La Costa makeover heralds playability, conditioning

La Costa Resort and Spa

Somewhere along the line, golf stopped being designed around fun. Perhaps more down-to-earth renovations such as the one done at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa’s Legends Course will get golf back to what it’s supposed to be: interesting and enjoyable, rather than a chore.

Steve Pate calls it the difference between recreational golf and competitive golf. Back in the late 1980s, when he was beginning a successful PGA Tour career (six victories, a member of winning Ryder Cup teams in 1991 and '99), Pate noticed a big gap between how his peers played and how everyday golfers fared.

“We’d be playing pro-ams on TPC courses,” Pate said, “where our winning scores were 18 under and yet the amateurs couldn’t finish a round.”

Nowadays, Pate, 52, straddles both worlds. He competes on the Champions Tour and also maintains a design practice with veteran architect Damian Pascuzzo that focuses on everyday playability. At La Costa, the two teamed with designer Jeff Brauer (a legendary geek on matters of drainage and construction specifications) on a $13 million upgrade of the 36-hole resort, with construction by Aspen Golf.

Dick Wilson designed the original 18-hole La Costa course in 1964. It subsequently was split up and expanded into two adjoining 18-hole layouts. The original (recombined) routing was the staging ground for the many PGA Tour events from 1969 to 2006.

It’s not an ideal site because of heavy, poorly draining soils that underlay the two courses. La Costa sits in a huge natural drainage basin for what seems like half of northern San Diego County. Two creeks feed through the property and drain (ostensibly) into the Batiquitos Lagoon. This, in turn, empties into the Pacific Ocean three miles west of the resort. But when heavy rains come and the high tide backs up into the lagoon, storm water cascading down the surrounding hills has no place to go but onto the golf grounds. That explains the recurring images during tournament play of golf balls plugging in soaked fairways and greens.

Much of that has now been alleviated. Work on the Champions Course, completed in 2011, included all new bunkers, expanded drainage and sand capping of fairways. Renovation on the Legends Course, finished in November, entailed reconstruction of bunkers and greens and regrading to steer more excess water into low-lying peripheral native areas.

Along the way, the two courses were dramatically differentiated. The Champions (whose holes 1-3 and 13-18 are part of the original Wilson design) received deeper, more punitive bunkers and more carefully segmented landing areas. The Legends, whose back nine was part of Wilson’s 1964 design, got more ground-game access into greens and diverse surrounds, with more short-game recovery options. With its expanded fairways and improved sight lines, The Legends also became something else: more fun.

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of Golfweek magazine; click here to subscribe.

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