Reinvention helps La Costa find its way in modern world

La Costa Resort and Spa

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- My most enduring memory of La Costa Resort and Spa is seeing infamous MCA chairman Lew Wasserman gliding out of the coffee shop one night in 1982, his white hair perfectly Brylcreemed into place and his oversize tortoise-shell glasses taking up nearly half the lobby. He smiled and nodded as I poked my brother in the ribs. Had I been anointed by the capo di tutti capi?

Sadly, Wasserman did not subsequently pass the mantle of Archbishop of Hollywood unto me, but I have been a happy repeat offender at La Costa over the years, marveling at its transformation from Vegas-kitschy enclave to its present-day incarnation as a delightful combo platter of wellness and well-drinks.

Yes, Martha, you can zen-chill and party your Izods off at this establishment. And, it goes without saying, play some exceptional golf after fine-tuning your chakras at Deepak Chopra’s Center for Wellbeing. “The moon remains a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup,” the good doctor once uttered, and I guess

I mostly agree. Quantum soup?

I wonder if that comes with croutons?

Today’s La Costa emphasizes fun over fanaticism, even on its hallowed Dick Wilson-designed layout. Beneficiary of a $10 million renovation, the former North Course (redubbed “Champions”) is now far more friendly to the eye, if a couple of strokes more difficult. But fear not, the ever-solicitous Golf Squad is at the ready should you find your ball in a hazard or your knickers in a bunch.

The Golf Squad is a recent innovation at La Costa, comprised of nine personable, turf-war veterans eager to aid and abet an enjoyable round. They appear out of nowhere to rake bunkers, offer shards of local knowledge and even indulge one’s snide queries about where Jimmy Hoffa might be buried. They are not cattle prod-bearing “marshals,” per se, though they do promote pace of play. And if you ask politely, they might even read your putts at no extra charge.

Which is kind of the genius of such a humble plan: You get country-club service without throwing away an extra C-note on a caddie. Plus, they come and go as demand dictates, hanging around for two or three holes before scampering off to entertain and edify another quartet of hackers.

The even better news is that La Costa is no longer the much-vilified mudflat previously known to tour players and civilians alike. Redesign architect Damian Pascuzzo (aided by Steve Pate and Jeff Brauer) improved drainage considerably while radically reshaping tees, greens and fairways. Native grasses now border landing

areas that used to blend in with adjoining holes, adding strategic and aesthetic interest. La Costa is resort-friendly, but certainly no pushover.

Ownership group KSL also has poured some $150 million into the resort’s flower-festooned grounds and white-stucco, red-roofed villa complexes. The spa is world-class, the food reliable and the ambience informal and welcoming.

I’m not sure Wasserman would approve of the comely young DJ blasting electro-pop dance music from the Edge Adult Pool, but it didn’t seem to bother the dudes teeing off on Champions’ par-3 16th. As snare drums sputtered within earshot, one of them lofted a 6-iron over the water to 40 feet from the flag, then watched it trickle

in for an ace. (Tiger Woods only dialed his to within a half-foot to beat Tom Lehman in a playoff there in 1997!)

Raucous cheers erupted from the bikini’d peanut gallery poolside. At last count, the lucky golfer looked like he’d be on the hook for about 50 cocktails. Not your daddy’s La Costa, to be sure, and make mine a double.

– David Weiss is a freelance contributor from Tarzana, Calif.

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