Though traditionally considered the domain of the rich and professional, golf is driving through distinctions of age, class and sex to become one of the most popular sports in America.
Twenty-five million Americans now stride upon the links, a whopping 25% increase from just two years ago. Fueled by televised coverage and corporate sponsorship of the Seniors Tour, the Skins Game and the PGA and LPGA Tours, golf is now a $15-billion-a-year business in the United States.
And North County has been in the forefront of the worldwide golf boom. There's a golf course seemingly everywhere you look--and additional courses being built or planned in Carlsbad, Escondido and San Marcos.
But, as the five-year drought continues to plague the Southland and citizens are being asked to make substantial cutbacks in their water use, many people are casting a wary eye toward those verdant expanses.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 14, 1991 San Diego County Edition North County Focus Page 7 Metro Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Golf Course--Because of a typographical error, Focus incorrectly reported last Thursday the fees for a round of golf at San Luis Rey Downs Resort in Bonsall. The regular fee Monday through Friday is $20 to $28.
Just weeks ago, the whole country got a glimpse of the situation when the Shearson Lehman Brothers Open was televised from the Torrey Pines Golf Course. Viewers across the nation saw a course that looked so luxuriantly green that one NBC commentator was moved to quip something to the effect of "Gee, the course looks so great and so green, and here I thought there was supposed to be a drought in Southern California."
The fact is, at least some of North County's golf courses won't be looking quite so green in coming months.
Although many have secondary sources of water such as wells, urban runoff or reclaimed water, some courses are still dependent on municipal water--the supply of which is being drastically limited.
As decisions are made about where to put what water there is, fairways are apt to be sacrificed in favor of greens--the close-cropped putting surface surrounding the hole.
For now, the courses remain healthy. Like everyone else wanting to keep landscapes alive in the face of the drought, golf course managers await decisions on cutbacks, hunt for ways to save, look for alternate sources of water--and hope for rain.
Meanwhile, golfers continue to queue up to play the North County course or courses of their choice.
For as little as $4, they can play 18 holes (early morning or twilight hours) at Center City Golf Course in Oceanside, affectionately known to its regulars as "Goat Hill" because of its hilly, rugged terrain.
Or, for $50,000 plus $400 a month in dues, they may be able to join The Farms Golf Club on St. Andrews Road in Rancho Santa Fe, where the links are said to be reminiscent of those in Scotland, birthplace of the game.
Of the 78 courses at 64 golf clubs listed by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, about two-thirds are in or near North County. The area, with its open spaces and year-round play, is a haven for golfers. In addition to serving local players, the courses attract large numbers of tourists each year.
"Almost all the courses are in North County," said Wendell Wilson, publisher of a pocket guide map called the "San Diego County Golf Courses Road Map and Directory." "If you look at San Diego County, there's more access up in North County, by far. The Poway-Rancho Bernardo area has a lot of courses, and so does Escondido. Then you can head north to Temecula Creek and Rancho California."
Jim Gilbert is director of golf for Meadow Lake Country Club, a challenging, hilly course in Escondido. "You can come to the area, stay for two weeks of golfing every day and still not play all the courses within 10 or 15 miles," he said.
Ron Estoque of Oceanside spends as much time as possible on the golf courses of North County. He began playing in 1960 in Okinawa, where he received some informal lessons from fellow Marine Lee Trevino.
Estoque, who has been golfing in North County since the mid-1970s, is team captain for men's match play at Oceanside Municipal Golf Course.
"Golf has really grown in the 15 years since I began playing here," he said. "Now people are lined up outside on weekend mornings, waiting for the courses to open. But you can still get on most of the public courses, especially Oceanside, at a good price. You can play Fallbrook, San Luis Rey Downs, Temecula Creek and even Torrey Pines, although it's a lot harder to get on there."
A golfer does not play against other golfers, but plays against the course and his or her record. That is perhaps why the game is known for uncovering every weakness of mind and character.
The premise is simple: Using the fewest number of strokes, get the ball in the designated hole. Par is the total number of strokes an experienced golfer would need to get the ball off the tee, onto the green and into the hole--which is marked by a flag to keep the golfer on target.
There are basically two types of courses: the regulation (or full-size) course and the executive (or short course). Either way, the golfer usually plays 18 holes in one round of golf.