Ultimate Makeover

Colina Park's 18-hole, par-3 layout has been completely (and beautifully) redone

The revamped Colina Park Golf Course looks nothing like the original, with the showcase 18th green now adjacent to a lake and a watefall. Jim Baird/Union-Tribune photos

By Tod Leonard

September 23, 2003

The next time Craig Stadler is in town, the folks at the Pro Kids Golf Academy & Learning Center should meet him at the airport, put a blindfold on him, and drive over to their 52nd Street facility, just off El Cajon Boulevard.

They can lead him through their beautiful clubhouse, onto their pleasant patio, pull off the blindfold and watch the smile curl up under the Walrus' furry mustache.

The working-class City Heights neighborhood that surrounds the Colina Park Golf Course, where Stadler scored his first victory ever in junior golf, has changed considerably in 30 years. But not nearly as much as the golf course did in the past five months.

Set for a grand reopening this Saturday (September 27, 2003), Colina Park is now barely recognizable to anyone who played there in its first 49 years.

"It's such a dramatic improvement," Pro Kids Director of Golf Chip Boldin said. "Everyone who sees it goes, 'Wow.' It's like Disneyland. It's like a little kids' Aviara."

Comparing the little, par-54 track to Carlsbad's fine resort might be a bit of a reach, but Boldin's enthusiasm is understandable. In two-plus years, Pro Kids has accomplished $3.5 million in capital improvements.

Those changes began in 2001 with a two-story clubhouse and learning center. They continued with the completion earlier this year of a nifty nine-hole putting course and new practice area.

But for all the notable improvements, Pro Kids still featured a golf course, built in 1954 on the side of a hill, that played like a badly worn pool table with phone books stuck under the legs on one end. There was no nuance. And in some areas, there was no grass.

You wouldn't call it an embarrassment, because it was a precious golf outlet for many of the neighborhood kids and seniors. But after nearly five decades of use, drastically undersupported by a bare-bones irrigation system, Colina Park was badly in need of major surgery.

"Like anything 50 years old," Boldin said, "things tend to sag. Gravity starts taking its toll. It had gone so far past its life expectancy."

Pro Kids basically wiped the old slate clean.

Once $1.2 million in grants from the U.S. Golf Association, the city and state were secured, architect David Fleming used aerial photographs and computer models to solve a difficult puzzle: how to remake 18 holes on 15 tight acres while adding 140 trees, 12 bunkers (there were none before), two ponds and three waterfalls.

And, by the way, can you get rid of that pool-table effect, too?.

The result is a great little course whose quality and shotmaking values match any of its par-3 brethren in the county.
The holes, which feature new, synthetic turf tees, vary from 70 to 120 yards. And while the Bermuda fairways have some growing in to do, the tiered Bermuda greens are lush and challenging.

"The improvements we've made will prepare (the kids) as best we can for regulation golf courses," Boldin said.
"It's a whole new world, basically," said Pro Kids Executive Director Eric Murray, who was warming up on a recent morning to play a ceremonial first round with Pro Kids employees.

Murray was hired by Pro Kids two summers ago, and on his first trip from Seattle to see the course, he said he thought he was given bad directions. Driving along busy University Avenue, he couldn't believe a golf course could exist among such urban congestion.

Now, Murray looks out over the facility and marvels at what has been accomplished. Nine years after Pro Kids took over the city-owned lease, and two years after the opening of the $1.7 million clubhouse, the renovation circle is virtually complete.

"When I think about what has been done here in the last three years," Murray said, "it's just amazing to me."

Pro Kids has done an admirable job of attracting children to the game. Boldin said there are 1,800 kids registered in the program, which allows them to play for free. The result, he said, is about two-thirds of the 30,000 rounds played there last year were by kids. And those were mostly in the three months of summer.

The rest of the year the course is wide open during much of the day, and that's bad for the course's bottom line. Now that Boldin has an attractive new layout to offer, he would like to substantially increase the public play, which costs adults $10 per round on weekdays, $12 on weekends, $7 for seniors. Ten-play cards knock the price down further.

"We want to be really aggressive about getting new players," Boldin said. "We'll rely a lot on word of mouth and public reaction. But if you play out on a regulation golf course, you're probably leaving yourself 120 yards to the green, and that's what this course is.

"There are features around the greens now that are quite challenging, and that's where most players squander their strokes anyway."

With the expense and time it takes to play traditional golf courses, Boldin contends that "alternative" courses such as Colina Park are gaining in popularity.

He wouldn't mind seeing many others come around to his view.

"You can play in two hours and it's very affordable." Boldin said. "Less time, less money equals more fun."

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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