It may seem hard to be believe that a course sitting in view of San Diego’s city skyline could qualify as a hiding gem, but, alas, that’s the fate of Balboa Park.
The oldest course in San Diego, opened in 1915, is a local favorite yet may barely register regionally or to tourists due to little promotion as one of three city courses run by the city of San Diego.
If outsiders have heard of it, it’s likely in reference to Phil Mickelson playing his formative rounds there – or him still joining his kids for an occasional loop.
Another possibility is catching word of Sam Snead’s course record of 60 shot in 1943, a mark that still carries a magical aura due to the legend attached.
Beyond that, Balboa exists as a humble home to loyal range of local golfers looking to catch a round downtown. But others who don’t experience the place are indeed missing something.
The course is narrow, a bit quirky in places, but it provides unmatched golf course views of downtown and a great walk to boot.
“It’s a cherished treasure in San Diego,” says Paul Cushing, the Assistant Deputy Director for the City of San Diego’s courses. “It has an incredible local following.”
With both an 18-hole and 9-hole course on property, Balboa is a golf venue for all ages – and at a value.
“For $14, you can get out and play nine holes,” Cushing says of the executive course for residents. “You can’t find that hardly anywhere anymore.”
The 18-hole hosts 60,000 rounds a year, the nine-hole 50,000. That’s an impressive amount of play for a game that’s supposedly on the decline.
Cushing says rounds are actually on the rise at Balboa, partly due to recent improvements, such as a new irrigation system and new cart paths along with tweaks to a few holes.
The next steps to increase the lure of Balboa are plans to renovate and update the clubhouse, restaurant and pro shop.
There isn’t a definitive start date, but there is a definitive intent: To attract more non-golfers.
“We’re looking to attract more non-golfers through an upgraded restaurant and more attractive clubhouse experience,” Cushing says. “People in the community really like coming out to Balboa to eat and we’re looking to improve their experience.”
Maximizing the clubhouse view of downtown, which is spectacular, is part of that plan, including adding a patio space.
Expanding a limited pro shop space will similarly expand the options for golfers, many of whom, Cushing says, cherish the exec. course as much as the 18.
“It’s a great, fun golf course with a good variety of par 3s and 4s,” he says. “You can hit every club in the bag, and it’s a very easy walk with trees and rolling hills. People just love it, and it’s very affordable.”
When you play the 18-hole course, aside from the opening tee shot, which is elevated and gives you the first glimpse of downtown, you’re likely to remember the similarly scenic closing stretch. A brief tour:
No. 16, par 5, 555 yards – The fairway bottlenecks, making for a tight tee shot, but if you avoid OB, you’ve got a great chance to score here. Regardless of birdie or bogey, the view from the green here offers the peak view of downtown.
No. 17, par 3, 198 yards – This skyline remains in view from the tee of this elevated par 3. The last of a strong group of par 3s, club down and don’t go long here and you’ll keep par in play.
No. 18, par 4, 316 yards – Nicknamed “Cardiac Hill,” this tight closing par 4 is dead uphill, thus the moniker for walkers. Avoid the trees on the left and a walk-off birdie in the shadow of the Balboa clubhouse could still be yours.
After being treated to a fun round and a unique view of the city, it’s hard to imagine a round on San Diego’s oldest golf course ever getting old.
Balboa Park By the Numbers
1915 – The year Balboa opened, making it the oldest course in San Diego
1943 – The year Sam Snead carded the course record (60)
28 – Snead’s score on the front nine of his record round
27 – Holes at Balboa (an 18 and 9-hole exec.)
110,000 – Annual rounds played at Balboa’s two courses
$14/10 – Rate to walk the executive course for residents and seniors
For more information about Balboa Park, or to book a round, go to www.sandiego.gov/golf