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|Four Seasons Resort Aviara Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer design, features one botanical hole after another. (David R. Holland/TravelGolf)|
CARLSBAD, Calif. – Welcome to Augusta of the West Coast. That's the beauty found at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer design that measures 7,007 yards at par 72, just 30 miles from downtown San Diego.
No, Aviara is not a classic Alister MacKenzie design. And a round of April golf does not weave through the blooming hills of Augusta, with the whites and pinks of the dogwoods and the explosion of azalea reds.
Rather, Aviara features one botanical hole after another with trees, flowers and shrubs of yellows, reds and purples, a view of the Batiquitos Lagoon and a journey through three coastal canyons. Eucalyptus trees and Torrey pines line some fairways.
"I've heard many times that playing the golf course is like a visit to a botanical garden," said Tony Pistillo, director of public relations at Aviara. "It sets us apart with tremendous color, particularly from March through June."
True golf fanatics like to visit, Pistillo said, because Carlsbad serves as home to some powerhouse equipment, ball and shoe companies such as TaylorMade, Adidas, Callaway, Acushnet, Titleist, Footjoy and Cobra.
"One day we were hosting some Japanese writers," Pistillo said, "and when we told them that Scotty Cameron was on the practice putting green trying out some new putters they went nuts. "They all wanted his autograph and a photo with him."
When developers envisioned the Aviara Golf Club, they saw water fowl, the lagoon and the land.
"The origins of the name Aviara comes from the 130 species of birds, the government-protected wetlands and the coastal land," Pistillo said. "So they combined two words - aviary for the birds and terra for the land."
Because of the ecological sensitivity of the lagoon and environmental issues, it required almost 10 years to finish the golf course. It opened in 1991 as the only Palmer-designed golf course in San Diego County.
The par-3 holes, in particular, provide great scenery, but Pistillo said he likes how the golf course opens with a teasing, 389-yard par 4, a dogleg right with cross bunkers right.
"At first glance, you think this is going to be an easy day with a birdie hole to start," Pistillo said. "But this course has a slope of 133, and even with football-sized fairways, it isn't an easy resort course."
The first par 3, No. 3, at 149 yards from the back, offers beauty. From the whites, it plays 99 yards - all carry over water with wet stuff surrounding the green on three sides. When the pin sits in front, it's easy to shoot for the flag, but any mishit lands in the pond.
"I like No. 7," Pistillo said, "because it is a downhill par 4, 393 yards, looking toward the hotel, and is probably the biggest drop from tee to fairway," Pistillo said. "But if you catch the left side of the fairway, you will hit a speed slot, and the ball will roll a long way."
A landscaped hill that guards the left side of the green could give you a friendly bounce, but the right side includes two large bunkers in front.
The finale, a 443-yard par 4, demands strategy. Palmer once described No. 18 at Aviara as the toughest finishing hole he'd ever designed, according to Pistillo.
"You have the lagoon on the left and a pond and waterfall to the right," he said. "Even if you hit a strong drive, you have to think on the approach, because the fairway narrows to 20 yards. It took me a long time to realize you need to be safe and go for the back of the green to stay away from the water."
To repeat, this golf course is not going to rival an all-time MacKenzie classic; it is a resort golf course. The Augusta label refers to its pleasing aesthetics – a walk in a botanical garden with constantly required precise shots and strategy.
But it does have honors: Conde Nast Traveler's has named it as the best golf resort in Southern California.
The putting surfaces are very generous with undulations, but not too hard and not too easy. It's common, though, to face a 35-yard putt.
"The greens are classic Palmer," Pistillo said. "The undulations are not insulting or over the top, but they do roll from 10 to 11 on the Stimpmeter year around."
The golf course includes a practice driving range, putting and pitching greens, an industry-leading GPS system on golf carts and a 32,000-square-foot, Spanish colonial clubhouse.
The resort, designed in a Spanish colonial-style, low-rise manner, includes 329 luxurious rooms and suites. Each room opens to a private balcony or ground-level, landscaped terrace from which guests can enjoy Aviara's natural beauty. Most rooms offer distant views of the Pacific Ocean or the Batiquitos Lagoon.
March 25, 2010
David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang is a romantic, classic Western-style getaway amid the wine lovers' setting of California's central coast. And there's some great golf, too, with 36 holes of diverse play on site for both the public and resort guests.
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