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The Champions golf course at Omni La Costa Resort near San Diego: Bringing Dick Wilson into the 21st century

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Champions golf course at La Costa - hole 13
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The 13th on the Champions Course at La Costa requires precision off the tee and on the approach. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Quite simply, golf at Omni La Costa Resort and Spa had lost much of its luster. After more than three decades as a PGA Tour venue, the old La Costa had become dated.

So La Costa, which hosted the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions from 1969-98, pretty much shut down golf for more than a year for a renovation of 22 of its 36 holes, most notably the North Course. Now called the Champions Course, it reopened in the fall of 2011 not only with an updated design but also with better drainage, irrigation, turf and conditioning. It's all part of an overall $50 million expansion and renovation of the resort, which also included new guestrooms, an expanded athletic center, a renovated events center and an all-new lobby bar.

There were many changes to the golf course, including some repositioning of greens and tees, but most notably bunkers and other hazards. While original architect Dick Wilson (and later Joe Lee) plotted bunkers symmetrically and in front of some greens, they are now staggered and set for the modern game.

"They realized the luster had worn off the course," said Damian Pascuzzo, who teamed with former tour player Steve Pate as well as consulting architect Jeff Brauer on the redesign. "They wanted to bring it back to something that warrants its reputation.

"And I think while we respected what Wilson did, we didn't want to be slaves to it."

In some respects, La Costa's Champions Course is now more resort friendly, making it easier for the average player to access greens and taking some bunkers out of play that now pose problems off the tee for the longer hitter. In all respects, the golf course is better.

Champions Course at La Costa no longer soggy

One of the chief complaints about La Costa over the years was the lack of adequate drainage on both courses. While tournaments were often played on a combination of the North Course and the Legends Course in the winter, a little bit of rain meant a lot of plugged lies off the tee, which isn't conducive to playing it as it lies as the game was intended.

So one of the biggest improvements on the Champions Course is the carefully calculated seven inches of sand used to cap the fairways. Now, the course can take a good bit of rain, an inch or two maybe, and still be more than playable.

Another big difference is the new A-4 bentgrass on the greens. While Poa annua remains on the Legends Course, the Champions Course has flawless bentgrass. That means truer rolls and faster green speeds if they are warranted. A reshaping of some of the greens also allows more pin placements than before. Being new, the greens are still firm, but they are receptive enough for good shots out of the fairway.

The renovation also included a reduction of more than 30 acres of maintained turf, which really doesn't come into play. The remodeling incorporates more extensive use of native grasses as well as mulch. More lakes have been added and repositioned to create better easement during flooding rains. Also, a couple of tees and other features were repositioned because of the expansion of the hotel.

Though four holes were completely redesigned on the Champions Course, the routing pretty much remains the same. There are still the same signature holes, like the par-4 11th, which features an elevated tee to a downhill dogleg right with water down the right side and bunkers to the left.

The 13th is a sharp dogleg right with trees on the right off the tee and a lake right of the green. The 16th, a 170-yard par 3 for the pros, is almost all carry to a shallow green flanked by cascading water on the left. And the finishing hole, a par 5 that's almost 600 yards long, features two lakes, a stream in front of the green and grassy "church pews" that guard the left side of the green.

La Costa is more family friendly

Coinciding with changes at the resort that cater more to kids, the Champions Course is more family friendly, too, allowing players of all ages and abilities to enjoy the course.

"I always loved the golf course. It reminded me a lot of the kinds of courses I grew up on," said Pate, who won the Tournament of Champions here in 1988. "And I learned a lot from watching people of different levels play the golf course."

To that end, the golf course added a new set of "Family Tees." About 4,200 yards long, it allows beginners and children to enjoy the golf course with more experienced players. In addition, La Costa also offers lessons and clinics for families, where parents and children can learn together. There's also a summer camp, for girls and boys ages 6-14, as well as private and group lessons for women only.

Champions Course at Omni La Costa Resort: The verdict

There's very little not to like about the new version of the North Course. It's just as challenging as the old course, but it's certainly more player friendly. The sand capping is a big deal, creating more roll on the fairways and better, tighter lies for approaches. It also drains a lot better after a rain, which we had the opportunity to see first-hand.

The bentgrass greens are also a vast improvement, though it might be difficult to go from one course to the other. In fact, the LPGA Tour, which staged the Kia Classic in 2010 at La Costa, will no longer use a combination of holes from each course because of the vast differences between the two. While plans call for the LPGA to play on the Legends Course in its 2012 event, some La Costa officials were hoping the tour would change its mind and opt for the Champions Course, which would be a wise decision.

Practice facilities at La Costa area are more than adequate with plenty of grass and artificial turf tees as well as an extensive practice area.

More photos

Champions golf course at La Costa - hole 6Champions golf course at La Costa - hole 11Champions golf course at La Costa - hole 18

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • La Costa

    Klaus Ahlers wrote on: Nov 29, 2011

    Fine article about the renovation of La Costa and agree that it is a much better golf course. The pictures included in the article do not do it justice; photography is obviously not the photographers’ forte!