AN AVIARA GOLF & SPA WEEKEND

The Game

The golf course at Four Seasons Aviara Resort in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego is regularly listed by various golf magazines as one of the 100 best public courses in the United States and among the top 25 in California. The course is now included on Electronic Arts’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’07, a golf game that can be played on PlayStation 2, Xbox, or any PC.

Four Seasons Aviara PR Director Tony Pistillo proudly reports that the Arnold Palmer-designed Aviara golf course on the banks of the Bataquitos Lagoon and within sight of the Pacific Ocean is one of the 21 golf courses one can play on this year’s version of the Tiger Woods video/computer game, which sold over 10 million copies last year alone. Aviara, a rambling, hilly, veritable “walk in the woods,” joins classic courses such as St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Riviera Country Club, The National, The K Club, and others on the popular console. “The 18th hole at Aviara was chosen by Arnold Palmer,” Tony says, “as one of the favorite holes he’s ever designed.” It is a difficult dogleg right over the water into the clubhouse, often into the sunset.

Fairways and greens of all the courses depicted in the game are meticulously surveyed by an individual (Darryl Sharp, mostly, who apparently doesn’t play golf but travels the world plotting out courses with his video camera, taking still photographs, and calibrating various GPS tracking and positioning devices). Mr. Sharp maps out the various bunkers, and slopes, and records nuances of the fairway, the height and difficulty of the rough, and the undulations and surprises on the green. “[Darryl] walks the course from sunrise to sunset with a GPS tracker on his back,” Tony marvels, “and he’s walking every sand trap, every green, literally every square foot of a course. It takes him over a week to walk the entire course from sunrise to sunset. He does about two or three holes a day.”

The Golf Course

This year (2006), Conde Nast Traveler voted Aviara the number-one Golf Resort on the West Coast, and Golf Magazine rated Aviara the number-one golf resort in Southern California (2006). The 20,000-square-foot spa (with 20 separate guest rooms) features golf-related massages and stretching treatments. In the private “golfers’ suite” at the spa, one will find an assortment of cigars, plenty of Arnold Palmer’s drink concoction (half-lemonade, half-iced tea), and a private pool. “The 18th hole at Aviara was chosen by Arnold Palmer,” Tony says, “as one of the favorite holes he’s ever designed.” It is a difficult dogleg right over the water into the clubhouse, often into the sunset.

Rick Ransburg, director of recreation, explains that the golf course was developed and designed by Arnold Palmer (the only one in the San Diego area); construction of the 180-acre course (12 acres of water) began in October 1989, and it opened for play in July 1991. It winds itself through three natural valleys and boasts stands of coastal sage and other indigenous flora. Some readers may remember Aviara from its made-for-TV PGA-sanctioned “Par 3 Challenge,” shown on FOX TV on Thanksgiving Day in 1999, 2000, and 2001.

“What we’re most proud of,” Tony Pistillo says, “is the TaylorMade Performance Lab at our Aviara Golf Academy.” (The only other TaylorMade Performance Lab in the U.S. is at Reynolds Plantation in Atlanta, Georgia; another will open soon in Portland, Oregon). The Golf Academy is run by Kip Puterbaugh; Golf Magazine ranks it in the top 25 schools in the United States, and ranks Kip among the top 100 instructors. He trains many tour pros, Chris Reilly, Scott Simpson, and Natalie Gulbis among them. Kip also trains comedian Bill Murray (“Caddyshack”) who is a very serious low-handicap golfer. Every year before the Pebble Beach tournament, Murray trains with Puterbaugh for a week, before going up with him to the tournament.

Golf is a major industry in the San Diego area: there are over 35 golf companies with headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Carlsbad, including some of the biggest names in the game: Titleist, Callaway, and TaylorMade. “Carlsbad, California,” Tony says, “is the golf manufacturing capital of the world.” There are over 85 public courses in the San Diego area, including Torrey Pines, Mount Woodson, and Coronado. For more on the golf course, Golf Academy, and golf packages, call 760-603-6900.

