Golfing Grows Despite Water Hazards : Popularity on the Upswing, Even With the Drought

Though traditionally considered the domain of the rich and professional, golf is driving through distinctions of age, class and sex to become one of the most popular sports in America.

Twenty-five million Americans now stride upon the links, a whopping 25% increase from just two years ago. Fueled by televised coverage and corporate sponsorship of the Seniors Tour, the Skins Game and the PGA and LPGA Tours, golf is now a $15-billion-a-year business in the United States.

And North County has been in the forefront of the worldwide golf boom. There's a golf course seemingly everywhere you look--and additional courses being built or planned in Carlsbad, Escondido and San Marcos.

But, as the five-year drought continues to plague the Southland and citizens are being asked to make substantial cutbacks in their water use, many people are casting a wary eye toward those verdant expanses.

Just weeks ago, the whole country got a glimpse of the situation when the Shearson Lehman Brothers Open was televised from the Torrey Pines Golf Course. Viewers across the nation saw a course that looked so luxuriantly green that one NBC commentator was moved to quip something to the effect of "Gee, the course looks so great and so green, and here I thought there was supposed to be a drought in Southern California."

The fact is, at least some of North County's golf courses won't be looking quite so green in coming months.

Although many have secondary sources of water such as wells, urban runoff or reclaimed water, some courses are still dependent on municipal water--the supply of which is being drastically limited.

As decisions are made about where to put what water there is, fairways are apt to be sacrificed in favor of greens--the close-cropped putting surface surrounding the hole.

For now, the courses remain healthy. Like everyone else wanting to keep landscapes alive in the face of the drought, golf course managers await decisions on cutbacks, hunt for ways to save, look for alternate sources of water--and hope for rain.

Meanwhile, golfers continue to queue up to play the North County course or courses of their choice.

For as little as $4, they can play 18 holes (early morning or twilight hours) at Center City Golf Course in Oceanside, affectionately known to its regulars as "Goat Hill" because of its hilly, rugged terrain.

Or, for $50,000 plus $400 a month in dues, they may be able to join The Farms Golf Club on St. Andrews Road in Rancho Santa Fe, where the links are said to be reminiscent of those in Scotland, birthplace of the game.

Of the 78 courses at 64 golf clubs listed by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, about two-thirds are in or near North County. The area, with its open spaces and year-round play, is a haven for golfers. In addition to serving local players, the courses attract large numbers of tourists each year.

"Almost all the courses are in North County," said Wendell Wilson, publisher of a pocket guide map called the "San Diego County Golf Courses Road Map and Directory." "If you look at San Diego County, there's more access up in North County, by far. The Poway-Rancho Bernardo area has a lot of courses, and so does Escondido. Then you can head north to Temecula Creek and Rancho California."

Jim Gilbert is director of golf for Meadow Lake Country Club, a challenging, hilly course in Escondido. "You can come to the area, stay for two weeks of golfing every day and still not play all the courses within 10 or 15 miles," he said.

Ron Estoque of Oceanside spends as much time as possible on the golf courses of North County. He began playing in 1960 in Okinawa, where he received some informal lessons from fellow Marine Lee Trevino.

Estoque, who has been golfing in North County since the mid-1970s, is team captain for men's match play at Oceanside Municipal Golf Course.

"Golf has really grown in the 15 years since I began playing here," he said. "Now people are lined up outside on weekend mornings, waiting for the courses to open. But you can still get on most of the public courses, especially Oceanside, at a good price. You can play Fallbrook, San Luis Rey Downs, Temecula Creek and even Torrey Pines, although it's a lot harder to get on there."

A golfer does not play against other golfers, but plays against the course and his or her record. That is perhaps why the game is known for uncovering every weakness of mind and character.

The premise is simple: Using the fewest number of strokes, get the ball in the designated hole. Par is the total number of strokes an experienced golfer would need to get the ball off the tee, onto the green and into the hole--which is marked by a flag to keep the golfer on target.

There are basically two types of courses: the regulation (or full-size) course and the executive (or short course). Either way, the golfer usually plays 18 holes in one round of golf.

The regulation course is dominated by longer par 4 and par 5 holes, the executive course by par 3 holes, with a few par 4's usually thrown in for good measure.

Executive courses are favored by those who don't have four or five hours to play, or don't feel their game is to the point where they can hit the ball 600 yards in three or four whacks.

The holes themselves are arranged in groups of nines, and courses typically have a front nine and a back nine. The clubhouse lounge--where the day's hits and misses are recounted--is commonly referred to as the 19th hole.

