2011 Southern California Golf: The Next La Costa Is Here!

Golf writer Andy Reistetter continues his exclusive “Play-Write” series with an extended visit to the recently renovated La Costa Resort & Spa in Southern California. As part of a Special Media Preview, Reistetter met with architects Damian Pascuzzo, Jeff Brauer and Champions Tour Player Design Consultant Steve Pate, learned the history of La Costa and the inside story of the recent golf course renovations. Truly an exceptional visit to an exceptional place—the Next La Costa is here!   

Golfing foursome on the 16th tee- Jeff Brauer, Andy Reistetter, Steve Pate and Damian Pascuzzo...

Golfing foursome on the 16th tee- Jeff Brauer, Andy Reistetter, Steve Pate and Damian Pascuzzo…

Some things never change, they are simply transformed in the next era.

That is exactly what has happened at La Costa where the final touches of a $50 million renovation by owner KSL Resorts are being completed.

That’s on top of an earlier $150 million upgrade.

Needless to say, La Costa has reinvented herself into the impressive, sophisticated, all-encompassing resort of the future.

Whether you are visiting as a single, a couple, a family or a corporation, everything is there for you at La Costa.

Not too far from Los Angeles or too close to San Diego, this is a special place.

Redesigned and well-appointed guest rooms, suites and villas are your new home.

The family friendly Bistro Legends and the signature Blue Fire Grill are two highly-acclaimed restaurants. The Diversions Sports Bar is another dining option, as well as outside pool and spa cafes.

The quaint village at La Costa...

The quaint village at La Costa…

The Coastal Events Center has 110,000 square feet of flexible meeting and banquet space, while the Coast Costa Del Sol Ballroom is the largest in North San Diego County.

With two championship golf courses, 17 clay and hard surface tennis courts and one of the best spas in the world, once you come on site you will never want to leave.


Plus, there is Splash Landing waterslides, Kidtopia children’s programs and the Vibz Game Lounge for kids of all ages. La Costa is a guaranteed better experience for your kids than any cruise ship that you have ever been on.

Shopping is abundant and unique with Coastal Dunes and Audrey’s Closet to explore. The golf and tennis shops carry all the top brands and are well stocked.

Palm trees greet your arrival at La Costa...

Palm trees greet your arrival at La Costa…

La Costa has a village atmosphere that is well accentuated with three large water fountains, majestic palm trees and an ambiance of restorative peace and tranquility.

Fire atop the water fountains once the sun sets brings additional warmth to a serene setting.

Her Las Vegas desert heritage and Hollywood flair seem to be present as the gentle breezes of the not too distant Pacific Ocean envelop you in a sense of well being.

Golf, namely professional golf, came to La Costa from the desert for the first time in 1969 and stayed for the next 30 years.

Inner sanctum of the Spa at La Costa...

Inner sanctum of the Spa at La Costa…

Like the resort, known as “the best of the best,” the golf tournament’s mission was to determine “the champion of the champions.”

Gary Player won the first Tournament of Champions at La Costa, and Phil Mickelson in 1988 won the last, both for their second time.

In between, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson won it three times on the famed original 1965 Dick Wilson designed “tournament” course.

Lanny Wadkins, Steve Elkington and Tom Kite also won the prestigious event at La Costa.

Johnny Miller’s triumph there in 1974 was one of eight PGA TOUR victories that year, the year after a Sunday 63 won him the U.S. Open at Oakmont CC.

Tiger Woods at La Costa in 2006... Photo Credit: Harry How Getty Images

Tiger Woods at La Costa in 2006… Photo Credit: Harry How Getty Images

Tiger Woods won in 1998 when it was known as the Mercedes Championship.

As Player said in his inaugural win, “this is golf.”

Golf continued at La Costa in 1999 with the very first World Golf Championship.

Never before in the history of the game had the world’s best 64 golfers come together and compete in head-to-head single elimination match play to determine the best golfer in the world.

In the premier event, Jeff Maggert beat Andrew Magee and won $1 million in a 36-hole final that went two extra holes.

The next year, Darren Clarke showed early signs of his recent Open brilliance by defeating Tiger Woods in the final match 4&3.

The WGC Match Play continued at La Costa through 2006, with the exception of 2001 when it went down under to Australia.

La Costa is located near the childhood backyards of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Like San Diego, Phil is closer, but Tiger enhanced his legacy at nearby Torrey Pines with a Monday playoff over Rocco Mediate in one leg in the 2008 U.S. Open.

Tiger also owns the modern golfing legacy at La Costa.

Woods won back-to-back WGC Match Play Championships in 2003 and 2004.

Who can forget the “9&8” drubbing Tiger put on Stephen Ames in a first round match in 2006? Mind you it was an 18-hole match. Mathematically, only “10&8” could have been worse for the outspoken Ames.

Remember the 6-iron to 10 inches in 1998 on the par-3 16th hole to beat Tom Lehman in the first hole of a sudden-death playoff?

In 2010, golf came back to La Costa with South Korea’s Hee Kyung Seo winning the season-opening LPGA event by six strokes.

The LPGA will be back in 2012 with the Kia Classic in mid-March.

Dramatic bunkering on the par-5 second hole...

