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The Grand Golf Club, at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego, is a contemporary Tom Fazio design that takes advantage of its spacious, canyon setting.Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Even the hardest of hard-core golfers will occasionally admit there’s more to life than golf, especially when travelling.

Many of us will go to great lengths (and costs) to visit faraway courses and push ourselves to the limit playing 36-hole-a-day marathons. I’ve chased balls in China, all through North America and a handful of its offshore islands, and lately, I’ve done lengthy immersions in Ireland and Scotland, the game’s home. Golf has been a passport to the world for me.

Increasingly, I’m choosing destinations that offer not only great golf but also a range of other experiences, everything from natural phenomena to culture, to food and nightlife.

San Diego has always been one of those spots for me.

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The Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego is only about 15 years old but has Old World charm, inspired by the work of early 20th-century architect Addison Mizner, who set the tone for the Spanish colonial revival movement in Southern Florida.Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Why you should visit

On my latest visit, I stayed at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort, just north of the city core, for a few days of golf and an escape from the Canadian winter.

The Grand Del Mar is in a valley, alongside the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, giving it a feeling of seclusion and calmness. Adding to the serenity is the hotel’s grandeur: Its 249 rooms and suites stuffed with tasteful antique furnishings put me in mind of a southern European chateau.

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The hotel’s grandeur and tasteful antique furnishings are reminiscent of a southern European chateau.Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

The hotel was built in a Mediterranean style inspired by the work of early 20th-century architect Addison Mizner, who set the tone for the Spanish colonial revival movement in Southern Florida. The Grand Del Mar is not beachside cool as one might expect in a SoCal getaway, but it’s nonetheless impressive.

The resort’s golf course, called simply the Grand, leans decidedly toward a modern aesthetic, designed by contemporary golf architecture giant Tom Fazio and opened in 1999. Golf courses in canyons or amid mountains can often feel restricted, with the routing of the holes awkward, to accommodate the unmovable land. But that’s not the case at the Grand. The course is generously spread out over 350 acres, about double what a typical course might need. Fazio had the luxury of stringing the holes through the valley’s wide and user-friendly corridors, separating each hole by as much land as he needed for a natural flow around the property.

This means you can often be on one hole and not see any other hole, or even other players unless they are in your group. The separation of holes is a great quality for a course, especially at a resort where at least part of the idea is to relax and feel disconnected.

Just as grand as the course is the resort’s three-Michelin star restaurant, Addison. Chef William Bradley draws on Southern California influences and uses local ingredients for a nine-course tasting menu that starts at US$355 a person. Book early, the wait for tables can be up to five months.

Since you’re in the neighbourhood

There is so much more in San Diego than golf. Years ago, we brought our daughters to the San Diego Zoo to see both koalas and pandas, their two favourite animals at the time. (The pandas have since moved on. The koalas remain.)

On that March Break getaway, we also walked the lively Gaslamp Quarter downtown (as a family we were more enthralled by the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop than the popping nightclubs), and an inviting promenade along the bay that leads to the Pacific Ocean; we sea kayaked, whale watched and made day trips into idyllic nearby beach towns, such as Del Mar.

We also enjoyed San Diego’s perpetually perfect weather – sunny and warm, with a gentle ocean breeze, but without intense heat or humidity. That never gets old.

Room for improvement

The conventional thinking these days for a golf resort is that it must have more than one course. Going around the same track over and over eventually wears thin.

On this point, the Grand Del Mar falls short. A second course, especially a short course or a putting course, would be a lovely addition. (These less-intimidating golf options would also be great for beginners and even non-golfers.)

But it’s hardly a deal-breaker. The Grand has a relationship with Maderas Golf Club, about 25 minutes away near the town of Poway, and can set you up with a tee time. Or you can strike out on your own to one of San Diego’s other 70 courses. Torrey Pines Golf Course offers a big-league experience if you like to play courses you see pros play on TV. It’s in the neighbouring town of La Jolla, next door to the oceanside Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

The take away

I also went to the other end of the spectrum on my recent visit, leaving the resort one afternoon for a completely different golf experience, at the buzzy Goat Hill Park in nearby Oceanside.

The Goat, as it’s known, is a public course saved from a developer’s bulldozer by golf clothing designer John Ashworth and others, who saw the scrubby but lovable facility as an important part of their community. The short course, a collection of mostly par-3s complemented by some par-4s and one par-5, was built on a roiling piece of land – comfortable for only a mountain goat, perhaps. And its turf conditioning is, well, not the same as the luxurious Grand’s.

The Goat isn’t really about appearances or great golf architecture. It’s about an idea – that golf should be accessible for all, affordable, unpretentious and loads of fun. When I visited, I saw an older man playing in a tweed blazer with clubs from a past era, solo golfers who brought along their dogs and a handful of children on the driving range blasting shots into the cloudless afternoon sky.

It’s a place every golfer should visit when playing in San Diego, if nothing else for a reminder of the true spirit and intentions of the game.

The writer was a guest of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. It did not review or approve this story.

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