Fringe Benefits: San Diego Travel

A variety of top golf courses adds to the draw and spectacular options awaiting visitors to the San Diego region


Maderas Golf Club flows through the rolling hills of north San Diego County. (Aidan Bradley)

The greater San Diego area has a lot to boast about, from its impeccable weather, vibrant downtown and harbor to pristine beaches, top universities, theaters and museums.

And then there’s golf.

The region has played host to the U.S. Open, scores of PGA Tour events, is an epicenter of golf equipment manufacturing and has spawned such legendary players as Billy Casper, Gene Littler, Phil Mickelson and Craig Stadler.

Approximately 95 golf courses are in the sprawling county, which stretches from the Mexico border to the south, the Salton Sea to the east and Orange and Riverside counties to the north. And while courses are liberally scattered across the vast territory, the highest concentration is within a 30-minute drive of downtown San Diego.

The Crossings at Carlsbad features a 28,000-square-foot clubhouse overlooking the ninth hole.

Let’s start our journey in Carlsbad, a seaside town about 35 miles north of downtown that is also home to heavyweight golf companies Callaway, TaylorMade, Cobra and others. It also has one of the most scenic municipally owned courses in the state, as well as one of its finest high-end golf resorts.

The municipal is The Crossings at Carlsbad, which opened in 2007. The Greg Nash design runs through coastal terrain, including canyons, and stretches 6,835 yards from the back tees. Five bridges help players traverse the canyons, which are linked to a three-mile hiking trail. Ocean views can be seen from each hole on the front nine, while the back nine winds through canyons with multiple forced carries. After opening, the course was named one of the top 10 new courses to play by a national golf publication.

Fives miles south is La Costa Resort and Spa, a regular entrant on national lists of top golf resorts. The facility, which includes a hotel and spa, opened its first 18 holes in 1965 and added nine more in 1973 and a final nine in 1984. It has hosted numerous PGA Tour events, including the Accenture Match Play Championship, and also hosts the LPGA Tour’s Kia Classic. Following a renovation of the guest rooms and spa in 2011, La Costa embarked on a full remodel of the North Course and four holes on the South Course. The new Champions Course plays 7,172 yards for professionals but includes five other sets of tees, including one for families that maxes out at 4,356 yards. The South Course, which is the site of the Kia Classic, is 7,077 yards from the tips. An array of golf packages, including stay-and-play options, are offered throughout the year.

The Champions Course at La Costa recently underwent a complete redesign.

For a golf facility that won’t stretch the pocketbook, the Welk Resort is about 10 miles north of Escondido. An 18-hole executive course, The Fountain, and a par-3 course, The Oaks, are on the property, which bears the name of legendary entertainer Lawrence Welk. The executive course is 4,000 yards from the tips, so it won’t test your long game, but David Rainville’s design features lots of trees and water, including a lake on the par-3 first hole shaped like a champagne glass.

Our northernmost option is Arrowood Golf Course, located in Oceanside about 13 miles north of Carlsbad. Designed by Ted Robinson Jr., Arrowood is a 6,721-yard track with elevation changes, tricky bunkers and two of the best finishing holes in the region – Nos. 16 and 18 – that feature greens guarded by lakes.

The city of Poway, located inland about 30 miles north of San Diego, features two stellar public tracks. Maderas Golf Club is a Robert Muir Graves and Johnny Miller-designed course that flows through the rolling hills. Three lakes, five waterfalls and 40 acres of natural wildflowers contribute to the ambiance of the course, which measures 7,167 yards from the back tees.

The North Course at Lake San Marcos is a parkland-style track built in 1963.

About 10 minutes north of Poway is Escondido, which has two courses designed by David and Harry Rainville. Escondido Country Club was founded in 1962 as a private course, but it turned semi-private in 2010. At only 6,140 yards from the tips, the course’s length isn’t tremble-inducing, but the greens are fast and subtle and a creek winds throughout the layout. Even though it’s on hilly terrain, the course is very walkable.

Nine miles west of Escondido is Lake San Marcos Country Club, a private resort course situated alongside a lake. The North Course, which opened in 1963, is a parklands design that plays 6,426 yards from the tips. There’s also a 2,700-yard par-58 track that is open to the public.

There are three other top-notch properties a little farther south.

Steele Canyon features three distinct nines designed by Gary Player.

In Jamul, about 20 miles east of downtown San Diego, is Steele Canyon Golf Club, a facility with three distinct nines designed by Gary Player. The course, which opened in 1991, features elevation changes on the Canyon nine, a working ranch setting on the Ranch nine and streams and woodlands on the Meadows nine. All three are par-35 layouts, with the longest being the Ranch at 3,535 yards.

About seven miles north in El Cajon is Sycuan Golf & Tennis Resort, which includes 54 holes, a 100-room hotel and a 120,000-square-foot casino nearby. Once known as Singing Hills Country Club, the three tracks include the 6,687-yard Willow Glen, the 6,682-yard Oak Glen and a par-3 course called Pine Glen. The longer courses opened in the late 1950s but received a redesign from Ted Robinson following flooding in 1978 and 1980. The facility has hosted Junior World Golf events, the San Diego Junior Amateur and was a qualifying site for the U.S. Public Links.

Sycuan Golf & Tennis Resort in El Cajon is the only 54-hole facility in the region.

About 18 miles south of Steele Canyon is Salt Creek Golf Club in Chula Vista. With mountain views and its location near a wildlife preserve, the 6,889-yard course has a different feel from most of courses on our list. With a course rating of 73.4 from the tips, it also presents a formidable challenge, but generous fairways can reduce the bite.


Arrowood Golf Course
(760) 967-8400

The Crossings at Carlsbad
(760) 444-1800

Escondido Country Club
(760) 743-3301

La Costa Resort and Spa
(760) 438-9111

Lake San Marcos Resort
(760) 744-1310

Maderas Golf Club
(858) 451-8100

Salt Creek Golf Club
(619) 482-4666

Steele Canyon Golf Club
(619) 441-6900

Sycuan Golf & Tennis Resort
(619) 442.3425

The Welk Resort
(760) 749-3225

To book your San Diego golf vacation, call (800) 577-3787 or visit

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