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On the road in San Diego: Fantastic golf in America's finest city

By Art Stricklin, Contributor

SAN DIEGO -- Let's play a bit of travel golf word association for a few minutes. Let's think ocean, Gulf Coast? Now add mountains, Mexico? What about palm trees, Florida? Plus 300 days of sunny, low 70-degree weather.

La Costa Resort in Carlsbad - Champions Course - 16th
Players like Nicklaus, Watson and Woods have all conquered the La Costa layout.
La Costa Resort in Carlsbad - Champions Course - 16thTorrey Pines - South golf courseBarona Creek Golf Club

Give up? Ready to make a tee time?

The answer to all this golfing paradise can be found in southern California, more specifically, San Diego.

Billing itself as America's most livable city, the American golfing mecca, proves there is still some truth in advertising left, as the area which borders Mexico and buffers the Los Angeles urban sprawl continues to draw golfers by the thousands and for good reasons.

You have a variety of excellent golfing choices in all variety of styles, prices and services. Many of them framed by the Pacific Ocean, backed by mountains with numerous palms, dozens of native plants and flowers and plenty of sunshine and comfortable temperature.

Sure, there are problems in San Diego. Real estate remains sky high and buying your dream home on the golf course will cost you're an easy seven figures.

But what better place to be during a power blackout then on a beautiful golf course contemplating another challenging approach shot to the green, while the rest of the modernized world shuts down.

There could certainly be worse places to be and there are a lot worse places to be playing golf than San Diego.

Start with the great history and tradition. You have the city of San Diego's public course led by Torrey Pines, where a young Phil Mickelson practiced his short game nearly every day while in high school, then went on to become a PGA Tour superstar with nearly two dozen professional victories in his still young career.

San Diego is good enough to lure Mickelson back home from his newly completed multi-million house in Scottsdale to a seaside home in La Jolla, just north of the city.

Another historical fixture is the famed La Costa Resort and Spa, which has hosted the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions since the 1960s and has recently switched to hosting the World Golf Championships/World Match Play Championship.

Over the last three decades, players like as Nicklaus, Watson and Woods have all conquered the La Costa layout, which is as famous for its world-class spa as its public access golf course.

Need more choices? Less than two miles away from La Costa is the fabulous Four Seasons Aviara Resort and Arnold Palmer designed 18-hole layout. You'll never see more plants and blooming flowers anywhere, outside of a nursery, as you will at Aviara.

Among the newest golf choices in San Diego is the Tom Fazio designed Meadows Del Mar where the expert architect took a great natural site and added his own dramatic touches.

The Barona Creek course sits next to the Indian Casino of the same name, but the course is good enough to merit a solo trip without ever dropping a quarter in the omni-present slot machines.

Steele Canyon, located in the canyons north of the city, hence its name, is another fine choice, along with traditional favorite, Singing Hills.

Golf cost ranges anywhere from a ridiculously cheap $26 for local residents at Torrey Pines, to $185 at La Costa, to just about anywhere in-between.

But San Diego certainly isn't all about golf; there is more than enough to do to fill up any spare time you find yourself with.

You can hang-glide from the cliffs next to Torrey Pines, soaring over the ocean and buzzing the course below. There are plenty of wide-open, sandy expanses of beach all up and down the San Diego coastline, including Black Beach's -- a clothing-optional strip of sand for the more adventuresome.

Another great and cheap thrill is riding the trolley (light rail) all over town, even into Mexico. Fares are mainly less than $3 and give you quick and easy access to most major tourist points in town.

One local favorite is riding the trolley to Jack Murphy Field, home of the NFL's Chargers and major league baseball's Padres. The trolley station drops you off 200 feet from the stadium's front gate and you'll find yourself smiling regardless of the game outcome as you quickly glide toward home as you see the brake lights of the cars jammed up trying to get out of the stadium parking lot.

One local food favorite at the games and other places around town is the fish taco. Its combines San Diego's two favorite food groups, seafood and Mexican, and really taste a lot better than it may sound.

For real San Diego Mexican food, skip the chain restaurants and head to one of the local favorites like Guadalajara's Taco Bar. Located in a strip center, near San Diego State University, just off Interstate 8, it offers a full variety of choices and highly reasonable prices, feeding three a full dinner for under $20.

Need more non-golf activities? There is the world-famous San Diego Zoo located in Balboa Park, the first of the upscale big city zoos and the original Sea World marine park. Of course, the ultimate kids amusement park, Disneyland, is just 70 minutes north in the Los Angeles area.

It's probably too late to discover San Diego before the crowds hit, but if you can't discover a new golfing gem by yourself, then it's never too late to join the bandwagon for great golf and great times in a truly great setting.

Art Stricklin, Contributor

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