La Costa Resort and Spa and Torrey Pines

Two local courses put San Diego on the golf map.

Champions Course at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa

If San Diego never wins a world title in baseball or football, we can still take consolation in the fact that we have two of the world’s finest golf courses. Formerly La Costa Resort and Space, Omni La Costa Resort and Spa (recently acquired by Omni Hotels) and Torrey Pines Golf Course are some of the most beautiful and difficult courses this side of the Mississippi River. Both are not only a joy to play, but each are also, in their own right, works of engineering genius.

Omni La Costa Resort and Spa

Boasting 36 holes and a driving range, golf at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa has been around since it was just about the only attraction in La Costa. In the early 1960s, consummate teamster and all around wise-guy Moe Dalitz bought 2,000 acres just east of the idyllic Carlsbad lagoon for the round sum of $4 million. Since Moe and his associates were avid golfers, they built up the golf course before anything else.


In 1963, Dick Wilson was recruited to design the first 18 holes, or what is now known as the Champions Course. Completed a year later, the design was intended to create a tight-playing course with well-guarded greens. The course was built around the Augusta national model, which demanded well-maintained grass and tree foliage from wall to wall. A decade later, Wilson’s design partner Joe Lee completed another nine holes, and the final nine holes were completed in 1984, thus finishing what came to be known as the South Course.

For more than 30 years, the resort hosted golf legends at the Tournament of Champions and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are just a few of the names that have all walked and won the course, and the South Course is now home to the LPGA Tour’s Kia Classic.

La Costa Resort and Spa recently completed major renovations, completely restoring the Champions Course and slightly modifying the South Course. For starters, every green has been replaced and is now bentgrass, and every single bunker has been repositioned—all while maintaining the integrity of Wilson’s original design.

In addition, 30 acres of turf grass have been replaced with native grasses chosen from the nearby Batiquitos Lagoon, to save on water use and make the course more sustainable. Fairways have been planted with Bermuda 419 grass, and a new paspalum turf has been chosen for the roughs and select other areas. The irrigation system is also being switched to reclaimed water.

All of these new additions are specifically designed to make the La Costa a more sustainably minded golf course. “I think that La Costa is on the leading edge of the new movement in golf towards sustainability,” said Damian Pascuzzo, lead architect and designer in charge of the $50-million renovation.

Torrey Pines Golf Course

The Torrey Pines Golf Courses have also have taken a place of prominence within the greater golfing community. All 36 holes on the Torrey Pines syndicate were designed by master architect William P. Bell, and were finished by his son, William F. Bell, in 1957 - built on the site of a World War II military camp. 

Course information 

Torrey Pines is split into two sections: the north and the south. High up on the bluffs, the North Course boasts a clear ocean view from the greens and fairways. The South Course, redesigned by Rees Jones in 2001, borders the cliff line along the sea for the fourth, fifth and sixth holes.

Torrey Pines North Course fine magazine
[ Torrey Pines North Course, photo by John Raymond }

The South Course is the bread and butter of the Torrey Pines golf experience. Host of the Farmers Insurance Open and chosen as the site of the 2008 U.S. Open, the course is known as an exceptionally scenic—and an exceptionally difficult—round of holes. Since the cliffs slope down toward the ocean, all of the greens have a corresponding downward slope. The sixth hole, which borders the ocean and has little to no protection from the strong winds that blow onshore in the afternoons, can be particularly challenging to most golfers, though it is unquestionably beautiful.

Torrey Pines North Course FINE magazine
[ Torrey Pines North Course, Photo by John Raymond }

Fortunately, the difficulty of the weather conditions is mitigated somewhat by excellent course maintenance. The fairway is laid with Kikuyu grass, overseeded with rye. Kikuyu is a very thick and sticky species of grass, which allows players to comfortably overcompensate on shots where some degree of spin is required. The grass is also renowned for providing surprisingly good lies on the rough, when it is not burying the ball altogether. The whole course represents an excellent balance between accessibility and a good solid challenge.

And since the bite of winter in San Diego is a toothless one, there will be nothing to keep you away from the challenge of conquering a world-class course.

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