Aviara: An Earthly Eden

Carlsbad’s Park Hyatt Aviara Resort sets the bar high

Alive with botanical and avian bounty, Carlsbad’s Park Hyatt Aviara Resort also provides a serene sanctuary for golfers and their guests.

Like the men and women carrying binoculars, cameras and tripods along the verdant trails between Batiquitos Lagoon and Aviara Golf Club, I came to this stunning Carlsbad resort in search of birdies.

It took three holes on the 7,007-yard Arnold Palmer- designed layout at Aviara before I finally found one—a warbler—that seemingly cheered me on after my flushed 9-iron on the pond-fronted par-3 cleared the water and stuck within makeable range. Some fellow feathered dinosaur descendants joined in after my putt fell. They kept it up throughout the round, mostly mocking my adjustments to playing at sea level, putting on Poa and not getting any roll on the Bermuda fairways. But the 130 or so avian species that give the resort its name—an amalgam of “aviary” and “terra”-added a vibrant soundtrack to 18 lush, botanically endowed and challenging golf holes.

A far less chirpy gallery rooted on the more talented and well-adjusted players of the LPGA Tour here during last March’s KIA Classic, won in a playoff by Beatriz Recari. Photos of the event, along with the requisite merchandise, appear in the golf shop—part of the sprawling 32,000-square-foot clubhouse that crouches across from the palm-lined road that climbs and winds towards the magnificent Park Hyatt Aviara Resort and Spa.

A palatial Spanish Colonial building perched on a bluff with views of the lagoon, ocean and 200 luxuriantly landscaped acres, the 329-room resort opened in 1997, six years after the course did. The Four Seasons ran it until Hyatt took over in 2010. It’s long enjoyed some cachet among those in the golf biz for its proximity to Callaway, TaylorMade and Cobra headquarters, and for the Aviara Golf Academy, which for 22 years has housed renowned instructor Kip Puterbaugh and the nation’s first TaylorMade Performance Lab.

Performance, however, took a backseat to pleasure as my girlfriend and I took the scenic, coastal route from San Diego Airport. Along the way we resisted the score-busting siren songs of Torrey Pines, Barona Creek and Grand Del Mar in favor of a resort experience that was about much more than golf.

We found it at Aviara, where the soothing scent of kai jasmine perfumes the lavish, marble-appointed lobby and the spacious guest rooms all come with a private balcony. Ours overlooked the meticulously manicured grounds which boast eucalyptus and African tulip trees, Torrey pines, pride of Madeira, agave and more than 100 other plant varieties. They frame the stately courtyard and the paths leading to two pool areas—one for families, the other for adults—and down towards the golf course and lagoon.

Just as the course doubles as a nature preserve, so does its clubhouse double as the home to the resort’s signature restaurant. Arrive hungry. Argyle Steakhouse shatters any pretense of froufrou California cuisine. Chef Kurtis Habecker plates bold flavors in creative combinations. The Maine lobster and shrimp comes with corn-avocado salsa, chorizo waffle and maple syrup. Beef bacon and chilies flavor the beer-braised mussels and clams. The steak carpaccio appears with cornmeal fried oysters, horseradish cream cheese and mustard sauce.

And those are just the appetizers. (There are delectable salads, too: A warm spinach with spiced hazelnuts; heirloom tomatoes with cucumbers and burrata.)

Although chicken, ahi and a vegetarian paella grace the menu, Argyle’s entrees focus predictably on California Natural Prime Beef cuts—including rib eyes in 18-ounce bone-in and dry-aged 12-ounce varieties— and a selection of Wagyu steaks from Idaho and Australia. You can surf your turf with lobster, prawns, salmon or sea bass, or enhance them with a delightful selection of sauces (I went with a cognac and green peppercorns), crusts (try the truffle butter) and rubs. The go-to “side” is the gooey-good lobster mac-ncheese. And speaking of gooey, we also dug into a Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée and capped it off with 20-year-old tawny port.

After all, we were eating for two…two days, apparently.

Aviara encourages such sybaritic indulgences. Its spacious Bespoke Spa features customized treatments for body and mind, as well as a solarium, whirlpools, sauna and steam rooms. There’s also an indoor/outdoor private suite with every possible amenity—including a Swiss shower, fireplace and heated pool.

The resort isn’t on the beach, which makes the scene at both pools quite lively. We lounged at the family-friendly one after working off some of the steak— or was it the crème brûlée?—on one of the six (two clay, four hard-surface) tennis courts. A few poolside cocktails and cooling plunges followed.

Aviara’s 20-minute proximity to downtown San Diego led us off-property for dinner (read about the U.S. Grant Grill here), but not for lack of onsite options. The California Bistro’s sunny farm-to-table buffet draws the breakfast and lunch crowd, while the menu and refined ambiance at Vivace certainly warrants a visit—especially for its Sunday lunch, or pranzo.

My Sunday lunch was had by Aviara’s uphill par-5 fifth and the course’s 66 combined acres of lakes and bosks, which apparently thrive on white dimpled orbs. Aviara’s four par 3s (Nos. 3, 6, 11 and 14), once considered demanding enough to test the pros in the made-for-TV “Par-3 Challenge,” remain visual highlights, but the four finishing holes comprise a gorgeous gauntlet—capped by the intimidating 443-yard 18th—that has few rivals in the difficulty department.

Spanish-speaking friends tell me “yo aviara” translates to “I hurried.” I didn’t. I savored every minute and sank a par putt to finish my round. It wasn’t as dramatic as Beatriz Recari’s birdie to win the KIA. But I nonetheless received an avian ovation.

For more information: parkhyattaviara.com; 760-448-1234.

Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.comJon Rizzi is the founding editor and co-owner of this regional golf-related media company producing magazines, web content, tournaments, events and the Golf Passport.

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