Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017

La Costa Resort and Spa was the first ever resort spa in the US, and boasts the famous Champions course.

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California teeing

Dreamy golf resorts where the amenities are out of this world

California, despite its pesky smog, freeway jams and earthquakes, is still the golden child of the United States — America's spoiled rich kid where hedonism reigns supreme. Certainly Pebble Beach is the state’s most fabled golf resort, but you don’t have to mortgage your home to enjoy superb golf, accommodations and amenities.

Club privileges at CordeValle

Head south from San Jose airport through Silicon Valley towards the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains and soon the high-tech business parks fade away and you’re surrounded by fields of wild flowers, strawberries and vineyards.

A discrete sign indicates that you’ve arrived at CordeValle, Spanish for heart of the valley, a 1700-acre Rosewood Resort that made the 2013 Gold List of World’s Best Hotels in Condé Nast Traveler.

CordeValle was originally built as a club retreat for the gigabyte geniuses of Apple and other dot.com executives. When that bubble burst, it became a luxury Rosewood Resort. Guests receive the VIP, private-club treatment accorded to members. By the time you’ve checked into the Arts and Crafts-style lobby, everyone — from the bellboy to the wait staff — knows your name. And it doesn’t have to be Bill Gates.

In what was formerly cattle grazing land, Robert Trent Jones II has created a championship tract that incorporates old-growth oaks, wetlands and grassy hills over an undulating terrain. The result is an organic blend of natural and man-made obstacles, from meandering creeks to sand bunkers, sycamore trees to strategically placed tees.

Jones' mission was to create "one of those rare, pure 'core golf' experiences." Mission accomplished; he’s called the course at CordeValle perhaps the finest creation of his career. No faint praise from the man who has garnered worldwide renown for his designs at The Links at Spanish Bay (Pebble Beach), Golden Valley (Japan) and The Prince Golf Course (Kauai, Hawaii).

Every round at CordeValle tempts you to experiment with different strategies and club selections. Forecaddies are an integral part of the experience. The program was organized by the caddie master at Augusta —hence the white jumpsuits. My caddie probably shaved five strokes off my score by helping me read putts on the wickedly tricky greens. Golf here is relaxed and unrushed. Walking is encouraged.

Back at the “cow pasture,” guests chill out in 45 bungalows outfitted with Frette linens, gas fireplaces and patios overlooking the bucolic countryside. Just as I was wrapping up in a fluffy bathrobe, a bellboy delivered a complimentary selection of local cheeses and preserves, and an invitation to a wine tasting at Clos LaChance Winery, located on-site. Non-golfers can hike one of several trails on the property or serve a few aces at one of four tennis courts.

The cuisine at CordeValle rivals the golf thanks to executive chef Luca Rutigliano and the never-ending bounty of local produce. Warning: the warm house-made potato chips at One Iron Bar are irresistible. At Il Vigneto, expect classic Italian with a Californian twist.

Even Fido will be feted like a gourmand at CordeValle, one of the few pet-friendly hotels in Northern California that provides your four-legged pal with bedding, dishes and treats, plus dog-walking and dog-sitting services. The most popular item on the canine, room-service menu? The Hot Diggity Dog: a mélange of brown rice, steamed carrots and wieners.

La Costa: an American first

These days almost every resort in the world has some sort of spa. But La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad holds the distinction of being the first ever resort spa in the US.

Established in 1965, the resort became a hangout for Hollywood entertainers and sports celebrities who came for the golf — and the pampering. Had I visited back in the 60s, I might have teed off with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood, Mickey Mantle or Yogi Berra.

Although La Costa has retained its Spanish Mission style of architecture, myriad fountains and splendid garden plantings, management completed a $50 million dollar renovation in 2012. A good part of the budget went towards updating the classic Dick Wilson-designed Champions Course (formerly the North Course). Highlights include bent-grass greens, Bermuda fairways and new forward Express Tees to encourage high handicappers.

It was the PGA Tour’s Tour of Champions in 1969 that put La Costa on the world golf map. Today, the Champion’s list of champs includes Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Karrie Webb and Lorena Ochoa.

The resort’s other South Course has also had a “fairway lift,” including four renovated holes. The traditional-style tract with postage-stamp greens, mature trees and plenty of pesky water crossings is certainly a challenge, albeit a pleasant way to lose golf balls.

La Costa is Southern California’s only Gold Medal Golf Resort according to Golf Magazine (2012). For friendly service, I’d give it a platinum award.

“You must be Ms. Draycott,” said a fellow wearing a green apron as I approached the third green. I assumed he was a marshal and immediately wondered what golf sin I had committed. Was I playing too slow? Did I drive my cart into an environmentally sensitive area?

My past encounters with marshals haven’t been positive, but, here at La Costa, the resident rangers’ roles have been reinvented. Fellows like Jack are part of the Golf Squad. They’ll search for shanked balls, repair divots, rake bunkers, pull out their range finders to give you the yardage. They’ll even help you read your putt, all of which makes the pace of play faster.

Jack, a retired marine, fished my ball out of the river and even offered me a lollipop. He’ll also tell you where to find the best Italian restaurant or give you directions to the nearest Target store. Tell that to the marshals back home!

At La Costa’s BlueFire Grill, chef Greg Frey Jr. showcases the resort’s own garden produce as well as the best from local organic farmers and fishers. Try his lusty cioppino, an heirloom tomato broth brimming with crab, scallops, mussels and house-made Andouille sausage. And, while dining, you might just spot Robert De Niro or Oprah.

“Grandissimo” Del Mar

The sign says The Grand Del Mar, but the name of this star-spangled California resort is really an understatement. I think this pink amalgam of Old World elegance, Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean flair and just enough Hollywood glitz should be called “Grandissimo” Del Mar.

Nestled into a landscape that resembles the Tuscan countryside, the Grand Del Mar includes an 18-hole Tom Fazio golf course, San Diego’s only five-star spa and Addison, Southern California’s only Five Star/Five Diamond Relais & Châteaux restaurant.

With spectacular fairways that wind throughout the scenic valleys of the beautiful Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, Fazio’s championship course melds extreme playability with stunning natural beauty. The 18-hole, par-72 course features 7160 yards spread over a lush 380 acres. Tee locations span from 4824 to 7160 yards in length, accommodating all levels of play.

To make your game more enjoyable, the Grand Golf Club’s forecaddie program reinstitutes an old tradition rarely offered these days: your caddie suggests course strategy, measures distances, fills divots, rakes bunkers and locates errant shots.

Should you wish to hone your game, “The Grand Experience” includes short game technique and putting analysis, swing evaluation (using the Golf BioDynamics 3D System), intensive on-course instruction, and a physical fitness evaluation with a Titleist Performance Institute certified instructor.

The resort’s signature restaurant, Addison, is named in honour of architect Addison Mizner whose design approach launched the Florida Renaissance in the 1920s, which defines the resort communities of Palm Beach and Boca Raton. His legacy lives on in extravagant style at his namesake dining establishment, where William Bradley — recently awarded the prestigious Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef designation — puts his inimitable spin on contemporary French cuisine. Chef Bradley’s tasting menu lets you choose from four different dishes in each of the four courses. The kitchen makes its own butter — and can tell you the name of the obliging cow — that melts into warm, salted brioches; Kobe short ribs are slow braised for 35 hours; crystallized ginger and crème Chantilly elevate raspberry Pavlova to heavenly heights.

Under sommelier Jesse Rodriguez, Addison’s wine program received Wine Spectator’s coveted Grand Award for 2009 to 2012. With Rodriquez’s advice you’ll have no lack of pairing options; the resort’s cellar houses 35,000 bottles.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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