Southern California is definitely not The Last Resort for golfers. In fact, SoCal offers a veritable cornucopia of public and accessible golf along its coastal areas. There are high-dollar, hot-spot courses and low-key layouts to fit any budget, with a great variety of terrain from the mountains to the desert to the sea. The idyllic weather’s just about always right for a round, 24/7/365, thanks to lighted courses for evening rounds and glow balls for those pre-dawn tee times when you want to tee off before the later-rising sun in the winter.
1. Best views
Ocean views, beaches, a variety of vegetation and rugged coastline frame some of the most spectacular scenery a golfer will encounter. That is especially true for The Resort at Pelican Hill’s two courses designed by Tom Fazio, right on the water in Newport Beach. The course opened in 2007, a year before the resort opened its doors. All 18 tee shots on the Ocean North Course provide ocean views on the nearly 7,000 yard layout. The Ocean South Course offers plenty of 270 degree views of the sea and Catalina Island with no line on the horizon as the blue water meets the distant sky. The verdant surface and unique setting attract business travelers and well-heeled guests to this high-end resort, which could also be rated as best expense account round. Greens fees start at $290 for guests, although that does include forecaddies to give newbies clues to Fazio’s tricks. Pelican Hill also offers fine dining, relaxing swimming pools, and pampering spas you would expect from a destination that readers of Conde Nast Traveler ranked as the “#1 Resort in the US.”
2. Best layout
Just north of San Diego lies what some consider the mecca of munis (municipal courses): Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla. Many fans would vote this course for best view or best bargain (for San Diegans who pay just $61/round weekdays with resident’s discount). The course, named for the rare, indigenous Torrey Pine tree, is located in a California State Park. The green grass contrasts with the sandstone cliffs towering over the sandy beach and Pacific below. The awe-inspiring views on a clear day rival those on any course on any coast, although players can be further challenged by sweeping rain, fog, and wind off the ocean. The 57-year-old layout features two famous 18-hole courses. The South Course is the most brutal for pros and duffers alike, playing 7,643 yards from the back tips after a redesign for the 2008 US Open. That memorable major tournament was won by a hobbled Tiger Woods in a Monday playoff over Rocco Mediate. Earlier this year, the US Golf Association announced Torrey Pines will host the 2021 US Open as well. The municipal course also hosts the annual PGA Tour’s Farmer’s Insurance tournament.
3. Best for celebrity spotting
Celebrities, studio heads, and other entertainment industry honchos make time to tee it up and get deals done on lush fairways of country clubs and a surprising number of public courses as well. You can golf with Ron Burgundy of "Anchorman" fame and other celebs in the Hollywood Hills. Will Ferrell is one of many celebrities to frequent the fairways of Angeles National Golf Club. He even endorses the layout on the website. LA’s city-owned courses attract Hollywood and hackers alike. Rancho Park is right across the street from the Fox Studios lot and has hosted shoots for decades, most recently for “Modern Family.” Griffith Park, one of the nation’s largest urban parks, is home to 54 holes spread across four different courses (two, 18-hole tracks, an executive 9-hole course, and a Par-3). The massive green space is located in the Hollywood Hills and is frequently used to shoot both golf and non-golf video and film.
Serious and upscale SoCal golfers will want to play their Trump card here. Donald Trump’s course just south of Los Angeles is one of the newer entrants to the scene and may be one of the fanciest public courses on the West Coast, if not the country. Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes is ranked as one of the state’s top public courses and lies on a peninsula about an hour’s drive southwest of downtown LA. The views from atop the seaside bluffs are breath-taking with commensurate greens fees ($280 for prime morning slots). It’s also a tough track tallying over 7,200 yards from the back tees. Public reviews on sites including Trip Advisor gush about the course’s opulence: the waterfalls, Pacific views on every hole, and top-shelf dining in the impressive clubhouse. And the golf rates highly as well. The undulating fairways and greens offer a verdant carpet contrasting the underbrush, and the rough and jagged cliffs.
5. Best bargains
While technically not on the coast, the solitude of canyon golf is just about 45 minutes from Malibu’s Carbon Beach and well worth the drive. Rustic Canyon frequently ranks in the state’s Top 10 courses and Golf Magazine has previously named the links-style layout the best bargain for golf in the nation. Rates are $43 per round during the week, carts are extra. The course plays relatively flat but the terrain varies widely and wildly from hard fairways that can generously add to drives to drainage gulches and large, steeply sloping greens with lots of deep bunkers.
You may also want to reserve a (muni) round with a view. Los Verdes Golf Course, an LA County course, shares views with millionaires (just up the coast from Trump National) for a relative pittance in greens fees ($27/round weekdays plus cart fee). It’s the busiest course in the nation so book early or sleep in your car to walk up for an early tee time. Course employees say the 15th green is almost as popular for wedding photos as it is for birdies and gazing out at Catalina Island.