When The Great Recession commenced in ‘07, few realised at the time how the economic seismic shocks caused would expose a clear reality that for too many years prior was simply not contemplated or even imagined.
Golf in America had too much supply - and not enough players. The building of courses during the go-go-go days of the ‘90’s was simply carried through incoherent real estate speculation. When the real estate market tanked - the golf course segment was caught in a massive death spiral whirlpool of collapse. The resulting fallout is still happening. Baby boomers aging out with little promise on the replacement side - both in terms of total rounds played and total expenditures made - will be replicated.
In recent years the major golf organisations - USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, LPGA - have all sought to attract more people to the game. This is especially so in the areas of junior players, Millennials, women and minorities. Other golf options have recently emerged to catch the attention of those who never viewed golf as a recreational outlet. The explosion of Topgolf facilities throughout the USA and UK has been an interesting development but one whose impact is uncertain. Whether a passing fad or more lasting contribution is still a work in progress. 60% of those who go to Topgolf have never held a golf club prior to their first visit. Will these individuals graduate to the traditional game of golf? No one can say with any certainty.
The San Diego County area has long been a hotbed for golf - particularly when snowbirds flock to the area during winter months. Each year the PGA tour stages an annual event - The Farmer’s Insurance Open - played at Torrey Pines in La Jolla. In ‘08 an epic US Open was contested there with Tiger Woods winning his 14th major and playing through major pain and injury to win in extra holes against Rocco Mediate. America’s national championship will return again in ‘21.
However, located near enough to Torrey Pines are two golf facilities that don’t have the fanfare but are clearly making an impact. Exposing people to the game and showing a fun dimension that’s needed if golf is to carry on successfully with a new generation of players.
The Loma Club
Located in the Point Loma neighborhood in San Diego. The 9-hole short course occupies just under 18-acres of land and if you as much as blinked it’s easy to miss it. Incredibly, approximately 40,000 rounds were played in ‘16 and the diversity of golfers runs the gamut from traditional golfers to those looking to see what the game is all about. They come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds at The Loma Club.
The history of the property is quite remarkable. The Point Loma Country Club, an 18-hole regulation course, was built in 1914 by A. G. Spaulding, and demolished in the early 1920’s after the Navy took part of the club’s golf course for the Naval Training Center (NTC). The club sold its property to raise funds for a new location in Chula Vista where it became the San Diego Country Club. The existing layout at The Loma Club was redesigned in 2005 and consists of nine par-3 holes.
The present configuration is the handiwork of architect Cory Bickler and has holes ranging in distance from 70 to 204 yards. The layout is anything but elementary as there’s sufficient elevation change to keep players on their toes throughout the round. The facility averages roughly 1 hole-in-one per month - with the 5th the most frequent and the long 7th tallying the fewest.
Don’t be fooled and think that those playing take the golf less seriously. They play for keeps. The course record by a professional is 21 and the best amateur mark is 22. Each year the club hosts the Annual Scrub’s Tournament - the unofficial club championship - during the 3rd weekend in October. The 2017 winner was Michael Correia with an 18-hole score of 57 (+3). There are also a range of other events with various formats held throughout the year. But, the Scrub, is the only invitational event.
The buzz at The Loma Club is both social with various ages intersecting with one another in tandem with a mood that’s anything but stuffy. Rounds don’t take much time and the property does provide some wonderful views of the San Diego skyline. There’s enough separation from daily life so players can enjoy the stroll of the property and have a human intersection with fellow players instead of whipping around in power carts which has become the norm for many traditional golfers when playing regulation courses.
The cost to play is also smartly executed. Weekday is $15 - with a dollar more for weekends and holidays. There are various discounts for various age groups and those affiliated with the military. Replays are also quite inviting with just a $6 fee. If you don’t have clubs - no issue. You can rent them when there.
The Loma Club is also in fine shape so players are provided with turf that adds to the experience. Best of all, the time to play the game is fast tracked given the short yardage of the holes. So much of today’s world is measured in speed and traditional golf is seen by younger people as being a game that fails to fit into their lifestyle. The sorting out of how golf will fare in the 21st century is a work in progress but The Loma Club is a clear sign the essence of the game can still have meaningful impact.
Goat Hill Park
Sometimes it takes near calamity to turn things around. That was the case with Goat Hill Park. Frankly, the name doesn’t leap off the pages with excitement but it’s what the facility provides that is making a difference. Located in the northern portion of the county, Goat Hill is in the community of Oceanside.
