SAN DIEGO -- Somebody call the climate police.
How dare the weather gods mess with my most recent golf trip to San Diego. Can you believe I actually suffered through a washout one day, followed by a lengthy frost delay two days later? That's about the extent of a SoCal winter right there -- a rainy day and maybe a frost delay or two that are merely distractions from extended periods of sunshine. Better than the rest of the country, right?
Everything you've heard about San Diego is mostly true. It's prettier than almost anywhere else. It's sunnier than almost anywhere else. There's more to do than almost anywhere else. It's also more expensive than almost anywhere else.
I've visited a handful of times in the past five years, hitting the tourist traps with children in tow and playing its best golf courses, too. I never come home disappointed. Here's a beginner's guide to golf in San Diego for anybody lucky enough to be headed this way:
San Diego specifics
With an estimated population of 1.4 million people in 2015, San Diego is the eighth-largest city in America and the second largest in California. Founded in 1769, San Diego is considered by some to be the birthplace of California. A location near Mexico and a long affiliation with the U.S. military (specifically the Navy) have helped shape San Diego's culture and history. There are so many diverse landscapes to explore in San Diego County -- world-class beaches, mountains, canyons, remote desert terrain, ocean-side cliffs and more.
How do you get to San Diego?
San Francisco Bay Area residents like me can drive the 6-7 hours (depending on LA traffic) or fly the easy hour-plus flight into the San Diego International Airport. There's an international airport in Tijuana, Mexico, but I'm not sure messing with the hassles of passports and the border crossing makes much sense. The regional John Wayne Airport in Orange County (85 miles north of downtown San Diego) could work if the flight times or prices are more to your liking.
When to visit
A mild climate affords golf and beach weather year-round for visitors, although spoiled locals might think otherwise. So many local golf pros I've met lament how one hint of clouds or rain in the forecast scares much of their business away.
According to the website www.usclimatedata.com, San Diego's coldest and wettest months are January and February (averaging 65 degrees and nearly two inches of rain). The warmest months are August and September (averaging 76 degrees).
Like much of California, the best time to visit is probably spring and fall. You avoid the crunch of family tourism and the weather is still fantastic. There's really no high or low seasons for golf like other regions of the country, so it's tough to catch any sort of seasonal (fall or spring) discounts.
Off-course activities for the family
I'm not sure there's a more kid-friendly destination in the country. In one five-day, overambitious adventure in 2011, my family visited the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California in Carlsbad, Coronado beach, the New Children's Museum and the Gaslamp Quarter downtown, and the USS Midway Museum on Navy Pier in the harbor. More recently, we kayaked the sea caves of La Jolla. Hiking some coastal cliffs and visiting Balboa Park are next on my hit list.
Californians are notoriously fickle when it comes to professional sports. When teams are hot, ticket prices soar. When things fall apart, they jump ship and head to the beach. That's been the case lately with the San Diego Chargers (NFL) and San Diego Padres (MLB). Petco Park still remains one of baseball's coolest stadiums. It's located in an ideal spot downtown, surrounded by restaurants and bars in the Gaslamp Quarter, and has hosted a pair of "Links at Petco Park" events that have drawn golfers to play nine holes inside the stadium. Both the Holiday Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl are college football games held annually around Christmastime in Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Chargers.
The PGA Tour visits Torrey Pines each winter for the Farmers Insurance Open. The LPGA Tour follows up with the Kia Classic at the Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad in March.
Golf resorts of San Diego
Three of golf's most luxurious resorts reside north of San Diego -- the Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego and the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad. The famous South Course at Torrey Pines -- the main venue of the Farmers Insurance Open -- will host another U.S. Open in 2021, and the North Course was recently redone by Tom Weiskopf. Tom Fazio created a beauty at The Grand Golf Club, available only to members and guests of the Fairmont. La Costa has spent millions updating its Champions and Legends courses and resort facilities within the past five years.
The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe and the Inn at Rancho Bernardo are two opulent boutique hotels with golf available. The Barona Resort & Casino is a tribe-owned operation and home to the celebrated Barona Creek Golf Club. The Aviara Golf Club, a flowery Arnold Palmer design, spills out below the Park Hyatt Resort Aviara in Carlsbad. The Hotel del Coronado might be more well-known as a beach resort, but its own director of golf will line up rounds at numerous preferred courses around San Diego.
In the past two years, I've stayed and played a foursome of more value-oriented destinations further inland: Carlton Oaks Golf Club in Santee; San Vicente Golf Resort in Ramona; Pala Mesa Resort in Fallbrook and the 54-hole Sycuan Golf Resort in El Cajon. All the courses have their merits, and all of the old-school, motel-style accommodations are perfectly pleasant.
The former DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Golf Resort San Diego recently changed its name to the Hotel Karlan San Diego – a DoubleTree by Hilton. It provides shuttles and packages to the Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club.
Golf courses galore
Not all of San Diego's best courses are affiliated with resorts. The Maderas Golf Club in Poway, managed by Troon Golf, has become a fixture on some "top 100" public lists. The Johnny Miller/Robert Muir Graves design sports a challenging course riding up and down some nice land 60 miles north of downtown. It's a haul 85 miles through the desert to find the Rams Hill Golf Club in Borrego Springs. Tom Fazio's stunner resurrected from the dead in 2015 is worth it.
Closer to the city, the Steele Canyon Golf Club, a 27-hole course by Gary Player in Jamul, is loaded with four- and five-star reviews from Golf Advisor. The Coronado Golf Course -- considered one of the best values in the country by Golf Channel's Morning Drive talent Matt Ginella -- and Balboa Park Golf Course are municipal courses loved by locals.
The 27-hole Riverwalk Golf Club sits minutes from the airport if you need one last round before a flight or one right after landing. There are plenty more choices -- The Crossings at Carlsbad, Arrowood Golf Course in Oceanside, Salt Creek Golf Club in Chula Vista, Encinitas Ranch Golf Course in Encinitas and on and on.
Equipment companies in Carlsbad
The war to create the next great golf club rages daily in Carlsbad, the headquarters of Callaway Golf, TaylorMade-adidas Golf, the Acushnet Company (research and development, club assembly and sales for Titleist Golf) and Cobra Puma Golf. Golfers can get a taste of this world with a tour or club fitting. TaylorMade-adidas (tours 10 a.m. Thursdays) and Cobra Puma (tours by appointment at 760-710-3502) offer both tours and club fitting. Callaway Golf only books fittings at 888-223-7842.
If I were planning a buddies trip, I'd mix in some star power with a few more cost-conscious layouts to save some cash for a few nice meals in trendy La Jolla or Old Town (home to some killer Mexican restaurants) and maybe for tickets to a pro baseball/football game with dinner and drinks in the GasLamp Quarter. Torrey Pines is probably a must play. So is Coronado (it's affordable and you can spend the afternoon at the beach relaxing). Maderas has a great vibe for hanging out, although Riverwalk is more convenient to downtown and serves a great selection of craft beers. Take advantage of San Diego's obsession with craft beer while you're in town.
My personal favorites
I haven't seen enough bucket-list golf in San Diego to rank a personal top 10. I've yet to play the renovated courses at Torrey Pines, Rancho Bernado, Rancho Santa Fe, Steele Canyon, Sycuan and Coronado, among others. The ones I have played -- La Costa, Maderas, The Grand, Aviara, Rams Hill and Barona Creek -- couldn't be more fun or prettier. Life in SoCal can be so good.