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Fazio-revamped Grand Golf Club in San Diego makes luxury excess meet inspiration

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

The Grand Golf Club at the Grand Del Mar Resort is a lofty name that takes a lot to live up to. Tom Fazio's revamped course delivers, though. From opulent touches like forecaddies to a massive clubhouse, this unlike any golf course in San Diego.

Grand Golf Club - San Diego
You haven't seen anything before like the Grand Golf Club in San Diego.
Grand Golf Club - San DiegoGrand Golf Club - Hole 18Grand Golf Club - Waterfall

SAN DIEGO - It seems sort of silly at first to be a lone golfer heading to the first tee in a golf cart with a caddie along for the ride. Does a single using a golf cart need a caddie?

Probably not for any conventional round at any conventional golf course. But the Grand Golf Club isn't going for the ordinary - or even a typical try at the extraordinary. So, even singles get their own forecaddies at this revamped Tom Fazio course that runs through the Penasquitos Canyon Reserve.

The Grand Golf Club at Grand Del Mar Resort - a formerly private course bought out by the owners of the new linked resort - isn't going for over-the-top luxury. Instead, it's reaching for completely unexpected luxury, the type of touches that surprise even people who run companies and frequent $400-a-night resorts; things such as forecaddies for even single players and beverages and snacks being included in the green fee.

"We charge enough for the golf that everything has to be beyond first class," Director of Golf Shawn Cox said, noting Grand's $230 Monday-through-Thursday and $250 Friday-through-Sunday greens fee. "People don't want to be reaching into their wallet all day when they're out on the course."

Still, this doesn't stop many $200-plus golf courses from nickel and diming their customers (in truth, it's more like dollaring and five dollaring these days).

Grand Golf Club carries something of a deliberate different feel. When you first walk into the 50,000-square-foot clubhouse with the Mediterranean architecture, your natural instinct is to speak a little softer than usual. It's like someone accidentally gave you the key to one of those Masters of the Universe retreats. It's the golf equivalent of George gaining entry into that forbidden city of models in "Seinfeld."

Only at The Grand, they want you to have the key.

This isn't a pretentious place. Cox - a former University of Washington football player who's worked at both the public muni Torrey Pines and the exclusive La Jolla Country Club - is too much of a people person to ever set that type of a tone.

The Grand's welcoming. It encourages you to jump right into a land where golfing without a caddie is so ... unnecessary.

After a few moments of awkwardness - of feeling like you should ask the caddie if he wants to play, too - going around the course with your own personal caddie who isn't even carrying your bag (you have that cart) becomes something of an unexpected joy. It's like driving a Porsche to the corner store.

Completely unnecessary? Perhaps. Wicked fun? No doubt.

The vibe wouldn't work if the golf course didn't measure up to all these luxury touches, though. Phil Mickelson's agent hanging out on the driving range would be more annoying than interesting if The Grand disappointed.

Fazio delivers, though - even more so now that a golf course that only opened in 1999 has been given a makeover fit for one of those Bravo network shows that seem to replay every hour.

No matter how many golf courses you've played in the San Diego area, Grand Del Mar's course is unlike any you've experienced here before. It's not about the water or Pacific views at Grand. It's about shots up and down and all around, the type of striking green canyon area you probably didn't know San Diego had. Grand Del Mar Resort is close to Del Mar's trendy communities and shopping areas, but it's another world removed in feel.

You're really set apart from anything else at Grand Del Mar. There is nowhere this is more evident than when you're out on the golf course, standing up on a tee that seems to put you almost eye-to-rooftop with the expensive homes in the distance.

The perch from No. 15 is particularly gulp-inducing. Not because of the view. Oh, that's plenty nice. But the 230-yard carry required to just reach fairway from the back tee on this 416-yard par 4 replaces ogles over the scene with thoughts of score survival.

Your forecaddie is there to provide morale support, though. Don't worry, he'll politely look away when you send a golf ball zooming into a thicket of towering brush that even the Navy Seals couldn't infiltrate.

The Verdict on the Grand Golf Club

You get your money's worth at the Grand Golf Club. It's one of the more interesting golf courses in San Diego, one of the more unique scenes you'll find anywhere. One of the joys is how uncrowded the course is.

This is the only Tom Fazio design in San Diego, and on a slow weekday, it can almost be your personal playground. The owners of the Grand Del Mar Resort aren't concerned with jamming up the tee sheet. The golf course is largely an amenity for guests of a resort that's trying to do something different than the rote, almost-by-the-numbers luxury offered by high-end chains like the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons.

The commitment to doing more can be seen in the recent makeover that saw a rather benign 16th hole get transformed into a fun 515-yard par 5 that has you shooting down a dogleg fairway toward a green that ends at a lake. Grand added 115 yards to No. 16 and a $1 million waterfall right behind No. 18. (You shoot across the waterfall's running creek to reach the green.)

Special Palm Springs bunker sand was even brought in and 250 mature trees planted (as if there weren't enough of them running through these canyons). The Grand Golf Club's not a completely new course from the one formerly known as Meadows Del Mar.

But it's definitely a completely new experience - one where ordinary is tossed out the window.

San Diego hotels

As good as the golf course is, the Grand Del Mar Resort is 10 times better. This will be one of the best places you've ever stayed even if you're used to only staying at places on Conde Nast's Gold List. The suites are more like mini castles, complete with a dining room fit to host a visiting head of state.

If you're even a semi-foodie, a meal at Grand Del Mar's Addison might be your version of a religious experience. It's even better than both the course and the resort.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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Dates: January 18, 2018 - December 31, 2018
Play one round at The Grand Golf Club, a Tom Fazio masterpiece course situated amidst Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, and one round at Torrey Pines Golf Course, which is a PGA TOUR stop offering stunning coastal views.
Price range: $525