Some courses are open to the public; others are limited to members and their guests. Those associated with resorts are usually open to the public, but are apt to charge more than a municipal course.

Most courses have a golf pro on hand to give lessons and oversee activity. Lessons cost about $25 for half an hour, more or less depending on the instructor. The pro shop usually on site sells golf equipment and accessories. A set of clubs can cost $200 to $1,000. Beginners sometimes choose to buy a used set from someone who has either improved or given up the game in despair.

While executive courses are an excellent place to learn the game of golf, it is still prudent to start at a driving range, where you can begin the ever-difficult task of trying to hit that tiny white ball in a straight line.

The most popular course in all of San Diego County is Torrey Pines Golf Course, on the coast between La Jolla and Del Mar. More than 193,000 rounds were played there last year.

Set majestically above the Pacific Ocean, and often swept by chilling winds, this 36-hole municipal gem affords everyday golfers a chance to play in a country club setting, and play the same course that their favorite professional golfers do during the Shearson Lehman Brothers Open.

"A lot of people want to come here because of the name Torrey Pines and because of the tournament," said head professional Ed Money. "But the location draws a lot of people. You're right over the ocean--the scenery is awesome."

Torrey Pines has a north and south course, each a par 72. The south course is slightly longer than the north and seems to be a bit more popular, although not with everyone.

"Most people like the south course better, but I prefer the north," said Money. "To me, it has more charm. My favorite hole is probably No. 6. You're elevated way above the green, and you have the ocean and La Jolla in the background. It's gorgeous. The 7th is another favorite. It's an uphill, tight-driving hole, parallel to the ocean. You're up on the cliff above Black's Beach, and when you turn and look back you get a fantastic view of the coastline as it wraps around into La Jolla."

Another much-used North County municipal course is the Oceanside Golf Course (120,000 rounds played in 1990), which gets high marks on affordability, availability of play and the condition of the course.

"The conditions right now are great," said head pro Fred Wood. "The golf course is in real good shape. It's also very affordable. The first thing people ask is, 'What's it going to cost me to play.' "

Whispering Palms Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe has 27 holes, which can be played in three combinations of 18: the east-south, the north-south and the north-east courses. Each course is more than 6,100 yards, with the east nine playing at about 3,400 yards. Last year, 130,000 rounds were played at Whispering Palms.

Even in the country club setting, rates are important, said John Combs, the pro at Whispering Palms. "So is playing time. You don't want to be out on the golf course for eight hours," he said.

A 100-room hotel is on the premises and golf packages are available. Club memberships are also available at $2,000. Challenging greens, water hazards and well-placed bunkers add allure to the course, which was built in 1964. Ride-in carts are not mandatory, and, in fact, more people seem to walk the course.

"It's relatively flat, and it's an easy course to walk," said Combs. "We get about 60% walkers to 40% who take carts."

The Rancho Bernardo Inn and Country Club offers golf at its best to the public and guests of the 287-room resort.

"We have wonderful conditions now; it's very playable," said Tom Wilson, director of golf. "The course is in a valley setting, and the perennial rye and bluegrass makes it real lush."

Like the other courses in the area, Rancho Bernardo (53,000 rounds in 1990) stays busy all year.

"January through Easter is our busiest time of the year; that's when we get the most tourists and visitors," Wilson said. "The rest of the year is still pretty busy, but in the summer, when there's more daylight, it spreads the crowd out over the day."

Wilson recommends the par 5 18th hole. "You hit off an elevated tee, and it drops down into a valley setting. The second shot is where the trouble starts. You've got to place it between a lake on the left and a forest of trees on the right. There's a cascading waterscape, then an elevated, three-tiered green."

Reasonably priced Fallbrook Golf Club and Country Club is another course known for its striking beauty.

"We can hold our own," said head pro Blair Cooke. "We're not a resort course, so we try to make green fees as competitive as we can. We have a lot of players who come from out of the area on weekends."

"It's not a super-long course, so the average player won't have a problem with the length, but the holes are tight enough to challenge the more advanced player," Cooke said. "We have a lot of trees that were here before the golf course--native live oaks, sycamore and eucalyptus--we have 80, 90, 100-foot trees."

Golfers at Fallbrook (76,000 rounds last year) soon find out that the sixth fairway is the home of a vociferous red-tailed hawk, who's not afraid to let everybody know that its nest is in the area. (Not advisable to hit your ball into its tree.)

On the 16th hole, another favorite, the ball must be hit across a serene lake.

Long, green fairways and giant oak trees highlight Castle Creek Country Club in Escondido (70,000 rounds in 1990).

