Courses / Architecture

Aviara demands players to pay close attention at Kia Classic

No. 8 at Park Hyatt Aviara.
No. 8 at Park Hyatt Aviara.

LPGA Kia Classic; Park Hyatt Aviara; Carlsbad, Ca.

The LPGA sets up shop this week at Park Hyatt Aviara, March 24-27, for the Kia Classic. It’s the Tour’s seventh year at this Arnold Palmer-designed facility located 30 miles due north of downtown San Diego.

The par-72 course plays to an official yardage of 6,558 yards but is shortened on most days – including the weekend – when at least one of two par-4s, the seventh and 16th, are shortened to make them drivable. The more interesting of the two is the 16th, a slightly drivable, decided dogleg left around a lake that intrudes into the front left of the green. The putting surface, which falls away from the line of play, is within reach of long hitters, though many in the field will be able to get there via a carefully placed drive that sneaks up from short right and bends in, making eagle a distinct possibility.

Aviara has a lovely sensibility that is conveyed equally well in person and on camera. The course occupies the space between rolling canyons that overlook and feed down into the Batiquitos Lagoon. That estuarine water body isn’t in play, but it is in view just to the south of the property. The course itself climbs steadily over the first six holes over 200 feet in elevation, then through the more demanding back nine again ascends, though more lightly this time around, before gliding back. Given the terrain, the front nine is not exactly spectator friendly; there’s a lot more room and accessibility over the back nine, especially the concluding three holes.

Low scores are standard here – the average winner the last six years has been 14-under par. The greens here are among the largest the LPGA sees all year, 10,000 square feet in size, so accuracy with irons is not at a premium. Long distance putting is.

The big trouble is on the par-3s, three of which, the 147-yard third, the 181-yard 11th and 168-yard 14th, require carries over lovely, garden-like ponds to well-protected greens.

A round here makes it hard to remember that this part of southern California is, in effect, a well-watered dessert. Luckily, certified superintendent Kevin Kienast has plenty of recycled water to work with. His crew certainly needs it, since those par-3s are heavily planted, and the surround out-of-lay areas are suffused with flowering plants like bougainvillea, lantana and ice plant that set Aviara ablaze in color. And kudos to director of golf Renny Brown and his staff, who oversee an operation whose hospitality befits the luxury of the adjoining Park Hyatt Aviara Resort.

But it’s the golf that concerns us here, and this is where, for all the cultivated beauty of the place, Aviara demands close attention. That short par-4 16th, the drivable one on weekends, will be the last chance to see red. From there in, the finish is a grind. Nobody will even try reaching the 570-yard, par-5 17th in two; the drive zone is narrow, the wind prevailing from the right, and the elevated green is heavily fortified by surrounding mounds and steep falloffs.

As for the final hole, this 382-yard par-4 is demanding in the extreme. The fairway is flanked by water the length of the hole on the right and by two deep bunkers left that keep balls from darting out-of-bounds. The green is equally well defended – by that water on the right and by sand front and back. It’s by far the toughest par-4 on the course and among the LPGA’s most demanding all year.

It all makes for an impressive week for the LPGA – a fine setting that’s also a telegenic stage.


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