SAN DIEGO -- If you're a fan of classic Western golf architecture, then taking a golf trip to San Diego might be in order. And like any metropolitan area, there are some good modern names as well.
But in San Diego, any talk of golf course designs begins with the Bell family. William Park Bell was born in 1886 and eventually became the greenskeeper at Pasadena Country Club to the north. He served as a construction superintendent for classic architects Willie Watson and George Thomas Jr. (whom he collaborated with on Riviera and L.A. Country Club), before he struck out on his own.
He was one of the most prolific architects in California in the 1930s. His many works included private San Diego Country Club, and he also drew up the initial plans for Torrey Pines.
San Diego golf and the Bell Family
After World War II, he brought his son into the business with him, William Francis Bell, and they worked on a number of projects together. But one of their most famous -- which is credited to Billy Bell Jr. -- is, of course, Torrey Pines, which Billy Bell Jr. completed after his father's death in 1953.
Torrey may be Bell Jr.'s most famous. It has been renovated since by Rees Jones, but the host facility for the Farmers Insurance Open -- as well as the U.S. Open where Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate (on the South Course) in an 18-hole playoff -- is one of the must-plays for any avid golfer who comes to the San Diego area.
If you're a local resident, it's inexpensive to play because it's a municipal. If you're from out of town, you'll pay close to $200, but it is accessible and significantly less to play than the coastal spectacular up north, Pebble Beach.
Even if you can't play Torrey Pines, though, you can still play a pretty good Bell course at a reasonable price. Also a municipal, Balboa Park Golf Course, which is next to the world famous San Diego Zoo, isn't too shabby either, and it was designed by William P. Bell.
Ted Robinson to Tom Fazio
Another prolific architect in the area is Ted Robinson Sr., who is known for Sahalee Country Club near Seattle, but did quite a few golf courses in the San Diego area. A few are open to the public as well. He is credited, for example, along with William P. Bell, with Rancho Bernardo Inn, certainly one of San Diego's best public/resort facilities. He also designed a terrific executive, the 27-hole Oaks North golf course right next door to Rancho Bernardo in the north part of the city. And in his later years, he collaborated with his son, Ted Robinson Jr., on the 27 holes at Riverwalk Golf Resort.
Cary Bickler is another architect who has certainly left a positive mark on the San Diego golf scene. In fact, one of his designs, Encinitas Ranch just north of San Diego near the coast, flies a little under the radar, but it shouldn't. The course isn't right on the ocean, but you can see the Pacific from several holes, and it's always in great condition.
Bickler (with John Cook) also designed the terrific Salt Creek Golf Club, a links-style layout always in good shape and never boring in Chula Vista. The course features elevated-tee mountain views and, yes, some ocean views as well.
And, finally, if you're looking for a couple of big international names, there is an Arnold Palmer signature design as well as pristine Tom Fazio layout in the area, too. Palmer was responsible for the course at the Park Hyatt Aviara Golf Club. This Carlsbad course doubles as a nature preserve, and incredibly, 20 percent of the maintenance budget goes to maintaining the 60 acres of landscaping, which includes purple ice plant, Pride of Madeira and agave plants.
And just south of Carlsbad on the coast in San Diego is another high-end gem, the Grand Del Mar, which Fazio created with dramatic elevations and his signature bunkers. Of course, it's perfectly maintained.