Park Hyatt Aviara Resort -- Exceptional Golf Journey Through a Botanical Garden

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeff Janas


CARLSBAD, CA -- "I want people to leave here thinking they played exceptional golf through a botanical garden," said Renny Brown, Director of Golf at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

Looking from the tee of the par three 14th hole. It drops 70 feet to the green, and much of that hillside is planted in colorful vegetation.


Fortunately for Brown and the rest of his staff at Aviara, the vast majority of folks will head home thinking just that.  Aviara is the San Diego area's only Arnold Palmer Signature course (opened in July, 1991), and it's a real gem.  Rarely will you find such a combination of good golf, natural beauty and, as Brown hints at above, a garden setting.


Even the name's distinctive.  Brown explains:  "Aviara is a man-made word.  We did a lengthy study to try and come up with the proper name for the master-planned community that was being built -- and our search came up with Aviara, which is a combination of aviary (as in birds) and the Spanish word for land."

The par three 11th hole. There's a lot of trouble between you and the green, but you won't mind the view.


The aviary part stems from the golf course's location, adjacent to the famous Batiquitos Lagoon, which has been called one of the most important wetlands in Southern California and the United States.


The land's been restored with mitigation money from the Port of Los Angeles -- to a state it would've been in hundreds of years ago, prior to humankind's influences.  Batiquitos Lagoon is home to several hundred species of waterfowl, and at least two of the endangered species that inhabit it are making remarkable comebacks.

Looking back up the hill from the 8th green, you'll see the rolling terrain of Aviara.


It's hard to fathom, but there's really that 'environmental' feeling all throughout Aviara, even though it's connected to an extremely luxurious hotel in the Park Hyatt Aviara, and also because it's central to a residential area.  Palmer, as always, has designed a very playable but challenging course that fits nicely into its surrounds, and those neighboring plots of land have been enhanced to the nth degree by colorful flora.


Having played much golf in the east during the spring and fall seasons, there's a lot of color to behold, but I'll admit I've never seen anything quite like Aviara when it comes down to vivid imagery.  It's like teeing it up at a garden store with annuals, perennials and bulbs all around you -- sixty acres worth.

Bring your draw swing with you on the tee of the par four 15th hole. At 473 yards, you'll need a Palmer signature drive to set you up for the approach shot.


The layout is also surprisingly undulated.  The eighteen holes wind up, over and through three natural canyons, and there's 300 feet of elevation change on just the front nine alone.  The first few holes are relatively flat, but starting with the fifth hole, the adventure begins.  It's not really a mountain-style course, but there are enough uphill, downhill and sidehill shots to provide more than sufficient topographical variety.


Along with the undulations are plentiful ponds and lakes -- seven lakes circulate water throughout the golf course, adding attractive accenting to the greenery and landscaping.

Aviara is bordered in spots by a residential community, but there's never a crowded feeling. Here, the downhill par four 7th hole.


Let's not leave out course conditioning.  Aviara's almost always in great shape, and they'll keep making sure of it.


"Southern California is a difficult place to achieve exceptional golf course conditions, but our location here in the coastal zone has some advantages," Brown said.  "We're able to lightly overseed (with Rye on the hybrid Bermuda grass) in our off-season and still keep it very playable, and through the summer as well."

Despite its abundant presence, the landscaping doesn't really get in the way. Aviara's still very playable, as you'd expect from an Arnold Palmer designed golf course.


The course's beauty and San Diego area location is a large part of the reason why the lady pros visit every year in March, with the LPGA Kia Classic. The color is in full bloom at that time, and it's almost as entertaining to watch the golf course as it is to watch the ladies play it.


You'll find the manicured look tee to green, and as is the case in most coastal areas of California, Aviara's greens have been taken over by Poa Annua.  "They were originally seeded to bentgrass, but they've converted to Poa -- it just takes over.  But it's a lot easier to make it a top performing grass than it was years ago.  We don't get many complaints about bumpy greens, so we're satisfied with it," Brown said.

Water, landscaping and golf at the short par three 3rd hole.


A trademark of Arnold Palmer courses, those Poa covered greens are large and sloping.  Resort players will enjoy using the putter a good amount at Aviara, but just being on the green in regulation won't guarantee a birdie try or even a par, if you're not on the right part of these huge monsters.  The putting surfaces appear flatter than they are, and you'll work hard to read them to make putts on the course.


Another Palmer signature is wide playing areas, which are also in abundance at Aviara.  Despite the copious landscaping, you'll be able to easily find your ball once you've hit it, unless you're wet.  Palmer likes landing areas to be at least fifty yards wide, with the philosophy that golf should be fun -- and the concept works well in Carlsbad.

Looking back up the hill at the Aviara Park Hyatt Hotel, from the faiway of the par five 10th hole.


