I’ve never been as confident in the thriving future of golf as I was while visiting Colina Park Golf Course in San Diego, California, this summer.
This cool little Par Three pitch-and-putt course located in a city park in a kind of rundown part of town was buzzing when I showed up at about 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in July.
Colina Park G.C. is the headquarters for Pro Kids – The First Tee Program of San Diego, what appears to be a very successful partnership in attracting children to golf and developing their character and providing opportunities for them to grow.
Apparently, 100% of my modest greens fee goes to supporting that program, which I thought was probably the best thing I would do that whole day.
The surrounding neighborhood, with its plethora of liquor, check-cashing, and prepaid mobile phone stores on every successive block, diminished my expectations of what kind and condition of course I might find as I approached the course.
Short of crossing the border into Tijuana, I don’t know that I could have gotten further away from the cushy La Jolla beach house our guys’ Baseball Trip had rented for the weekend. The 10-15 foot high chain link fence enclosing the course didn’t relieve any of my trepidation.
However, as it turns out, the citizens of San Diego have something worth preserving and protecting in their golf course at Colina Park.
Once inside the fence, I was greeted by no less than four or five dozen juniors golf bags spread across the clubhouse’s back patio, as it turns out that there was a kids’ tournament this particular morning with what must have been a hundred or so junior golfers.
This meant I would only be able to play the first nine holes twice, which I was perfectly happy to do, since I’m not sure I have the patience or mental fortitude to author a hole-by-hole review of a 1,200 yard long par 3 course..
As if right out of the George C. Thomas playbook, all of the teeing grounds at Colina Park are artificial turf mats. At first this struck me as quite the contradiction to the plush, wonderfully manicured grounds that appeared to cover the rest of the course.
However, once I got a few holes into the course and noticed how many people were playing with me on a beautiful San Diego Saturday morning, I realized that the course must get tons of play from children and adults of varying skill levels.
Thus, given the limited space, the dense shadows the course’s trees cast, and the fact it’s a municipal course with a municipal course budget, the durable mats are an absolute necessity.
The mats themselves, just like the rest of the Colina Park Golf Course, were in great condition. During my 90 minutes or so at Colina Park, I was in amazement at this little Garden of Eden right in the middle of an otherwise dusty, underwhelming sea that was the City Heights neighborhood.
The greens, in particular, were kept in amazing condition, especially given the $15.00 price tag for 18 holes (walking, of course). Plush, dark, green turf covered the putting surfaces without any trace of disease or invasive weed grasses. The putts rolled as smooth and true as one might expect at an upper tier daily fee course.
I’m not sure where the park gathers its water from, but the greens were surprisingly spongy, which was great for holding shots on the putting surface.
Just as importantly, I recall there being very few, if any, unrepaired ball marks on the greens, so whatever lessons The First Tee is teaching those kids are taking hold.
Beyond the dozens of kids roaming the grounds and great conditioning of the course, my most outstanding memory of Colina Park was that it was a tremendously fun golf experience. The average hole distance is 70 yards, with the longest hole measuring a mere than 109 yards.
For my game, this meant I probably could have played the course with a single wedge and a putter, but I carried my full assortment of clubs with me so I could work on various short game shots.
As an aside, if I had the opportunity to play Colina Park again, it is a course tailor-made for my handy Rival + Revel club silo, which may be my most treasured off-the-course accessory.
For my first time through the front nine, I played it straight, trying to play the course as I would if I were playing on a full-sized course. I hit full shots if I could; if those weren’t feasible, I’d try to hit a solid half or 3/4 shot into the green.
Inspired by the weekend’s British Open Championship, I decided to play my second nine using only the “ground game,” meaning I teed off attempting only low, running chips and bump and run shots. Oddly enough, I scored two shots better playing the ball on the ground than I did using my aerial game.
For a course with such a small footprint, there’s actually a fair bit of elevation change, so a lot of different types of challenges are presented. It all made for a fantastic way to spend an hour or two working on my golf game.
The only knock against Colina Park on the morning I visited had nothing to do with the course itself but rather one unfortunate group of golfers and, more specifically, the adults I presume to be their dads.
On my second loop, I caught up to three kids playing a round under the strict guidance and criticism of what I can only describe as golf’s version of “Little League Dads.”
All five were impeccably dressed, outfitted in the newest and best Nike and TaylorMade gear, with spotless golf bags and shiny, expensive looking juniors’ clubs.
When I approached one of the dads and handed him a headcover that had been left behind on the previous hole and received not so much as “oh, hey, thanks,” I instantly knew those poor kids were in for a long day.
My suspicions were confirmed when I noticed the dads coaching and critiquing each one of each kids copious practice swings on the tee before hitting the ball. I decided to play around the group, though at Colina Park G.C., you don’t ever really get “away” from anyone.
I was able to play 3 full holes in the time it took those kids to complete one hole, and it had nothing to do with the kids’ golf abilities.
One kid unfortunately found a fairway bunker on one of the longer holes, and I swear, the dad spent no less than 4 or 5 minutes explaining to the kid what he’d done wrong, why he was in the bunker, and the various ways that the result was unacceptable.
My heart broke for those kids, because none of them ever came close to cracking a smile during the half of an hour or so I was able to observe them from adjacent holes.
Experiencing that up close, as a relatively new father, was perhaps one of the most important parenting and life lessons I could have ever been taught.
The Helicopter Dads Club aside, I left Colina Park completely surprised at how much fun and what a quality experience I’d had in such an unlikely locale.
It’s an absolute gem of a course located in the heart of the urban core that I desperately wish could be copied in every major and mid-sized city in the United States.
If you’re in San Diego and you’ve grown weary of trophy hunting at Torrey Pines and Aviara, spend a quiet morning at Colina Park, and you’ll likely remember why you fell in love with golf.