The Club at La Costa in Carlsbad, thirty miles north of San Diego, has been soothing the nerves and tightening the tummies of harried executives, overvexed celebrities, and ageless matrons since 1965. The ingredients for relaxation at this sumptuous decompression chamber are as appealing as one of its spa cuisine entrées: two fine golf courses, a composite of which was played when the Tournament of Champions was played here for thirty years before moving to Hawaii in 1999.
Bordered on three sides by haystack-shaped hills studded with expensive homes, La Costa’s 400-acre spread is centred on its golf courses, the most significant sections of each were designed by Dick Wilson, with later additions and modifications by Joe Lee. There is little to choose between them. Each is an excellent, beautifully conditioned layout with enough water and sand in play to keep the most skilful players alert.
The above passage is an edited extract from Golf Resorts of the World – The best places to stay and play by Brian McCallan.
La Costa also hosted the inaugural WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 1999 and this event was held at the resort for seven out of eight years before moving to Arizona in 2007. The LPGA Tour’s Kia Classic tournament was also played here in 2010 and 2012.
In more recent times, the layout has been renovated by Damian Pascuzzo, along with Steve Pate and Jeff Brauer.
Over the years the name La Costa became synonymous with professional golf. on the PGA Tour. The Tournament of Champions was a long time staple event here in Carlsbad -- 30 years (1969-1989) in total and regularly drew one of the top fields in the sport.
But, when the PGA Tour opted to move the event to Hawaii it was La Costa that served as host to the inaugural WGC Match-Play event. That event was hosted at the facility for seven of eight years - with the 2001 event played in Australia. The LPGA also came calling with the Kia Classic played in 2010 and 2013 before moving to next door neighbor Aviarra. Interestingly, the routing for the events used the first three holes of the Champions Course as well as holes 13-18 for the front nine with holes 10-18 from the companion Legends Course forming the back nine.
Losing the connection to professional golf impacted the facility and prior to being purchased by Omni Hotel & Resorts in 2013, the fall-off was noticeable in terms of course quality and general appearance of the resort.
The renaissance of La Costa is a work in progress and one of the main points of emphasis was getting the two courses -- Champions and Legends -- back to the high levels they had previously demonstrated.
The new superintendent was previously the head person at Kapalua and it's quite of ironic that the man responsible for agronomy is coming from the very facility that has become the new home for the existing Tournament of Champions event.
One of the key first steps was updating and renovating the Dick Wilson design at the more noted Champions Course. That happened in 2011 and was carried by architect Damian Pascuzzo, PGA Tour player Steve Pate and fellow architect Jeff Brauer consulting.
The course is littered with flashing bunkers well-positioned throughout the course. The course follows a fairly straight line going outward and the only really disappointing aspect is the intersection with power lines that can impact tee shots at the par-5 2nd hole. Wilson elevated plenty of the targets and it takes a quality approach game to get near enough to the targets. Among my favorites is the par-4 dog-leg right at the 9th. The hole wraps around an inside corner water hazard and it takes daring tee shot to challenge it. The best part comes with the green protected fiercely in front by a massive bunker and a green that slopes appreciably from back-to-front with pocket areas for pin locations.
The inward half of holes is even more demanding. The par-4 11th is an excellent short par-4 which tempts the big play from the tee but only when married to pinpoint accuracy as water pushes in from the right and bunkers do their part from the left. The long par-4 14th is a brute of a hole -- with a pesky stream that moves perilously close on the left side and crossing far down the drive zone.
The ending trio is exceptional. The par-3 16th commences next to the clubhouse and features a green protected by water and bunkers. It was at this hole that Tiger Woods earned his 3rd PGA Tour win in 1997 by stiffing his approach to eight inches! Talk about a conclusive ender.
The long par-4 17th is a devilish long par-4 of 472 yards. Bunkers guard both sides of the fairway and although the prevailing wind is favorable the demands are no less. Amazingly, the green is one of the facility's very best. The target is not especially large and is divided into two halves -- a lower front and a slightly higher rear section. The approach is tested because of mounding that adds considerably to the challenge -- especially on the right side.
The closing hole -- is a monstrous long par-5 playing back into the prevailing wind off the nearby Pacific Ocean. The necessity to hit the fairway is a crucial element with water off to both sides for the truly wayward effort. The 2nd shot will likely finish behind a creek that runs perpendicular to the line of play. Many players will face anywhere from 125 to 150 yards in for the 3rd shot to an elevated green where a back left placement simply demands nothing less than well-executed play to get near its location.
The Champions Course, for whatever strange reason, has been lost in the shuffle as newer layouts in San Diego County have received more attention. That's truly a shame. The updating of the course just a few years back really helped bring to life the Wilson fingerprints. Those who have the opportunity to come to La Costa will enjoy the various touches Omni has brought to the table and while the golf has returned as a main draw the world renowned spa is no less top tier too.
M. James Ward
Did not like it, my takeaway boring and expensive with lots of bunkers. Also, even though Southern Cal is desert, there was a lot more water than i expected. Good example on the par 5 2nd, it sneaks up on you on the right. The par 5 6th has 8 bunkers, fortunately, I only visited 3 of them. I would say the par 3 8th is long but there is a longer one. All carry over H2O be smart, middle of the green. The par 4 415 yard 9th dogleg right, you tee off out of a chute, carry H2O right. Don't cut too much or you end up in the water but don't go too straight or you will end up in a bunker. Really? The 10th is a par 5 dogleg right, be wary of the left, water all the way down that side after it doglegs. The 12th is just a grab you by the throat 244 yard par 3. This is benign compared to 14, a 493 yard par 4 that is bisected twice by a stream. The 8th is almost 600 yards, carry over water, but be careful as there is water left and right of the landing area.
Save your $$$
I have played La Costa Champions several times as I am local to San Diego. La Costa has hosted PGA, LPGA, and Senior Tour events; so a good historical pedigree.
Champions is a very challenging course; mostly because large and strategically placed bunkering. You will be in sand a lot during the day from both off the tee or greenside. Conditioning is always stellar. Great practice area. And the resort facilities are top-notch.
The 'body of work' from an architecture perspective is very good - a good tournament course. The primary negative is that the holes blend together; too similar.
La Costa is rich in history, having been the site of the Mercedes Championship for many years with golfing great like Jack and Tiger winning the tourney. The course recently underwent major renovations including turf removal and a redesign of four of the holes.
The conditioning of the course was excellent. Greens rolled true, fairways in great shape and the rough was penal but playable. The routing of the course also makes sense with the terrain. For the most part you playing up and back on a valley floor that is hemmed in by houses and hillsides (a little too hemmed in by houses for my taste). There are many water features on the course, several holes play across a stream and there are beautiful lakes framing the back nine holes.
It was a very pleasant day of golf on a good golf course but I just can't call it great. The streams and lakes are beautiful but there is a sameness forced by the topography that starts to creep into the holes and the mostly flat terrain doesn't help matters. The 11th hole is boffo and the back side really is something but you end up wishing the front side and the topography were different or more engaging.
Really enjoyed the course and while parts of it are great, the resulting sum of its parts are good not great.