California Dreamin'

A tale of the tape between two luxury-brand golf resort heavyweights

By: Turk Pipkin

Appeared in September/October 2007 LINKS

South of Los Angeles, Four Seasons Aviara and Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel offer plush surroundings and picturesque golf in near-perfect weather year round. Back-to-back visits to both offered plenty of luxury, memories and great golf.

North of San Diego in Carlsbad, Four Seasons Aviara has a hilltop setting and all the casual elegance that comes with its brand. My room had a nice balcony looking out on Batiquitos Lagoon, but I was quickly off for an afternoon round on the Arnold Palmer golf course.

Playing through beautiful Southern California canyons overlooked by high-end residences, the 7,007-yard Aviara layout has an interesting routing, a surprising number of memorable holes, and what seems like a million flowers lining the course. Palmer has a fondness for designing great downhill holes, and the par-5 8th is one of his best. There is a friendly country club atmosphere, and the fresh-baked cookies when you walk off the course are a nice touch.

Four Seasons is the premier hotel in Carlsbad, home to numerous golf companies, including TaylorMade and Callaway. The former has an on-site performance lab at Aviara, while the Ely Callaway Performance Center is just five minutes away.

Driving up the coast, I didn’t see how Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point could possibly compare with my 24 hours at Aviara. Then I walked into my room. Situated on a 160-foot cliff above the Pacific Ocean, the hotel’s guest rooms offer million-dollar views.

The neighboring Monarch Beach Golf Links, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, likewise has ocean views, but only one genuine oceanfront hole, the 315-yard 3rd—a remarkable feat in itself considering land prices along the Southern California coast.

Aviara is a better course, but the bar and grill at Monarch Beach is a real winner. The highlight was sitting on the balcony of my room gazing out on miles of ocean, with 50 surfers down below, while schools of dolphins cruised by just beyond the waves. Off in the distance, Catalina Island cut a beautiful silhouette against the western sky as the sun slipped silently from view.

It wasn’t until the weekend was drawing to a close that I found something I didn’t like about these two resorts: leaving.


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