Southern California golf: Searching out affordable fun on and off the course

LOS ANGELES -- No one in his or her right mind would come to Los Angeles for a golf trip, right? La Quinta, Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines, sure. But L.A.? No way.

On the other hand, Los Angeles is a great place for a family vacation: Hollywood, Disneyland, Malibu, etc., etc., etc., not to mention the short drive down the coast to San Diego and the zoo and Sea World.

What's the golfer to do in southern California when corralled into a family trip? Well, you can either pony up some serious cash for one of the aforementioned golf resorts, and then waste, er, spend much of your time away from the course indulging your family, or you can search out excellent affordable golf destinations near major attractions. This way, you won't feel as bad about doing other things besides golf.

Affordable southern California golf resort options

The Hyatt Valencia Hotel, 45 minutes north of Los Angeles in Valencia, isn't a golf resort per se, but it is where the Champions Tour players stay when they are playing the AT&T Champions Classic, held at Valencia Country Club, in the hotel's backyard. The Hyatt is the only full-service four-star hotel in the Santa Clarita area.

The hotel is surrounded by shops, restaurants and attractions, including Six Flags Magic Mountain, and features a 27-hole putting course.

More importantly, across town you'll find the Valley Course and Mountain Course at Robinson Ranch, a fantastic 36-hole semiprivate facility with heroic tee shots and spectacular mountain views. This is where many Champions Tour players come to just enjoy a round of golf when they're in town.

Moving closer into Los Angeles to Industry Hills, the Pacific Palms Conference Resort is perhaps the most centrally located golf resort in the L.A. area, as well as arguably the best. The resort is in the final stages of a seven-year, $41 million renovation, including a thorough overhaul of both of the 18-hole layouts at Industry Hills Golf Club, which is part of the resort. Rooms at the hybrid conference center/resort begin at just $129/night.

The two golf courses on site, the Eisenhower Course (the Ike) and the Babe D. Zaharias Course (the Babe) are both excellent, featuring tumbling, heaving terrain and spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Ike was an LPGA Tour stop in the early 1980s, but was deemed "too hard." The recent renovation has made it more forgiving, and at $65 for resort guests and $85-$119 for nonguests, it's a wonder all of L.A. isn't lining up to play. The Babe reopened in June, and although it is more "resort-style" (i.e., easier), it will also feature a 300-yard par-3.

Heading south to Temecula, you'll find Temecula Creek Inn. Located in the heart of California's southernmost wine region, this resort is organized around 27 holes of excellent golf. The Oaks & Stonehouse nines are the two best.

According to more than one knowledgeable local golfer, the greens here are the best in the entire valley. Wine-and-golf packages are available, and the massive Pechanga Resort & Casino is 2 miles up the road, with a plethora of entertainment options (and the worst Texas Hold 'Em hands I have ever been dealt).

A 45-minute drive further south to Lakeside -- just 30 minutes from downtown San Diego - lands you at the Barona Valley Ranch Resort. The outstanding staff here is serious about three things: gaming, golf, and gastronomy. You won't find floorshows or comedy acts, but you will find 310,000 square feet of gaming and culinary delights, ranging from ethnic food-court fare to fine dining paired with Barona Creek Golf Club. The on-site day spa is wonderfully luxurious.

Entertainment & shopping under the radar, too

Everyone knows about the big draws in SoCal: Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, Hollywood Walk of Fame, movie stars' homes and the ocean. But there is so much more to SoCal than the stereotypical entertainment-industry-driven attractions.

Something that is sure to mesmerize scientifically minded kids and adults alike is the famed La Brea Tar Pits, in the center of downtown L.A. Between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, tens of thousands of Ice Age animals stumbled into the asphalt oozing up through the ground and got stuck. The goop preserved and fossilized the doomed beasts, and we've been digging them up for nearly 80 years now. Very cool museum and views of pits being excavated.

For a real taste of the diversity that is SoCal, head to Venice Beach to watch the muscle-heads, swimsuit models, street performers and assorted other characters.

For highbrow culture, just walking into The Getty Museum in L.A. will make you feel smarter.

For some off-course golf-related fun, search out the KZ Golf headquarters in North Hollywood. For $100, you can be custom-fitted for everything from putters to drivers in the state-of-the-art fitting center. If you buy any equipment, $50 of the fee is credited back to you.

And if you simply cannot resist the siren song of that fickle dame, show biz, check out Be In A Movie! This company recruits people as extras in group scenes in movies and TV shows. It's free, but you need to reserve a space. There is always the off, off chance that someone (maybe you!) will get picked for a walk-on role.

Speaking of show biz, celebrity sightings are one of the real treats in L.A. One thing to remember is that celebs like to shop, too, you just need to know which trendy boutique is hot this month. Our advice: Ask a tweener-aged girl. My daughter heard that some of the Disney Channel stars like to shop at a place called Intuition, at 10581 W. Pico Blvd., and she was certain we'd see someone famous there. Sure enough, when we walked in there was a certain platinum-blonde pop star being followed around by a cameraman while she picked out T-shirts and miniskirts.

Suddenly it was the pop star's turn to dive under the radar; she disappeared into a dressing room and then ducked out the back door. Still, my daughter will remember that encounter as long as I'll remember the spectacular golf courses.

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
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Southern California golf: Searching out affordable fun on and off the course