"It's one of the oldest courses in North County," said Michael Warren, who's been general manager at the club for 13 years. "They built the original clubhouse in 1956, and the green fees were 50 cents."

Nowadays, the picturesque 14th hole is Warren's favorite. "It's the prettiest hole, though not necessarily the hardest. You're shooting over a creek, then your next shot is over a lake."

Set among the rock-studded slopes of Escondido, Meadow Lake Country Club (55,000 rounds last year) is a hilly course with panoramic views and giant oak trees. "It's a real country atmosphere," said Jim Gilbert, the golf director.

"On the 17th hole, you tee off over two big rocks to a dogleg left. It's a natural setting of hills and trees, and the green is tucked into a hill, surrounded by oaks. The most scenic hole is No. 5. You hit off an elevated tee, and if you look out, you get an unobstructed view of the San Jacinto mountain range and Palomar Mountain."

If asked to name the most beautiful course in the North County area, many golfing enthusiasts would pick Rancho California Golf Course in Murrieta.

It was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and features lush, undulating fairways.

"It's a long and challenging course with steep, rolling hills. It's a well-laid-out course--and it's affordable," said head professional Wayne Hudson.

You can test your mettle at the 12th hole, a par 4, dogleg left to a well-bunkered, two-tiered green.

San Vicente Country Club in Ramona is a Ted Robinson-designed course that offers plenty of challenge with its narrow fairways and giant oaks and pines.

"It's a real pretty course," said head pro Terry Horn. "It's built through a valley and uses the lay of the land."

Another Ted Robinson course is at Temecula Creek Inn, an 80-room resort with a 27-hole course. The new Stonehouse 9 joins with the Creek and the Oaks 9 and gets plenty of attention from resort guests and visiting golfers.

Mike Bratschi, the resident pro, recommends the 9th hole on Stonehouse, where an approach shot to the green must carry over water.

Among the notable executive courses in North County is Oaks North Golf Course in Rancho Bernardo, a 27-hole course.

"We have trees and lakes and everything a big course has, but it's not as intimidating. You get out on some of those par 5's (on a regulation course) and that flag looks an awfully long ways away," said Alice Herzog, shop manager.

The 8th hole on the south nine (there are also east and north courses) comes highly recommended by Herzog.

"It's a difficult par 3 over water from an elevated tee to an elevated green," she said.

Rodger Wagner, head professional at Lake San Marcos Executive Golf Course in San Marcos, said he always advocates learning at a driving range.

"A lot of junior golfers come to an executive course after they practice at the driving range. It's a very good way to get a feel for the game," he said.

As a favorite hole, Wagner likes the feel of the 7th hole at the San Marcos Executive.

"It's a 167-yard uphill par 3, and most of the time there's a breeze in your face," he said. "It's well-bunkered to the left, and has a tricky putting green.

Other popular executive courses are Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido, a favorite with older golfers; Emerald Isle in Oceanside, which lives up to its name with water hazards and lush green fairways, and Rancho Carlsbad, a well-kept course relatively easy to get onto.

Golf Course Guide


Torrey Pines Golf Course

11480 N. Torrey Pines Road

San Diego, CA 92037


Head Pro: Ed Money

Fees must be paid in cash.

San Diego County residents: M-F $20, weekends $22. (Resident ID card required; costs $7 annually).

Non-residents: M-F $35; weekends $40.

Reservations: To play Saturday. call preceding Monday at 8 a.m.; to play Sunday, call Tuesday at 8 a.m.; to play M-F, call 2 days prior at 1 p.m.

Whispering Palms Country Club

4000 Concho De Golf

Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067


Head Pro: John D. Combs

Fees: M-F $23; weekends $28.

Carts not mandatory, $22

Lomas Santa Fe (Executive)

1580 Sun Valley Road

Solana Beach, CA 92075


Manager: Vickie Paul

Fees: M-F $11; weekends $13

Optional carts: M-F $13; weekends $14.

Rancho Carlsbad Golf Course


5200 El Camino Real

Carlsbad, CA 92008


Head Pro: Craig Hunt

Fees: 18 holes $8; 9 holes $4.50; M-F after 2 p.m. $4.50 for 18 holes.

No ride-in carts. Pull carts $1.50.

Emerald Isle Golf Course (Executive)

660 S. El Camino Real

Oceanside, CA 92056


Head Pro: Jack Sances

Fees: M-F $9; weekends $10; after 2 p.m., M-F $6; after 2 p.m. weekends $7.

Carts: M-F $9; weekends $12; seniors Tues., Wed., Thurs. $6.