The Performance Lab

The TaylorMade Performance Lab features the MATT (Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade) System, a swing analysis and club-fitting system previously available only to tour pros. For $350, players don a full-body suit (the same kind Tiger wore to mimic his swing for the video game). In the 20-foot-by-20-foot lab, nine cameras capture every move of a person’s swing via special infrared lights and reflectors on the head and shaft of each special test club. Reflectors are placed on the full-body suit to position the arms, shoulders, elbows, head, chest, hips, legs, knees, and other parts of the body during the swing and at impact.

A custom fitting for an entire set of clubs (woods, irons, putter) costs $350, and if you are only interested in one club – a driver, putter, or an iron – the price is considerably less, and you get to take home a CD of your swing that will prove invaluable to anyone seeking to improve his game. There is no requirement or pressure to buy clubs after the fitting, but if you do decide you want a new set and are in a hurry, for an extra $100, they’ll make your (TaylorMade) clubs in 24 hours and deliver them to your room, in a custom bag, with your name on it. Clubs could cost from $1,800 (for a complete set of 14), to as much as $3,000, and more, depending upon the configuration selected. Of course, you could take your CD and order a custom-made set from someone else – like Bill Kelly at Tee Time in Carpinteria (805-566-9948), for example, or simply use the CD to study your swing and continue using your existing clubs. Call the Performance Lab at 619-297-8700 for more information.

Vivace

When Robert Cima first became general manager at Aviara, he saw the need for a star chef for Vivace, the resort’s star restaurant, so he called his friend Mario Batali to ask for his help in finding one. Batali, while famous for both his TV show “Molto Mario” and Babbo Ristorante in Manhattan, actually got his start at the Biltmore in Montecito many years ago. (The Montecito Connection includes Rob Sapp, regional director of hotel marketing for Four Seasons, who worked at the Biltmore from August 1988 to June 1999.) Mario obliged, and protégé Bruce Logue, who had trained under Mario for several years at Babbo became Vicace’s head chef, introducing a cuisine he calls ‘Regional Interpretive Italian.’ If, say, white truffles are in season, Vivace offers a four-course prix-fixe dinner featuring the delicacy. Vivace specialties include a signature black spaghetti made from squid ink, but Mario stays true to his Italian roots, saying of all his dishes, “Nonna (‘grandma’ in Italian) must approve.” Pastry Chef Franck Riffaud comes from Dublin, Ireland but grew up in Bordeaux, France. All breads, breakfast pastries, and desserts are created by him. Menu and wine prices are moderate: pasta dishes are in the $15 to $20 range, and entrees are somewhat more.

The Hotel

Aviara, run by Four Seasons, is everything one would expect from a first-class establishment, including its desirable “Four Seasons” mattresses and bedding. With Sea World, Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, and other diversions nearby, those attractions and a “Kids for All Seasons” program at the hotel will keep children occupied and entertained (as long as one adult is on the property). During Fourth of July, for example, there is Indian teepee storytelling, and the Christmas holiday period offers its own specialized diversions.

To Stay

Room rates start at $395 on weekends, $350 during the week, and special golf and golf/spa rates are also available. For example, an “Ultimate Golf Package” at $550 per night includes the room, a round of golf for two with a GPS-equipped cart, and practice range privileges. If you simply want to play the course but are already booked somewhere else, Aviara offers a Southern California resident special rate (through December 24) of $120 per round (regular rates are $195 during the week, $215 on weekends). Call 760-603-6800 for reservations and information or go to: fourseasons.com for golf/spa weekends, bed & breakfast packages, and more. Carlsbad is 40 miles north of San Diego and is reachable from Montecito via 101 to 405, to 5; in light traffic, the trip could be as short as two and a half hours, otherwise, figure three to three and a half hours by car.