Founded in 1952 as the first golf course in San Diego County and initially operated as a regulation length 9-hole layout the original course was the handiwork of William H. Johnson. For years the course provided a convenient and modest outlet for those who enjoyed the game. In the early 1990’s the course was expanded to 18-holes - albeit in a cramped fashion through the skill sof architect Ludwig Keehn. Several years back the fate of the property seemed in doubt. The local governing group faced a very difficult decision and it appeared the property would be sold for private development.
Just in time to rescue what would have been a major loss stepped John Ashworth. Yes, the man responsible for the highly successful apparel company that rose to prominence by key PGA tour stars notably Fred Couples and John Cook.
Ashworth, an Oceanside resident, could see the tug of war was leaning towards the end of Goat Hill and he was able to convince community leaders that keeping the property would be a salvation for young and old, skilled and novice players alike.
The vibe at Goat Hill oozes pure golf. There’s no pageantry as can be found at many other Southern California courses. Most importantly, the key is to engage people - not frighten them with sticker shock as is common for other facilities in the immediate area. The course is just under 4,500 yards and plays to a par-65. The rolling terrain invites shotmaking and the juxtaposition of land and water makes for a wonderful escape from the 24/7 world of nonstop commotion.
Goat Hill works well because it provides a platform where costs are kept to a most reasonable level. There are various package plans one can purchase thereby providing a mixture of amenities. On weekdays the 18-hole round costs $26. For weekends and holidays it’s $32. Trust me, there are places in Southern California where the cost for the valet is easily higher. Best of all, the facility provides discounts for seniors, juniors and military personnel. There’s a decent driving range and if you wish you can purchase a multi-play card with even lower rates for both the golf and practice facilities.
To keep the “fun” spirit at a high level there’s also a disc golf program for those so inclined. Goat Hill does provide instruction and mirroring greens fees the rates for lessons is very reasonable. There’s various leagues and clinics so any and all people are welcomed and encouraged to join. There are staged competitions throughout the year but the spirit is about giving all people a meaningful connection that extends in a range of ways.
The layout is a bit a cramped but there’s sufficient hole distinctions to keep things interesting. When the wind freshens and the sun is beaming with the Pacific Ocean nearby it’s a glorious time to rejuvenate mind and body. Ashworth’s role was an important one to demonstrating the core of the game still matters. www.goathillpark.com.
Where to Eat
The Loma Club is within easy walking distance of Liberty Public Market. There’s a range of top tier food options available - far beyond the usual low brow ensemble found in a any formulaic food court. The former Navy training center has been updated to provide a most welcomed location. You’ll also find at varying times music events, educational events and a range of artisans showcasing their considerable skills in the 22,000 square foot building with an additional 3,000 square feet of outside area.
Just keep in mind, the popularity is certainly present - especially so on weekends and holidays when the heavy influx of vehicles can mean a tough time finding a nearby parking spot. Don’t be deterred - the benefits in sampling what’s available will be more than worth it. www.libertypublicmarket.com.
Finding authentic Italian food is never as easy as it sounds. There’s plenty of impostors who simply provide rudimentary choices but when in San Diego it pays to head to Ambrogio 15. Be sure to say “hello” to owner Giacomo Pizzigoni because he will relish the opportunity to make your dining a top tier experience. Quality pizzas
are among the best offerings and the atmosphere is alive and welcoming. www.ambrogio15.com.
Where to Stay
For those visiting the San Diego area it helps to have lodging options in the immediate Loma Point area. The location is quite convenient to all key elements. One of the premier is located on Shelter Island just a few minutes from The Loma Club. The Kona Kai Resort & Spa is close enough to get to the downtown area but far enough away to rejuvenate mind and body. A forthcoming expansion is set to open this Spring with additional top tier rooms available. A great getaway for couples and families. Be sure to inquire beforehand about any fees tied to parking and resort usage. www.resortkonakai.com.
Another quality option is in the Mission Beach area. This narrow stretch of land straddles the Pacific Ocean to the west and Mission Bay on the east side. The vibe? Pure California. Easy going and laid back. Venturing to The Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa is truly a way to get first rate pampering. The resort offers top tier culinary options and the tropical décor adds a clear distinction from other facilities which can be soulless and lacking a real customer centric orientation. www.catamaranresort.com
For those seeking a connection to marine life there’s no finer place to visit then SeaWorld San Diego. The animal theme park, oceanarium, outside aquarium and marine mammal park is just a short drive from Loma Point and is inside the city’s Mission Bay Park. Fun times for all ages. Founded in 1964 - the facility gets several million visitors each year. www.seaworld.com/Orlando.
The Cabrillo National Monument which highlights the explorer Joan Rodriguez Cabrillo who was the first European to find San Diego Bay in 1542. The monument, established in 1913, commemorates that discovery. Fantastic views of the immediate area and clearly worth visiting for young and old alike. https://www.nps.gov/cabr/index.htm.