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WEEKEND ESCAPE

Near San Diego, a slice of Welk life

For the men of the family, a par-3 golf course compensates for a resort that falls short in other areas.

September 28, 2003|Dawn Bonker | Special to The Times

Escondido, Calif. — Like old duffers stretching out after 18 holes, my boys sipped soft drinks and did that thing golfers love almost as much as the game itself: They talked about golf. Specifically, they rehashed the round just played, the great shots, the bloopers and one dear family member's habitual slice that sent a ball bouncing onto a nearby road and into the path of a California Highway Patrol car.

Errant swings notwithstanding, the course was ideal for casual golfers like my husband, Keith, and beginners like my two sons, Adam and Ethan. Never mind that the Oaks course north of Escondido was at the Welk Resort, a proud haven of anti-hipness that celebrates the memory and "champagne music" of accordion-playing band leader Lawrence Welk. The kids deemed the course "cool," or as another generation might have said, "wunnerful."

"It was like they designed a real course except that they took their shrink gun and zapped it," said Adam, 13.

Golf was the highlight of our visit last month to the resort, just off Interstate 15 in the foothills of north San Diego County. The rest of the resort's offerings weren't quite as impressive. Mediocre food, careless housekeeping and our second-class status, behind the resort's time-share clientele, took some of the sparkle out of our champagne weekend.

Fortunately, we weren't expecting grand luxury. I had told Adam that I had scheduled a family getaway at the "Champagne of golf resorts." His eyes had widened.

"We're going to Augusta?" he had asked.

Uh, no. A visit to the grand Georgia home of the Masters would have to wait for another time. But we would try to indulge my sons' budding passion for golf with a relatively affordable jaunt to a family resort with two courses just right for young players.

So I made reservations at the Welk Resort, taking advantage of the Golf and Theater Jubilee deal advertised on its Web site. For $388 (tax inclusive) we would receive two nights' hotel accommodations, two rounds of golf, dinner theater admission and daily breakfast for two people and vouchers for on-site snack shops. (The package's current price is $434.) A reservations clerk told me the boys could stay free in our room and that we could reserve additional dinner theater tickets at children's rates.

The slow escape from home on Orange County's freeways one Friday gave us plenty of time to brief the boys on Welk history, the late bandleader's waltzy-schmaltzy music, his long-running TV show and that whole "wunnerful" thing.

"People always joked about Lawrence Welk's being hokey, but he always said he was laughing too -- all the way to the bank," I explained to the boys. Whatever, they said. When can we play golf?

At check-in I expected a time-share pitch but was spared. We unpacked in our motel-style room, which was a little faded and dated but had a great golf-course view from its balcony.

Adjacent to the hotel was Mr. W's, the resort's main restaurant. After a 20-minute wait, we were seated. Adam ordered steak, and Ethan chose macaroni and cheese from the children's menu. Keith and I started with bowls of chowder from the buffet. Thin, crispy rounds of garlic toast went perfectly with the hearty chowder, loaded with meaty clams. The buffet included an attractive but ultimately bland array of salad, smoked mackerel, sea bass, salmon, pollock, au gratin potatoes, watery clam linguine, green beans and institutional chocolate cake.

Mr. W's karaoke bar overlooked the pool, so we had a serenade for our after-dinner swim. We won't soon forget the experience of splashing to show tunes and lounge ballads. No doubt our presence made the setting less magical for the amateur crooners. It can't be easy belting out "I am I, Don Quixote," to the sound of children's cannonballs. But I watched one silver-haired gent pull it off with aplomb -- while waving an imaginary sword, no less.

A secret pass

The next morning we ate breakfast at Mr. W's, where I was happy to find real oatmeal, not the instant stuff, on the menu. Everyone else had Belgian waffles.

Keith and the boys left for their 9 a.m. tee time, and I went in search of a tennis partner. Tennis is one of the resort's selling points, so I, ever hopeful, had brought my racket. The golf pros told me that the activities director in the time-share area of the resort kept a tennis interest list and that hotel guests were welcome to add their names.

Apparently the gate guards had been told otherwise. They stopped me at the time-share entrance and said only owners and their guests had access. After some explaining, they reluctantly gave me a day pass and said, "Don't tell anybody." (Oops.) Not that it mattered. Most of the tennis crowd had checked out the previous week.

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