Dramatic bunkering on the par-5 second hole…

With 45 years of tradition and a superb renovation of 18 holes of championship golf now called the Champions Course, who knows what the future of hosting professional golf tournaments will be for La Costa?

All that is known is that the Resort, Spa and Golf at la Costa have been transformed into the next era and are ready for your visit and the perpetuation of professional golf championships.

Damian Pascuzzo and Steve Pate formed 2P Pascuzzo & Pate Golf Course Design in 2006.

Pascuzzo worked for and became a partner with famed designer Robert Muir Graves right out of college.

The John Goodman look alike brought in Jeffrey Brauer out of Texas to assist with the La Costa project. Both architects, like Graves, are past Presidents of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCS).

Steve Pate, a veteran of 553 PGA TOUR events and a winner of six, finished in the Top Ten of two majors this year as a rookie on the Champions Tour.

A California native and UCLA graduate, Pate’s biggest career victory came in 1988 when he opened with a pair of 66s and won the MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa.

To say La Costa is a special place for Pate is probably an understatement as it was also the place where he came as a child to see his first professional golf tournament.

Pate’s most recent win came last year on the Nationwide Tour in Columbia as he prepared for his May Champions Tour debut.

Needless to say, the design team to renovate La Costa was superb!

6 Dramatic bunkering on the par-5 second hole...Interestingly, the scope of the project was not a renovation of the original Dick Wilson “tournament” 18.

Instead, the scope was to renovate the North Course- the original Dick Wilson tournament front nine and the back nine added by his design partner Joe Lee in 1984.

With new Bent grass greens, the upgraded holes can no longer be combined into a tournament course with the original Bermuda greens.

No longer the North Course, it is now known as the “Champions’ Course.”

Also renovated were four holes of the South Course where Lee added the front nine to Wilson’s tournament back nine in 1973.

The four South holes renovated were the first and last of each nine, all clearly visible from the elevated resort and clubhouse area.

The project significantly improved water flow and drainage of both golf courses by raising fairways and dredging lakes.

Playability under all weather conditions is a key criteria for hosting professional golf tournaments.

Even in Southern California where the song goes that it seems like it never rains but when it does it pours man it pours.

The exciting part of the golf course renovations were the changes to the routing and the bunkers.

The 16th is now a dramatic short par-4 with the green perched out into a lake. This is the ultimate risk-and-reward hole with sand and water hazards guarding the reachable green.

The par-3 17th was shortened from a middle/long iron to a relatively short iron, an 8-iron for this amateur golfer. With an elevated tee, a lake to carry and a shallow green, this hole like the 16th is simply fun to play.

Fairway bunkers that originally were opposite one another in the landing area are now strategically staggered and very appealing from mostly elevated teeing grounds.

The design team used historical deception techniques such as a hidden fairway between seemingly connected bunkers and oversized distant bunkers that appear to be in play but are not unless you are Tiger Woods. This makes for an engaged golfing experience at The Next La Costa that is here now for you to enjoy.

The upgraded green complexes are difficult yet fair to play and incorporate all the latest design techniques and course setup features such as run-off areas and tight and guarded hole locations to test your short game finesse.

Green complex on the uphill par-5 sixth hole...

Green complex on the uphill par-5 sixth hole…

The classical uphill par-5 6th  hole is now a fairer hole to play with visible and built up landing and layup areas.

This is a golf course that fits your eye with dramatic, magnificent elevated tee shots on par-4 holes Nos. 1, 7, 10, and 13, the par-5 11th and the par-3 16th.

Pascuzzo and Pate, along with Brauer, took two nines built years apart and created a unique and special flow of a golf course as it meanders through canyons to the north and then comes gently back to the resort.

There is no higher acclaim for a golf course than for it to be in tune with the land it is built upon. This graceful feeling is there for all to experience on the Champions Course at La Costa.

My only recommendation is not addressed to the golf course or resort renovation but rather to the LPGA’s decision to play the March 2012 Kia Classic on the South Course rather than the newly christened Champions’ Course.

While it is understood that the South is more central to the resort and convenient for the patrons and contains the famous “Longest Mile” finish, the Champions Course is deserving of its first professional golfing event.

It’s a beautiful stroll to the far eighth  green/ninth tee and an opportunity to view the 40 acres of new native grasses. The viewing areas for patrons are outstanding on the Champions layout.

Granted, there is little growing season even in southern California in the next three months, but the greens are rolling true and fast and the fairways seem free of any lingering sod lines.

Just cut the rough, give it a go and let the girls play!

These girls can play and deserve to play on the best tests of golf, including the newly-renovated Champions Course at La Costa!

Christmas tree with fairways of La Costa beyond...

Christmas tree with fairways of La Costa beyond…

Well okay, I do have a second recommendation…let’s get 2Ps & B (Pascuzzo, Pate & Brauer) started renovating the remaining 14 holes before Pate gets healthy and too successful on the Champions Tour.

Then we will have our course for professional golf at La Costa and be able to play it, too.

The new and dramatic Champions’ holes Nos. 16 & 17 as the tournament front nine with the “Longest Mile” finish determining future champions at la Costa.

One thing for sure is that they got the names right—”Champions” Course and The “Next” La Costa!

Some things never change, they are simply transformed in the next era.