Diego. The scene has become a source of pride at dining establishments; golf clubs (even beverage carts) and luxury resorts all showcase local beers with pride before the InBev and SAB brands. At Argyle, the steakhouse restaurant at Aviara Golf Club, I enjoyed a pre-dinner pilsner from Coronado Brewing before moving on to finer red wines paired with wagyu filet mignon.
Perhaps the godfather of the craft scene in San Diego is Stone Brewery. Its rise to national distribution has created a local compound of brewing and tours, distribution and a large two-level, open-air restaurant with an eclectic food menu (duck tacos, brussel sprouts, etc.) and a massive beer list of both drafts and bottles. Stone is the gorilla of San Diego craft, but it remains allies with smaller upstart breweries in the area and even distributes for many of them with their trucks. Green Flash Brewing, a personal favorite of mine on this trip, has a smaller but varied collection of imperial stout, IPA and more.
There are numerous festivals and events catering to beer lovers you can include a golf trip with, like the Craft Beer Fest (August) at the Del Mar Racetrack, or San Diego Beer Week (November) held throughout the city. But local drafts are on tap just about everywhere 365 -- usually sunny -- days a year.
Carlsbad: Golf club manufacturer mecca
For Northerners escaping the cold for golf trip to San Diego sometime this winter, consider getting a custom club-fitting while you're down here. We visited Callaway HQ, where nearby resident Phil Mickelson has been known to pop in and tinker with equipment regularly, and a session with Callaway's fitters is time well spent to get the right specs you need from woods to wedges. Taylor Made and Titleist are among the leaders in area custom fittings.