Southern California has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best golf destinations in the country. Its courses are famous the world over for their lush greenery, dramatic oceanside vistas, majestic elevation changes and nearly perfect golf weather year-round. It’s a bucket-list destination for any golfer and a true haven for golfers lucky enough to live in the area.
By Jordan Fuller.
Torrey Pines (South Course)
Though both courses at Torrey Pines are worth playing, it’s the South course that gets the attention. Rightfully so: It’s the site of Tiger Woods’ legendary 2008 U.S. Open victory and is a source of drama at the Farmers Insurance Open each year.
With marvelous views of the ocean, brilliant architecture and a recent revamping from Rees Jones—that somehow managed to make it even more challenging—Torrey Pines is a tough test for any golfer. But its difficulty is mitigated by the beauty of the setting and the rich history of the course.
San Diego residents can take advantage of local rates for greens fees and play for under $50 on weekdays—but for a course of this quality it’s also a bargain for out-of-towners. And don’t sleep on the North course: Though it doesn’t have quite the reputation of the South course, many golfers swear that the North course is more fun. Similar beauty but more birdie opportunities—what’s not to love?
The Stadium Course at PGA West
Pete Dye’s most famous course is the Stadium Course at Sawgrass, but the Stadium Course at PGA West is arguably even better. Though the course is incredibly difficult from the tips, if you move to a more appropriate tee box, it becomes downright fun!
The island green on the 17th hole gets all the publicity and a lot of the photo ops, but the majestic 18th may be the course’s best hole. A dogleg left around a lake tests every inch of your nerves with a demanding tee shot and a daunting approach to a green well-guarded by bunkers. Bailing out to the right leaves you with a difficult approach that’ll funnel into the water if you hit too hard. It’s a great way to finish a memorable round of golf!
Stadium Course at PGA West
The Mountain Course at La Quinta
Another absolute gem from Pete Dye, this course is at the base of the beautiful Santa Rosa mountains. The holes are little oases of greenery among the rocky cliffs; the bright white bunkers and palm trees that line the holes make for one of the more picturesque rounds of golf you’ll ever play. The short, par-5 7th is a feast or famine hole that can make or break your round, daring you to risk double bogey for a chance at eagle. But the signature par-3 16th is the most photographed and most memorable. Aim for the middle of the green, take your par and run!
Oak Quarry Golf Club
Southern California is best known for its oceanside courses but there are some inland stunners as well. Oak Quarry is one of them: a true championship golf course from the brilliant Gil Morgan. Situated among granite cliffs and flanked by fields of wildflowers, Oak Quarry feels beamed in from another world. The holes, named after stones and minerals, offer a variety of challenges. The best is the par-3 14th hole, with its jaw-dropping tee shot over the quarry. It’s one of the best inland par 3s you’ll ever see.
Monarch Beach Golf Links
This Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design makes brilliant use of the oceanfront bluffs, with views of surf breaks from every single hole making for a feast for your eyes. The impeccably manicured course is also a fun, fair course that won’t punish you like some of the longer courses in the area. The winds off the ocean can sometimes wreak havoc with your ball but the course will appeal to golfs of all skill levels.
Monarch Beach Golf Links
Barona Creek Golf Course
This course sits on Native American land in the foothills northeast of San Diego, beautifully integrated into the surrounding area with a strong focus on maintaining the natural landscape. It gets your attention right off the bat with a long par 5 with a gigantic oak tree splitting the fairway. This isn’t your typical resort course. Many places focus on the resort and fit a golf course somewhere among the buildings; Barona puts the emphasis on golf course architecture. It’s an under-the-radar course that you’ll want to return to again and again.
Firecliff Course at Desert Willow
One of the tougher courses on this list, the Firecliff Course is a challenging but fun layout that’s always in impeccable condition. Extensive bunkering and waste areas lie in wait to gobble up wayward shots, so bring your best sand game and focus on keeping the ball in play. The 18th hole is a stunning finish, with a creek bisecting the fairway and a narrow green protected by bunkers on the left and water on the right. Par on any hole at Firecliff is a good score!
Pelican Hill Golf Club – Ocean North Course
One of Tom Fazio’s best designs, the North Course at Pelican Hill will test your nerves with numerous forced carries over ravines. If getting the ball in the air isn’t your forte, make sure you bring plenty of balls! That said, if you’re able to conquer the mental obstacles and just swing your golf club, you’ll find plenty to like about this gorgeous course. Though only a few holes touch the ocean, the North course is the better of the two Pelican Hill courses—and the more sparsely played.
San Dimas Canyon Golf Course
At the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains just outside Los Angeles, San Dimas Canyon Golf Course is a true bargain with rates for the general public under $50. Don’t let the price fool you: This is a great course that makes wonderful use of the scenic surroundings. The short length makes it attractive to all levels of golfer from the weekend hacker to the birdie-hunting pro. The pace of play can be an issue with a course this good for such a low price, but it’s still one of the best bargains in the area.
Strawberry Farms Golf Club
This tranquil course among the canyons and wetlands of Irvine in Orange County was developed by former L.A. Angels third baseman Doug DeCinces. It’s a treat that proves that DeCinces is truly a man of many talents: an oasis with beautiful views of rolling hills and calm reservoirs. The best hole is the lovely 18th, a par 4 that can yield birdies to good iron play but ruin rounds with water hazards running down the left side.
Jordan Fuller continues his lifelong passion for golf through his mentoring, coaching and writing activities. Find more features as well as golf tips at his website golfinfluence.com.
Photos (from top): Courtesy Yuki Shimazu, Dr.Kovatchian, Prayitno