10 Best: 5 Dramatic Golf Courses in California Anyone Can Play

Some of the most famous courses in the world are open to everyone

Golf Expert

California is known for some breathtaking scenery, both natural and man-made. Certain golf courses have used that scenery to create layouts that are on the bucket list of any serious golfer, places where even non-golfing spouses want to tag along so they can look at the views and take pictures. The best news about these courses is that they are public, although in terms of price they are hardly munis. Actually, the first one is!

The City of San Diego knows good property when it sees it — Photo courtesy of Brent Flanders - Flickr

City-owned municipal courses simply do not come better than the South Course at Torrey Pines, which is owned and operated by the City of San Diego. This is the site of the 2008 US Open where Tiger Woods outlasted Rocco Mediate through 90 holes of golf on a broken leg. The bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean hold some truly memorable holes where very deep canyons and even the ocean itself are in play. Residents receive preferential treatment for both rates and tee times, but Torrey does accommodate non-residents with enough notice (up to 90 days in advance). 

As usual, The Donald spared no expense in Los Angeles — Photo courtesy of Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles

No matter what you may think of his politics, Donald Trump knows how to develop (or re-develop) golf courses. His offering in Los Angeles, Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles, is considered by many to be the city's best course. It was designed by Pete Dye with The Donald's input. Five of the holes border the ocean and most of the holes at least have a view of the water. The clubhouse was also built in Trump's signature opulent style.

Pasatiempo's resemblance to its famous sibling is striking — Photo courtesy of Pasatiempo Golf Club

Now let's head to golf's version of Disney World: the Monterey Bay area. But we are not going to start where you think. Pasatiempo, in Santa Cruz on the north side of the bay, is as close as the west coast gets to Augusta National. That's no coincidence, since they were both designed by Alister MacKenzie. In fact, MacKenzie proclaimed Pasatiempo - and not its more-famous sibling - as his favorite child and lived here until his death. The ocean doesn't play as much of a part in the actual course as the other tracks on this list except for providing some views beyond the dense woods that the course winds through. But with a slope rating of 143 from the tips, players of all skill levels will get all they can handle from this layout.  

According to legend, the area around Spyglass was the site of many shipwrecks — Photo courtesy of Harvey Barrison

If it wasn't for its next door neighbor Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill would be considered the best course in California. A dramatic mix of woodland, ocean and sand dunes creates a course that changes its feeling from hole to hole. Spyglass is tournament tested in its own right, having been part of the AT&T National Pro-Am and Callaway Invitational rotations since it was built in 1966 by Samuel F.B. Morse, as well as hosting the medal play portion of the US Amateur in 1999. The debate is really whether Spyglass makes a good warm-up for its classic neighbor or a good "chaser" to come back down to earth, but you will regret it if you skip it altogether. 

Good luck keeping your eye on the ball — Photo courtesy of Pebble Beach Golf Links

Finally, there's Pebble Beach. No one has ever come off the course saying that it wasn't worth the trip, no matter what they scored. The historic shots and battles replay through the golfer's mind as he or she walks along the cliffs. Carts are available, but opting for one is a mistake. They are kept as far from the fairways and greens as possible, so you really don't get the full Pebble Beach experience and still have to walk a sizable distance. Instead, make sure you take advantage of having a caddy. Some of the greens are simply impossible to read without one. And be prepared for a slow round; everyone in front of you is just as awestruck as you are.

About Scott Sterling

Scott Sterling is a freelance writer and the golf expert for 10 Best. Let's just say, according to the airline, that his bag weighed a lot less after he played Pebble Beach and Spyglass than it did before.

Read more about Scott Sterling here.

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