Center City Golf Course

2323 Greenbrier

Oceanside, CA 92054


Manager: Ludwig Keehn

9 holes only

Fees: M-F $5 for 9 holes, cart $7; $9 for 18 holes (play twice), cart $13; weekends add $1 to all prices.

Lower rates for twilight and early-bird play.

Oceanside Municipal Golf Course

825 Douglas Drive

Oceanside, CA 92054


Head Pro: Fred Wood

Fees: M-F $10; weekends $15; twilight (after 2:30) M-F $5.50; weekends $8. Carts $16.

San Luis Rey Downs Resort

31474 Golf Club Drive

Bonsall, CA 92003


Head Pro: "Pinky" Stevenson

Fees: M-F $12-$28 with ride-in cart; weekends, $35 with mandatory cart; after 3 p.m., M-F $11-$15 riding, Sat.-Sun. $18 riding.

Fallbrook Golf and Country Club

2757 Gird Road

Fallbrook, CA 92028


Head Pro: Blair Cooke

Fees: M-F $18; weekends $22; M-F after 2 p.m. $15 for 18 holes, $9 for 9 holes; weekends after 2 p.m. $18 for 18 holes; $10.50 for 9 holes. Carts--$16 for 18 holes, $10 for 9 holes.

Lake San Marcos Executive

Golf Course

1556 Camino Del Arroyo

San Marcos, CA 92069


Head Pro: Rodger Wagner

Fees: $10 seven days a week; twilight $6; carts $12, not mandatory.

Carmel Highlands Resort

14455 Penasquitos Drive

San Diego, CA 92128


Head Pro: Mike Flanagan

Fees: M-F $30, optional cart $10; weekends $50, includes mandatory ride-in carts.

Senior Citizens: M-F $30, includes mandatory ride-in cart.

Carmel Mountain Ranch

Country Club

Carmel Ridge

San Diego, CA 92128


Head Pro: Gary Glaser

Fees: M-F $40; weekends $60, includes mandatory cart.

Rancho Bernardo Inn

and Country Club

17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive

San Diego, CA 92128


Director of Golf: Tom Wilson

Fees: $39; after noon $18.

Carts: $11 per person (mandatory 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

Oaks North Golf Course (Executive)

12602 Oaks North Drive

San Diego, CA 92128


Three par 4s on each nine; 27 holes.

Head Pro: Craig Clark

Fees: 18 holes: M-F $18; weekends $20; carts $16;

9 holes: M-F $12, weekends $14, carts $11.

Meadow Lakes Country Club

10333 Meadow Glen Way E.

Escondido, CA 92026


Golf Director: Jim Gilbert

Fees: M-F $32; weekends $36; includes cart; after 1 p.m. $19.

Lawrence Welk Resort

(two executive courses)

8860 Lawrence Welk Drive

Escondido, CA 92026

Director of golf: Cachi Trejo

The Fountains


(Eight par 4s; par 62)

Fees: M-F $28, weekends $32, includes mandatory cart; lower twilight rates.

Oaks Par 3 Course

(54 par)


Fees: $12; cart $12, not mandatory; lower twilight rates.

Castle Creek Country Club

8797 Circle R Drive

Escondido, CA 92026


Head Pro: John Urner

Fees: M-F $17; weekends $23.

Pala Mesa Resort & Golf Club

2001 S. Highway 395

Fallbrook, CA 92028


Head Pro: Chris Starkjohann

Fees: M-Th $45, Fri.-Sun. $60, includes mandatory ride-in cart.

Temecula Creek Inn & Country Club

Box 129

Temecula, CA 92390

(714) 676-2405 or (619) 728-9100

Head Pro: Mike Braschi

Fees: 18 holes M-F $28, weekends $39; ride-in carts $11; 9 holes M-F $16; weekends $22.

Rancho California Golf Course

38275 Murrieta Hot Springs Road

Murrieta, CA 92362

(714) 677-7446

Golf Director: Lou Skovron

Head Pro: Wayne Hudson

Fees: M-F $35, weekends $50, includes mandatory cart; after 2 p.m. M-F $18, weekends $26.

San Vicente Country Club

24157 San Vicente Road

Ramona, CA 92065


Head Pro: Terry Horn

Fees: M-F $35, weekends $45, includes mandatory ride-in cart; after 2 p.m. M-F $16, weekends $19, to walk.

Roadrunner Club (Executive)

1010 Palm Canyon Drive,

Box 308

Borrego Springs, CA 92004


Closed Tuesday and Thursday until noon for league play.

All holes 3-par.

Fees: $15 seven days a week, pull carts $1, no ride-in carts.