At just over 7,000 yards from the back tees, Aviara's length will provide enough challenge for low handicappers, while its large playing areas and big greens will make the occasional player leave satisfied as well.


Apparently we weren't the only ones to think so, as golf publications consistently rank Aviara as one of the best courses in California -- and considering the competition, that's saying a lot.

No water on the par three 6th hole, but at 195-yards and uphill, it's still quite a challenge.


It's also a function of service.  "I think we've been recognized, not only because we have a great golf course, but also because of our levels of service and attention to detail.  It's a terrific piece of property and a great test of golf, and it's a lovely physical structure, the resort itself -- a fine hotel in every respect," Brown theorized.


"But there are quite a few places with outstanding golf courses in attractive settings -- though very few can combine it with our levels of service.  We're very fortunate, we have hundreds of very dedicated, hard working employees who feel like service at a high level is a notable profession, and it's what we aim to do -- anticipate the needs of our guests and have that for them," Brown added.

Arnold Palmer won't cheat you on Aviara's 443-yard, par four 18th hole. The number two handicap hole, you'll need your best swings for last to conquer it.


It starts at the bag drop, but what was particularly noteworthy was the starter -- who calls you when it's time, explains the nuances of the golf course and chats with you on the first tee.  It's a nice touch at a place that sees a lot of guests.


Along with the Hyatt name and this type of golf course comes a fairly substantial price tag, as you're probably guessing.  You'll spend some green on this course and at this resort, but if you take advantage of the proper time of year and absorb its amenities and services, you'll find value for the outlay.  This type of experience doesn't come along very often, and it's worth it to give it a shot.

One final note before describing some of the highlight holes -- Aviara has some "courses within a course." The starter told us about combo courses, which combine the different sets of tees to provide more variety. If you don't want to play the tips, there's a Palmer/Blue combo.

Are you at a golf course or a botanical garden?


And if you want to tee it up on the course the ladies play at the Kia Classic, you can do that too. Better swallow  your pride, though... unless you're Jordan Spieth, they'll likely beat you badly.


Highlight holes at Aviara include the third hole, the first of three par threes on the course with water and the beautiful landscaping.  The shortest of the one-shotters at 149-yards, it's a near-island green -- that's very large.  Though you'll only need a short-iron to reach it, this is a great example of Aviara's challenge -- because of the undulating green, it's a tough two-putt if you're not close to the flag.


The par five eighth hole will also leave an impression.  It plays downhill off the tee, so it's the epitome of a risk-reward hole, reachable in two under certain conditions -- with a very difficult second shot.  Should you choose to lay-up, it's a fun wedge shot into a green that spills off in different directions.  There's a stream that comes off of a hillside on the left and goes into several levels of water -- bring your camera for this one.


On the back nine, the fourteenth hole is a downhill par three that drops almost seventy feet in elevation from tee to green.  It's the hole you'll probably remember most from playing Aviara -- and at 200 yards from the back tee, it's also quite a challenge.  Because of its exposed position, the wind is always a factor, and the green is fronted by water at the front and right.  When you finish on fourteen and head to the fifteenth tee, glance back at the hillside on fourteen -- and you'll see how and why Aviara gets its 'garden' reputation.


Eighteen is a classic Palmer finishing hole.  Brown describes it:  "Eighteen sorts out a lot of games at the end of the round -- it's a hole that three or eight is a distinct possibility, because it's a very difficult hole.  You'll have to challenge the water off the tee to leave a manageable second shot -- and it's one of the few areas on the golf course where there isn't much bailout room.  If you need to leave it short, there's only a very narrow neck.  It's a fun hole."


Indeed it is.  Aviara's the type of experience that all levels of players will enjoy.  If you play from the correct set of tees, it certainly won't beat you up, and friendly scores will only enhance the fond memories you'll take from its beautiful surroundings.  Like Brown says, it's exceptional golf through a botanical garden.

Park Hyatt Aviara Resort Aviara Golf Club
7447 Batiquitos Dr.
Carlsbad, CA  92011
Phone:  (760) 603-6900
FAX:  (760) 603-6901
Course Designer:  Arnold Palmer
Director of Golf:  Renny Brown, PGA
Associate Golf Professional:  Johnny Walker, PGA
Superintendent: Kevin Kienast, CGCS
Palmer                    7007   141/74.7
Palmer/Blue Combo    6762   138/73.4
Back                      6591   135/72.5
Middle                    6054   129/70.0   (L) 140/75.8
Forward                  5007   126/69.3   (M) 117/65.0

Consult the website for current rates and packages.

Rates include golf car and range balls as well, for the guests who are playing that day. 
As you would gather, the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort offers a wide variety of amenities -- consult the website for information.

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