Tee Off, San Diego-Style

rancho bernardo inn The property: Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood 25 minutes northeast of downtown San Diego, the 287-room Rancho Bernardo Inn is reminiscent of a fine country home in both design and attitude. The AAA four-diamond resort is fresh from a $25 million refurbishing that spruced up accommodations and amenities across the board.

Seven low-rise structures are terraced into the terrain, each sporting a courtyard sprinkled with artwork, hydro-spa, fireplace and resident rabbits that retreat into the shrubbery. The 600 series is especially engaging since it’s perched overlooking the golf course and The Spa’s exclusive saline swimming pool that’s surrounded by manicured gardens and billowing cabanas.

Drenched in inviting colors with artwork reflecting Rancho Bernardo Inn’s Southern California/Spanish style, each spacious guestroom and suite is decked out with premium linens, large workspace, plasma TV, mini-bar, refrigerator, coffee/tea service and private balcony.

The greens: Rancho Bernardo Inn’s William Francis Bell championship course paints a legendary picture that has attracted players to the 18-holer since 1962.

Standing the test of time with its peaceful valley backdrop, the eucalyptus-lined layout underwent an extensive bunker resculpting by the golf architectural team of Schmidt & Curley in 1999. The improvements have definitely scored well, as Rancho Bernardo Inn has hosted both PGA and LPGA events.

With undulating fairways, meandering streams that play on 12 holes, dramatic waterscapes and greens protected by well-placed bunkers, its linear design is free of blind fairways. So what you see is what you get. But that doesn’t mean the beauty is void of obstacles. Case in point is its signature 18, a monster par 5 with water surrounding two-thirds of the hole.

“It’s straightforward but challenging,” says Jason Egnatz, Rancho Bernardo Inn’s director of golf. “You can pretty much see what you need to do. So even vacationers on their first time out can still play a great round.”

It’s not uncommon to spot Egnatz teeing off with vintage clubs that have been absent from the arsenal of other golfers for more than 80 years. In March, he launched a Hickory league that he hopes will ramp up the ranks of this cult. Nine-hole play tees up at 4 p.m. each Tuesday, with the $40 greens fee covering rental of slightly modified niblicks, mashies and brassies. And since Rancho Bernardo Inn is open to the public, duffers staying elsewhere can still swing by for the fun.

Distance from the par 72 course’s black tees is 6,631 yards. It has a rating of 72.3, slope of 133, four par fives and three par fours of over 400 yards.

The amenities: Beyond the greens and fairways, this Preferred Hotels & Resorts property serves up a pair of tennis courts, three heated outdoor swimming pools, fitness center, The Spa and El Bizcocho, Zagat’s highest-rated San Diego restaurant.

A major beneficiary of Rancho Bernardo Inn’s recent enhancements, the 10,000-sq.-ft. spa indulges with its centerpiece Spa Gardens relaxation area, hydrotherapy pool, sunning lounges and private temperature-controlled casitas for solo or couple treatments.

This haven’s most distinctive services are Made Fresh Daily seasonal body treatments melding the creative talents of spa staff and Rancho Bernardo Inn’s award-winning chefs. Organic therapies like a mango butter wrap, lime scrub and coconut oil massage fuse into a body-boosting experience both inside and out.

Literally a San Diego dining icon, El Bizcocho is revered for its refined ambiance and contemporary French cuisine showcasing locally grown organic produce. You can dine a la carte or relish the chef’s nightly tasting menu that perfectly pairs each course with wines from a 1,600-label list.

There’s also the Veranda that’s open for breakfast and lunch, although it’s another excellent dinner option that’s more casual than El Bizcocho. With both indoor seating and an open-air patio overlooking the 18th hole, the bistro is a magnet for those who appreciate California-Mediterranean cuisine while sipping a signature citrus lavender martini in front of a crackling fire.

The scene: This pleasant resort-style guest experience focuses on every aspect of well-being in an almost understated fashion. While the design seems rambling, it’s laid out so that nothing lies too far away. Case in point is how the first tee is just steps from the lobby. So you’re hitting the links within minutes of check-in. It’s especially appealing for those into art, as Rancho Bernardo Inn’s owners traveled the world collecting pieces to enhance the resort. The mellow vibe is void of revelers, although guests are obviously pleased with their surroundings.