Rams Hill Country Club

1881 Rams Hill Road

Borrego Springs, CA 92004


Head Pro: John Bell

Fees: $70, includes ride-in cart.


Lomas Santa Fe Country Club

Lomas Santa Fe Drive

Solana Beach, CA 92075


Head Pro: Robert Bellesi

550 Members

Members and guests only, non-reciprocal.

Fairbanks Ranch Country Club

15150 San Dieguito Road

Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067


Golf Director: Richard "Tag" Merritt

485 Members

Members and guests, reciprocal.

The Farms Golf Club

Box 5025

Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067


Golf Director: Tommy Jacobs

Head Pros: Tommy Jacobs, John Schroeder

225 Members

Members and guests, reciprocal.

Rancho Santa Fe Country Club

La Granada

Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067


Head Pro: Chuck Courtney

Members and guests only, non-reciprocal.

Lake San Marcos Country Club

(142 Rooms at Quail's Inn)

1750 San Pablo Drive

San Marcos, CA 90269


Head Pro: Bob Hitzel

Members and guests only with limited reciprocal play.

La Costa Hotel & Spa Golf Course

(482 Rooms)

Costa Del Mar Road

Carlsbad, CA 92008


Golf Director: John Spiroplaus

750 Members

Members and their guests and guests of the hotel only.

Shadowridge Country Club

1980 Gateway Drive

Vista, CA 92008


Head Pro: Hank George

525 Members

Members and guests only, reciprocal.

El Camino Country Club

(42 Rooms)

3202 Vista Way

Oceanside, CA 92056


Golf Director: Tommy Jackson

Members and guests only, reciprocal.

Vista Valley Country Club

29354 Vista Valley Drive

Vista, CA 92038


Head Pro: Phil Machamer

Members and guests only, reciprocal only for clubs outside of Southern California.

Escondido Country Club

1800 W. Country Club Lane

Escondido, CA 92926


Head Pro: Tom Sims

Members and guests only, non-reciprocal.

Rancho Bernardo Golf Club

12280 Greens East Road

San Diego, CA 92128


Head Pro: Richard Carmody

Members and guests only.

Bernardo Heights Country Club

16066 Bernardo Heights Parkway; San Diego, CA 92128


Head Pro: Russ Bloom

Members and guests only, limited reciprocality.

Stoneridge Country Club

17166 Stoneridge Country Club Lane; Poway, CA 92064


Golf Director: Ben Stewart

Members and guests, reciprocal.

Pauma Valley Country Club

Highway 76, Box 206

Pauma Valley, CA 92061


Head Pro: Bill Stutzer

Members and guests only, non-reciprocal.

De Anza Country Club

509 Catalina Drive, Box 116

Borrego Springs, CA 92004


Head Pro: Denny Mays

Members and guests only, non-reciprocal.

Warner Springs Ranch Golf Club

Highway 79

Warer Springs, CA 92086


Head Pro: Rex Pietz

Fees: M-F $35, weekends $45, includes mandatory carts.

Members and guests, reciprocal. Available to public by reservation.



For military personnel, dependents and their guests only.

Marine Memorial Golf Course

Marine Corps Base

Camp Pendleton, CA 92055


Head Pro: Rich Dubs

Fees: E-5 and below $7,

E-6 and above $10, guests $15.

After 1 p.m. half price.

Ride-in-carts $14.

Miramar Memorial Golf Course

NAS Miramar

San Diego, CA 92145


Head Pro: Pam Prokop

Fees: seven days a week,

E-4 and below $5, E-5 and above $10.

Guests $15, Carts $14.

After 2 p.m., military $5, guests $8.


All three driving ranges have pro shops, putting greens, club rentals and golf lessons. Olympic Resort and Surf & Turf are lighted for night use.

Olympic Resort and Driving Range

6111 El Camino Real

Carlsbad, CA 92008


Head Pro: Jack Miller

A high-end driving range. The buckets of balls are more expensive, but you shoot at colored flags that are set in pools of water.

Surf & Turf Driving Range

15555 Jimmy Durante Blvd.

Del Mar, CA 92014


Head Pro: Wayne Searle

60 spaces to hit from.

60 balls for $4, 100 balls for $5.

Practice Perfect Golf Range

26351 N. Center City Parkway

Escondido, CA 92026


Pro: Rich Hobson

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday March 14, 1991 San Diego County Edition North County Focus Page 7 Metro Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction Golf Course--Because of a typographical error, Focus incorrectly reported last Thursday the fees for a round of golf at San Luis Rey Downs Resort in Bonsall. The regular fee Monday through Friday is $20 to $28.
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