Staying ahead of the curve is a never-ending dilemma for the top tier resorts. Living off one’s name can be both a blessing and a curse.
For those languishing from doing much needed upgrades, the crushing impact of negative feedback from today’s 24/7 social media world can be a devastating reality. No one really cares how good a facility was for grandfather and his friends.
The Southern California market is stocked with a plentitude of golf options and one of the more noted is the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. Located in Carlsbad, roughly 45 minutes north of downtown San Diego, the facility was the brainchild of Mervyn Adelson and Irwin Molasky. From the 1964 opening through to 1987, they brought forward a cutting edge facility boasting two Dick Wilson 18-hole layouts - called today Champion and Legend respectively. Wilson had been most active through the 1950s and 1960s with such highly touted layouts as Pine Tree and Doral Blue in Florida, Cog Hill in Illinois and Royal Montreal In Canada, to name a few. La Costa was also bolstered by a world-renowned state-of-the-art spa - a feature few clubs at the time had seen fit to include in their offerings.
Starting in 1969 and continuing through 1998, the resort hosted the PGA Tour’s annual Tournament of Champions event. From its inception through to 1985, the event was played in the spring time frame. In 1999 La Costa was home for seven of the next eight years for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. That event is still played today but now calls Austin, TX home. Among the prominent winners crowned at La Costa included the likes of legendary stars Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Phil Mickelson, among others.
Only winners of PGA Tour events could play in the TOC event and often the happiest of all were the wives eagerly looking forward to a week long enjoyment of pampering from the spa. The LPGA also played its Kia Classic twice in 2010 and 2012.
After Adelson and Molasky sold their interest in the facility in 1987, the resort went through four new ownerships over a period of 26 years. The inconsistencies provided caused a major decline in its overall stature. What was once a shining star began to lose its lustre. Newer facilities were fiercely competing for their share of tourism throughout the expanding Southern California region, and the golf side intensified with a range of course offerings throughout the greater San Diego County area.
Many wondered whether the famed La Costa brand would simply only hold memories of days gone by. That changed in a major way when Omni Hotel & Resorts, based out of Dallas, TX, purchased the property in 2013. Omni clearly benefited when, prior to taking over the property, a massive renovation was set in motion for both courses. Architect Damian Pascuzzo, along with Steve Pate and Jeff Brauer, brought back to life the Wilson design style.
Work started on the Champion Course in May of 2011 and completed in November of that year. A budget of $8 million was spent on restoring the Wilson characteristics with minor routing alterations impacting the 15th hole and 16th tee to accommodate a clubhouse expansion. All greens were rebuilt including tees and additional forward tees added as well as bunker upgrading. Fairways were sand capped and the installation of new Bermuda sod was included. There was also installing extensive new drainage along with a major upgrade to the irrigation system and a reduction of irrigated turf. Two new lakes were also added to enhance the view from the clubhouse.
The Legends had its share of improvements commencing with a $3 million budget meant to make the course more resort friendly as a suitable contrast to the more demanding Champions Course. Greens, bunkers and tees were all rebuilt. Forward tees were also added. Greens were enlarged to about 5,000 square feet, having shrunk to less than 3,000. New paspalum sod - about 35 acres in total - was installed on the fairways.
The Omni ownership made major upgrades to the overall facility with rooms completely upgraded and the overall appearance of the renowned Tuscany-style designed clubhouse brought back to its former grandeur overlooking the property. A sum of $50 million was spent in the effort.
During the professional golf events the 18-hole layout consisted of a composite set of holes. Holes 1-3 of Champion were combined with the likes of holes 13-18 to form the outward nine. The back nine of the Legend Course was used as the inward half and featured golf’s longest miles with the three final holes playing back into the prevailing wind off the nearby Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the main blemish that remains is a recent desire to provide for a reception area for weddings and special events. A decision was made to place this location at the former green for the demanding par-5 17th of the Legends. The action resulted in a shortening of the hole by 50 yards. Amazingly, the desire to use the area for special occasions was abandoned after just one event as nearby homeowners complained of the noise generated.
Upgrading turf quality is an ongoing topic, and interestingly, the current superintendent used to be the chief person at Kapalua Resort in Hawaii. Why is that important? It was Kapalua that replaced La Costa as the host site for the Tournament of Champions.
The facility now has an active membership as well as those booking stays. Golf course availability is flipped each day to service both. Numerous corporations use the facility in hosting various meetings and special events. The resort boasts no less than eight pools and high quality tennis courts are also available. The spa provides a wide range of unique services and is always in high demand. Culinary options have also been upgraded.
The Carlsbad area has also evolved in a major way since the facility’s creation over 50 years ago. The area is home to a number of key golf companies including TaylorMade, Titleist and Callaway. LEGOLAND calls Carlsbad home and is a must visit site for families with young children. The downtown area of Carlsbad is also a major draw with a slew of upscale eateries and lodging options.
Omni La Costa Resort & Spa is clearly forging ahead - taking the necessary steps in honouring a memorable past in concert with showcasing a very promising future.
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