Coronado: Across The Bay From San Diego

Coronado

Beauty by San Diego Bay

 

     This has probably happened to you a time or two as a golfer.  You are in a city or area that you have either been before or never at all, and driven by a golf course that is lush, in a great setting and  dares you to play it.  Your mind makes a mental note that some day you'll play that course .  If you return to the area, most of the time you don't play it for many reasons such as the time never seems to be right. Things just seem to get in the way and  in my opinion, this is one of the tragedies of golf.  Spend some time in San Diego, California and you will know what I mean.

     In recent years we have vacationed in the San Diego area, as there is something to do for just about every taste in activities.  Go rent a jet-ski and zip along the calm waters of Mission Bay.  Take a sunset cruise in a sailboat on San Diego Bay.  Enjoy a Padres baseball game at Petco Park, one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in all the Major Leagues. Animal lovers can get lost in the famous San Diego Zoo, located in Balboa Park which is also home to several world class museums. Explore an aircraft carrier-museum on the waterfront, the USS Midway and take in the ships of the California Maritime Museum.  My son's favorite is to take the 2-hour harbor cruise that takes you from the opening of San Diego Bay all the way down to the US Naval Base and under the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge.  You can't forget to squeeze in a day at one of the area's fantastic beaches.  Have I forgot anything?  Oh yes, how about golf on one of the San Diego area's more than 60 golf courses. 

     Coronado sits directly across San Diego Bay from San Diego city proper.  Until the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge was built you had to take a ferry across the bay to get to the quaint town of Coronado, with the bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the small  town.  The Hotel Del Coronado, one of the oldest hotels that was fitted with electrical lights, overlooks one of the best beaches in the San Diego area.  Often we would cross the bridge, enjoy the breathtaking view of the San Diego area with the Pacific Ocean beyond and spend a day at to the beach, or just explore the town.  As we'd cross the bridge and onto the Coronado side of the bridge, I would look down and to the left and see it, Coronado Municipal Golf Course.  I had heard great things about the course from many of my golfing buddies who were from San Diego, but this was a course that was on my “Someday I am going to play it” list ( A long list I might add). Finally last winter with temperatures in San Diego in the 80's in January, we took our vacation and I made time to play it.  Why had I waited so long, what a treat!

    This was it, on this day I was going to finally play Coronado.  I came off the bridge, made the first left onto Orange Avenue  the left on Fifth Avenue to Glorieta Street, which runs the perimeter of the lush green course and then the right turn into the parking area. After parking the car, getting my shoes on and taking the clubs out of the trunk it was time to walk to the clubhouse and check in. 

     The clubhouse is an imposing Spanish style building (it seems that everything in San Diego is Spanish style, considering it is the oldest city in California and was founded by the Spanish in 1769), which contains a huge restaurant and opens up to the pro shop in the northwest corner of the building.

The pro shop staff was very friendly and were expecting me, and was greeted after telling them who I was  with “Oh yes, you are the writer. Any time you are ready, see the starter and he will get you right on.”   Ron Yarbrough is the Host Professional at Coronado, and I wanted to sit down with him and talk about the course as well as about golf.  Unfortunately, he was ill and sent his welcome and regrets that we couldn't meet. 

    One of the interesting features of the course is that golfers must go to a starter's shack and are called to the tee according to their tee time.  The starter shack is separate from the pro shop, and you check in with the starter before you go into the pro shop to pay your green fee.  To me, this is a great aspect of the course which harkens back to the earlier days of golf and provides an “old time classic” atmosphere.  After chatting a bit with the starter, he told me it was time for me to tee it up and I would be joined by three other golfers to make a foursome.

     You never know who you will be paired up with.  My biggest fear is that I would be joined by three other golfers that did not enjoy the social aspect of the game and good conversation during the round (Translation: people that would catch onto my bad jokes and not mind me making conversation to be friendly. I have been told to well..., you get the idea.).  It seemed as though luck had smiled upon me, because the three men that I was to play with started joking around before we even teed off.  The four of us hit it off famously, and the round was a joy to play as we talked about golf, course conditions and swapped bad jokes and stories. There was Jack who worked for a window coating company and was escaping the cold and snow of Columbus, Ohio.  Larry and Tom were father and son and worked in the oil industry.  They too were escaping the icebox of the frozen north with Larry living in Toronto, Canada and Tom living in Vancouver, Canada.  Ah yes, the San Diego climate in winter and I know how they felt because I was escaping the cold wet fog of the Central California winter.  There is something about shorts, polo shirts and 80 degree weather in January.

     The course is built in a corner of Coronado Island with the bay surrounding it on three sides.  Laid out on the bay shores, there are four holes that are directly on the bay. I was told that the bay did not come into play on any of the holes and not to worry (famous last words and more about this later). Originally, Coronado Country Club was the golf venue on the island.  That course shut down after WWII with the land being sold off and developed for housing, and Coronado was left without a golf course.  The good citizens of Coronado wanted to resurrect golf on their island so the  hunt was on to return golf to Coronado.

