Saturday, February 13

Common Courses: Balboa Park Golf Course

They’re not Pebble, Bandon, Kiawah, or Pinehurst. Common courses are the modest 9- and 18-hole munis and semi-private clubs that most golfers play. Following is another installment in an occasional series.

THE LONGER I’VE BEEN away from San Diego, the more I appreciate the decade I lived there. John Steinbeck, the famous author, once made a distinction between weather and climate. He said he preferred weather. San Diego has climate, and it’s terrific for any outdoor activity. Like golf.

Besides Torrey Pines, Balboa Park Golf Course was one of my golf hangouts. It’s old, originally built in 1915. William Park Bell, a prominent California course architect, was involved in its design. Playing to a par of 72 and about 6,300 yards, Balboa is short. But I never considered it a pushover. It snakes through little canyons and climbs onto miniature plateaus. It’s a tight little stinker, with some ridiculously tiny greens. Accuracy, not length, is required at Balboa, called a “devilish little course” by one reviewer. I can’t disagree.

I loved Balboa. For me, it was a walk-up course. I didn’t have a regular group. I would arrive in the mid to late afternoon and, once I got on, play until dark. Through the canyons and up and down the sloping terrain, Balboa could be a vigorous walk, but not too tough for me when I was in my mid 20s. I once walked 18 at Balboa on the same day I ran a half marathon. Ah, youth.

Along with Torrey, Balboa hosts the San Diego City Amateur. If you want to set the course record at Balboa, it will take something in the 50s. And you’ll have to beat a man named Snead. Yes, that Snead.

When enlisted man Sam Snead was stationed in San Diego with the U.S. Navy, he posted a 60 at Balboa. (That was in 1943.) I’m sure it should have been a 59. Sam must have missed a makeable putt somewhere.

−The Armchair Golfer

Desert Aire Golf Course



Phil Capelle said...

Hi Neil,

Thank you for writing about Balboa Park. It brings back fond memories. 43 years ago, in a friendly grudge match, I shot my best round ever, a 70 despite a double at the evil par 3 sixth. My partner, Rick Schneider, is a starter there. Perhaps you know him? Great guy, and an excellent player.
I looked at the card and it appears as if the course has been changed a little - still, you are right about how exacting it is. I would love to see Tiger play it with this one rule: He must use driver on all par 4s and 5s!

Best, Phil

The Armchair Golfer said...

Phil, I thought the same thing when I looked up Balboa the other day. It's changed, just like Torrey is quite different from the course I remember in the 1980s. I think I actually scored better on Torrey. Balboa could give me fits. I'm impressed by your 70.

Anonymous said...

I just found your review. I'm a longtime member at Balboa (and a friend of Rick Schneider, the now-retired starter). The course has changed, with a rebuild completed in 1995 that enlarged most greens, eliminated the steep-sided bunkers and made a couple routing changes to add length and keep it "regulation". It's still as narrow and frustrating as ever, though. If you're in San Diego, give it another spin, but not before Spring of '11. By then the greens fungus will be conquered.

Larry Faria
San Diego

Anonymous said...

Balboa is the working man's track. Nothing but good people here. Was a member for years. This is by far the most classic public design in
SD. Small back to front greens, treelined, and old school simple shaped bunkering. Really only need a driver a few times here which makes you play every club in the bag. Side note. How come no one talks about how Balboa PArk GC is the original SD country Club- prior to 1900's SDCC was where the zoo parking lot is and stretched down to Florida canyon etc. And how about the fact that SDCC or AG Spalding tried to get Alister Mc Kenzie and another famous amateur whose name eludes me to design his golf course but their fees were too high- so Billy Bell did the original all sand SDCC and then contributed to the 1921 design where it currently lays. Does anyone know the history behind the 9 holer. Please dont tell me the story of Jay Haas's hole in one on the 4th again.
By the way- Rick Schneider was the best putter inside 10 feet I have ever seen period regardless of amateur or pro status.

Balboa fanatic