Home > Donald H. Harrison, golf, historic places > San Diego’s Historic Places: Admiral Baker Field, Part 1

San Diego’s Historic Places: Admiral Baker Field, Part 1


Admiral Baker Field, San Diego

Donald H. Harrison

By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO—At Admiral Baker Field, home to two side-by-side golf courses, one anticipates an occasional “birdie” or an “eagle.” However, here you will also encounter herons, egrets, coots and other birds. The golf courses featuring a pair of artificial lakes created from the San Diego River also are frequented by deer, fox, coyote, bobcat and, very rarely, mountain lion.


Admiral Baker Field is operated by the Navy Region Southwest, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) for the benefit of active duty and retired military personnel. Civilians are welcome as their guests.

Lying down the San Diego River from the Mission Trails Regional Park, Admiral Baker Field has won commendation from the Audubon Society as a wildlife sanctuary and as an eco-friendly golfing environment. In particular, the two par-72 courses are considered excellent nesting places for the California Gnatcatcher and the Least Bell’s Vireo, two endangered species.

Among more than 700 golf courses around the country cooperating with the Audubon Society, Admiral Baker Field has installed at various tees plaques and story boards explaining the conservation program and also alerting golfers to some unusual “hazards.”

For example, if just as they start to tee-off, they suddenly hear “mewing” from the bushes, it’s not a lost kitten that broke their concentration, but a California Gnatcatcher, whose call is amazingly kitten-like.

Education is one component of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, according to the society’s program manager Joellen Lampman of Albany, New York.

To win certification, golf courses must show that they have an environmental planning program, including documentation about wildlife inventories and water quality sampling, said Lampman in a telephone interview.

There should be programs for wildlife habitat management in the out-of-play areas; reduction of chemical use and safe practices; a maintenance facility with proper storage of chemicals; a water conservation program, and water quality management.

Lampman said there are approximately 16,000 golf courses in the country, with 935 in California. At the end of 2009, Lampman said, Admiral Baker Field was one of 52 facilities in the cooperative Audubon program.

One of the regular golfers at Admiral Baker Field is a retired enlisted man who prefers to be identified as “K.C.” A pair of Ferruginous Hawks that make their homes between the tenth and eleventh holes of the North Course have kept K.C. entertained as he is trudging toward his ball.

According to K.C., three years ago the hawks were nestlings who would be left on their own by their parents. In the second year, these same hawks would chase and play with each other, occasionally trying to mate. In this, the third year, the hawks clearly have romance on their minds.

Tom Miller, golf operations manager, said that the North Course is the longer of the two parallel courses, running 6,900 yards along fairly broad fairways. The South Course is 700 yards shorter, but it becomes a little more difficult because the fairways are narrower. Golf shots are therefore more likely to land in the rough.

Although it’s possible that Sam Snead may have played Admiral Baker Field “when he worked at the Sail-Ho” Course – another MWR operated golf course in the San Diego area – not too many golf professionals have been spotted at Admiral Baker’s. Owing to the proximity of Qualcomm Stadium farther downriver, one was more likely to encounter professional athletes in other sports – for example Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres, or Vincent Jackson, a receiver for the San Diego Chargers. However, now that the Padres have moved from Qualcomm Stadium to Petco Park in downtown San Diego, fewer baseball players seem to happen by, according to Miller.

As star-struck as one might become in the presence of nationally admired athletes, there’s a fellow by name of Dave Riddell, who usually plays at MWR’s China Lake facility, who can draw a crowd of admirers. He holds Admiral Baker’s course record—a seven-under-par 65—shot on the North Course.

Miller, who is more likely to shoot an even-par 72 on the course, says the Number 3 hole with its water hazard by the lake and its nice green is one of his favorite holes. On the other hand, he considers the par-4 North #8 with its long uphill climb and a dog-left to the left the toughest.

On an average day, he said, between 350 and 400 golfers will play at Admiral Baker Field, but there have been days when as many as 600 golfers – 150 foursomes—have teed off an average of seven minutes apart.

The lakes were created by diverting water from the San Diego River. Pumping the water from the lakes to the fairways saves MWR lots of money in irrigation costs and utilizes a water supply that would otherwise flow into the Pacific Ocean. But this system is not without its problems. The San Diego River water has a high saline content, resulting in tons of salt being deposited on the course that must be leached with fresh water from other sources.

To manage the situation, the golf course is installing a city water line to bring the fresh water directly to the greens. Planned renovations of the greens is expected to close the North Course for a period of eight months in 2011, with the South Course remaining open for business.

Admiral Baker Field was named for a Vice Admiral who served in World War II in the Pacific Fleet and who was in theatre in time for Japan’s unconditional surrender. In the early 1950s, Admiral Baker was assigned as commandant of the 11th Naval District which includes San Diego.

It seems almost ordained that a golf course named for Admiral Baker would become recognized as a sanctuary for birds and other indigenous animals. The admiral’s first name was Wilder.

Admiral Baker Field is just off Santo Road, near the junction of Mission Gorge and Friars Road in the Grantville neighborhood of San Diego. Besides the two golf courses, Admiral Baker Field offers breakfast, lunch and catered events at its Mission-style clubhouse. It also maintains an RV park, picnic area, swimming pool with elaborate water slides, children’s playground and ball fields. More information may be obtained from Rosella L. Connors, clubhouse facility manager, at (619) 487-0090, or Tom Miller, golf operations manager, at (619) 556-5520.


Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  This article appeared previously on examiner.com

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