     Finally, a site was found in the southeastern corner of the island on a plot of land created by dredging the bay to deepen the shipping channel.  This was the perfect site, and in 1957 Coronado Municipal Golf Course was opened.  The course hasn't changed since, except for a realignment of holes 2 and 3 in order to accommodate the building of the bridge.  The old clubhouse, built in 1957 was raised in 1998 and the imposing new Spanish style clubhouse opened in August of 1998.  

     Hole #1 is a straight par four with a lake on the left and a well bunkered green.  The hole sets up as a visually pleasing starting hole, which should be an easy par (I took a 7, but we won't get into that).  Hole #2 is a straight par five.  The green proved to be a little tricky and I came away with my first par.  On to hole #3.

     Ah yes, hole #3.  The long par 4 is the first hole played that is along the shores of the bay and you come very close to the graceful blue span of the Bay Bridge up by the green. It is definitely an impressive site and a beautiful hole.

     Remember how I said that the bay is not in play and I shouldn't worry?  They were wrong!  Letting out the shaft on my drive,  I boomed it down the right side of the fairway and was within range to go for the green on this 389 yard par 4.  My eyes got wide as frisbees  as thoughts about the second shot falling to within a foot of the cup, and sinking the short putt for birdie danced through my head. There was a loud, crisp crack when the head of the four iron hit the ball and sent it on its way toward the green. There was a loud, crisp plop as the ball dropped into the bay.  I did hole out my fourth shot with a sand wedge to make par after my drop, but I thought they told me there was no way I could put a ball into the bay?

     Hole #4 is a long par 5.  It is a long dogleg right with fairway traps on the right. The fairway slopes down toward the right, and there is an alternate green to the left and short of the actual green which is well bunkered.  If you put your ball on the alternate green, you get a free drop and may play your next shot.  I know this from personal experience.  I finished the great hole with a bogey 6. 

    The first par 3 on the course follows hole # 4.  This is a fun hole and is a short par three at  136 yards.  I did put my ball on the green tight to the hole and made my six foot birdie putt.

     Holes 6, 7 and 8 are good par 4s.  Hole eight has two lakes on the left side of the green, with the second lake wrapping its way around the back of the green.  On the right side up by the green is a small clump of trees that shuts out a chip shot to the green if your ball goes there.

     The ninth hole is an interesting par three over a lake that serves as the fairway to the hole.  It measures 175 yards, most of which is all carry.  If you hit the ball 170 yards, it just isn't going to find the green, or dry land for that manner.

     Let's start the back nine.  Hole number ten is a long par 4 followed by a short par 3.  The back nine goes away from the bridge and toward the marina and Hotel Del Coronado, with the last three holes once again directly on the bay and the words “You can't put it in the bay” reverberating in my head.   It is a pretty site with the quaint homes of Coronado on the land side of the course, and the marina with its sailboats and the hotel on the bay side.  Holes 12-14 go along the road that fronts the houses.

     Hole # 15 is one of my favorite par 3's that I have played.  It's not a particularly beautiful hole, nor is it long at 166 yards.  I just like it.  You make the transition here from the neighborhood fronted holes on the right to those that have the bay as a boundary on the right side of the fairways.  It faces east to west, where most of the holes on the course are north to south.  To the right of the hole you have the Coronado Tennis Club and  a tennis court complex and to the left you have the back of number 15.  Its not a hard hole, but the marina is behind it and the hotel seems like it is just a stones throw from the green.  There are bushes behind the green so you don't want to hit it long.

   We are back by the bay on hole #16 .  It is a short par 4 with a slight dogleg right.  The bay provides the boundary of the dogleg on the right.  My normal ball flight is a power fade to the right.  Here, it really is possible to push one right, ending up in a watery grave in the bay.  If you hit fairway, it is an easy shot to the green for a possible birdie, or at least that is what it says in the hole guide..  I have got to start reading the course hole guides before I tee it up on the course.  I looked on in total disbelief and horror as my ball flew dead right and into the bay.

      Hole #17 is a tree lined dogleg left, which follows the contour of the bay.  Trees are strategically places along both sides of the fairway with large trees protecting the bay and spaced along at about ten feet.  The idea here is for the trees to catch wayward balls from going into the bay.  I found perhaps the only tree where the leaves had thinned and I went through a spot with no leaves.  Into the bay went my drive. That was ball number three.  The view of the bay, the bridge and the ship yards and Navy base will take your breath away.

     The finishing hole at Coronado is a short par 5 that once again is on the bay.  It is very stunning visually in that you have the bay to the right, the clubhouse up by the hole, and the bridge beyond that.  It is a great golf hole as well in that the green is well bunkered and you have the view of the bay.  Once you have finished the 18th, you are almost sad that your round was over.  I know I was, or was that just because I had put my forth ball into the bay?

    Coronado Municipal has received many national awards.  It has received Golf Digest's “Best Places to Play” and recently was awarded  their “Pearls of Value” designation in February 2010.  President Clinton played here and it was the first time Mr. Clinton had ever broken 90. 

     Once again, I would like to thank Ron Yarbrough and his staff for extending me the courtesy and hospitality that they showed.  I very much got the sense that this was business as usual.  It is a very friendly, down to earth but busy course.