Aviara Golf Club & Resort in Carlsbad, CA
Tee Time: July 13, 2016, 7:25, 73 F, sunny
Designer: Arnold Palmer, 1991
Playing Partners: Kevin, Bill and Mike
Tees: Middle, Par 72 (70.0 rating/129 slope/6,054 yards)
Course Handicap: 7 (6.3 index)
Stats: 90 (44-46); 37 putts; 2/14 fairways; 5/18 greens; 7 penalty strokes
After a great week at the Major League All-Star festivities (I wonder how far Giancarlo Stanton could hit a driver), there was just one last thing to do before heading back to the dry desert. That would be getting an early-morning round in at Southern California’s top golf resort, Aviara Golf Club, home of the LPGA Kia Classic. This course must look amazing during the TV coverage, with pristine lakes and scenic waterfall features throughout. I’ll make sure to catch it next spring.
The course opens with a tight-driving, 298-yard par 4 that plays left-to-right. The 2nd is also a tight-driving, 348-yard par 4 that plays right-to-left. The opening par 3 is a visually intimidating shot over the fantastically designed pond and accompanying rolling creek on its right. But it’s only a 122-yard shot with plenty of safe places to bail out. Today we saw something no group before us had ever seen… the new 25th anniversary plaque dedicated to Arnold Palmer near the bridge to the green, dated July 13, 2016. That’d be today!
The par-4 4th is tough with the tree line of OB running the length of its 343 yards, as well as some greenside bunkers at all kinds of tough distances from the pin. The 5th may be the signature hole of the front nine. It plays much longer than its 473 yards, going way uphill to the right with a lot of trouble between your second shot and the green, which in itself is a small, slick surface. The par-3 6th is uphill and 169 yards that completes your climb to the peak of the property. From the tee it looks more like a nursery, with dozens of different types of flowers and bushes of all kinds of vibrant colors distracting you from a tough shot to a green with a severe false front.
There’s a great view waiting at the 7th tee box, a 367-yard par 4 with views of the rolling, craggy hills of Carlsbad and the Aviara resort in the distance. The 489-yard 8th is downhill and you can get a long tee shot here, but there is a lot of water before the green and even guarding the layup zone. There’s even a bunker surrounding the pond to the right, and if you’re in there, its a long carry and an even longer walk around the cart path back to the green. The 9th is a similar par 4 to the 1st, with a tee shot aiming left and the approach to the green back to the right.
Under the watchful eye of the colossal 329-room Park Hyatt, which sits perched atop the resort’s 200 acres, you’ll tee off on the tricky 444-yard par-5 10th. I say tricky because at first glance it looks like a hole you can cut the corner on, carry the large lake left of the fairway and have a second shot of less than 200 yards. Except what no one in our group knew was that if you go anywhere around 15 yards over the lake, you go down into the tree undergrowth and the ball is gone forever. The 11th is the picturesque par 3 with the gentle rolling waterfall down the right side and a pond surrounded by beautiful greenery. I chose this hole to try and win the day’s 25th Anniversary social media contest on Instagram where the best picture would win a free foursome. Sadly, I lost that contest… to some guy who posted a picture with two pics laid out into one post. That’s cheating! Oh well, this round was free anyway, so…
The 12th is a pretty par 4 of 310 yards to a green that actually connects to the 15th. Not really a double green, but at least the mowers can do both in one continuous motion. I like the 13th, a short, 315-yard par 4 that offers a chance to bite off a chunk of the hillside that cuts off the left side, but if you miss your ball is toast. The green is guarded by a deep bunker up front. The 14th is yet another artists dream of a par 3, playing downhill 164 yards more water that comes very much into play on this long shot. The green is the widest on the golf course, nearly 100 yards wide, so take aim at the flag. I learned a valuable lesson while teeing off on the par-5 15th. The marshall came by and handed out some Tootsie Pops on the previous green. So I was still working on it as I stepped up to swing my driver. Just as I completed my shoulder turn, I made an emergency adjustment to avoid jamming the stick down my throat and completely topped that drive right into the brush. Two-shot penalty and a thrown tootsie pop.
The 16th is a fun, downhill 372-yard par 4 that has a tough approach with water right up against the back of the green, so anything long is wet. The 17th is the monster of Aviara, a 554-yard, narrow-fairway par 5 with trouble all down the right side. Just getting to the green in regulation is an accomplishment, and the hole rewards you by giving you a relatively easy green to putt on for birdie.
This is actually the second time I’ve played this course. A long time ago, my brother and I did a Nike golf camp that included rounds at Encinitas, Torrey Pines and here. I think it was middle school. There was a lot of golf and Mario Kart 64 involved, I remember. So it could’ve actually been high school, college or even all of my twenties (which end in a week 😬). I probably played better then than today, but the course is just as nice as my hazy memory recalls it to be. If you can, make sure to get a round here. In the early morning, with the marine layer and mid-sixty-degree weather, it feels like being at a Hawaiian resort course. Only without the five-hour flight and hordes of tourists. When you look at it that way, it’s easy to justify putting down the pricey greens fee for a round well spent.
#18, Par 4, 378 yards, 2-handicap, My Score: 6
My favorite hole is the closing 18th. The tee has the best view of the entire course, with the gorgeous blue pond that shapes the hole framed by the green and brilliant white clubhouse below. Further off in the distance is a view of the lagoon across the road and the smell of the sea. The hole itself is fun, as well. The closer you aim to the water, the shorter your approach. But that fairway really likes to kick a ball to the right, and like mine, two hops and a dive. The green is bordered by another waterfall, of which there must be half-a-dozen of on this Hawaii-themed track.
Layout: B; a fun layout with all the trademark Arnold Palmer traits – lots of water, picturesque greens, playability for all skill levels.
Amenities: A, when you’re the top resort in all of Southern California, you don’t skimp on the little things.
Staff: A-; everyone was very helpful, and the free lollipop is a nice touch. The (-) is for whoever voted for that other guy instead of my picture…
Difficulty: B-; it’s tough for a resort course, but nothing overly penal
Scenery: B; good spots for views, especially that 18th, and lots of flowers for the botany nerds
Value: C+; $230 year round (though the weather is always reliable) is a steep price for a golf course, even with the amenities and Troon-managed quality. The California premium, I suppose.
Overall GPA: 3.11 (B+)