Inviting, mellow, California vibes define classic Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- A match of classic, SoCal cool and contemporary resort amenities make for a choice stay-and-play at the Rancho Bernardo Inn.

"The property has great ambiance, and this course has a lot of character, and I think you kind of get that 'historic' vibe as you come through the entire property," said Bryon Penfield, director of golf at Rancho Bernardo Inn. "We've got that rustic but modernized look and feel."

Aptly priding a consistent presentation of clean, sophisticated comforts across the grounds, Rancho's 1962 design from William F. Bell has enjoyed continual upgrades in recent years, from new irrigation to (excellent) rebuilt greens and renovated bunkers.

The resulting play makes for an inviting and relaxed atmosphere of engaging tee options throughout the day.

"I think it's a good resort course and certainly gives a feel of elevation changes and well-laid-out holes that give you options," said Nicholas Richardson, a mid-handicap, first-time visitor. "It was clear where your 'A-position' was, because those were well protected. But at the same time, nothing is too punitive. I played with one ball the whole round."

Rancho Bernardo Inn: Keep it in the short stuff

Manageable in distance at 6,667 yards from the tips, controlling one's ball position and staying inside the golf course's continual, mature tree-lining proves paramount to par.

"There's some strategy out here, mixed with a lot of shot variety and opportunity to score," Penfield said. "But the course won't just challenge the average player, it can challenge the above-average golfer as well with our mix and variety of lakes, creeks and doglegs. It's not just flat and straightaway; there's character on every single hole. There are a lot of ball-placement requirements off the tee to set yourself up for approaches. It's a big key to the golf course."

A tip for first-timers: Closely survey the layout on a hole-to-hole basis with Rancho's helpful and well marked tee plates, which provide ongoing guidance for navigating over and around the creeks and channels that once challenged both PGA and LPGA pros back in the day.

On the front side, a stellar run on no. 3-no.7 brims with flavor.

"I think the main stretch of holes to get through the front is 4-7," Penfield said. "If you can get through it, tough it out and get off to a good start, then the opportunities are there for scoring."

After a beauty of a backdrop frames the 525-yard, par-5 third sporting a hazard right, a meaty par 3 ensues.

"It's a tough par 3 over the water, which can play long," said Penfield of the 208-yard fourth.

A blind, uphill tee shot defines the fifth before a terrific, 385-yard, par-4 sixth hole proves a thesis of Rancho strategy.

"With the dogleg right, your play is to the left side, though you need to be aware of the trap on that side," said Penfield of no. 6. "Let's say you're a player who doesn't hit the ball all that far -- you want to make sure you don't get stuck behind the tree-line on the right as you'll be in jail. So club selection is crucial off the tee."

On the back, rounding home requires a thinking man's flat-cap.

"On no. 15, you've got the creek running along the right and then it wraps back through the middle, so that's an example of where driver may not be your best option," Penfield explained. "You block your ball a little bit, and then the trouble comes into play. It's a great risk-reward, though, because you could take that driver and try to hug the left."

The elevated tee on 16 dilutes the distance of the 395-yard par 4 before a short, par-4 17th asks for prudence.

"There are options there," said Penfield of no. 17. "A long-ball hitter can take the driver, take a chance, and try and carry that tree-line left. Or you could take, say, a fairway metal and bail-out right and be just fine. And then there's the trap left, another deep right and water far right, so course strategy in really in play on 17."

Rancho saves the proverbial best for last with a testy, par-5 finisher.

"It's our most talked-about hole," Penfield said of the 544-yard 18th. "There's the culvert running through the middle of the fairway, which, even if you carry that, you're still left with a 220-yard, uphill shot over a creek to a three-tiered green that gets more narrow the farther back the pin is located. Yeah, it's intimidating, and I see it as a three-shot hole, because I want a wedge in my hand for an approach where I can make a full swing."

Stay and play at Rancho Bernardo Inn

Set amid a beauty of a resort layout -- offering a diverse variety of casual and fine dining options along with a lauded spa -- the pretty and playable course is manicured to resort settings, but not without its teeth for the wayward tee player. In short: Playing outside the tree lines will make par a tough test throughout.

For those staying on site among the 287 guest rooms and suites, the proximity to the golf course is terrific and will prove an easy and mellow segue from bed to box.

Judd Spicer is an award-winning, veteran freelance writer hailing from St. Paul, Minn. After 12 years of covering MLB, NBA, NCAA and the active golf landscape of the Twin Cities, he relocated to the Palm Spring, Calif. region to further pursue his golf work and Champions Tour dream. Sporting measured distance off the tee, Spicer refers to his pitching wedge as his "magic wand." Follow Judd on Twitter at @juddspicer.

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Inviting, mellow, California vibes define classic Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego