6 Famous Golf Courses You Should Play on Your Trip to California
If you’re hoping to play golf on your trip to the USA, California is the place to do it.
There are hundreds of amazing courses in the state; the San Diego area alone has 92. That famous California climate means any time of year is a great time for a round, and no matter what kind of setting you prefer — coastal, forest, desert or mountain — there are dozens of options.
1. Pebble Beach Golf Links
You can’t mention “golf” in California – or anywhere in the country, for that matter – without Pebble Beach in mind. One of the most highly regarded public golf courses on the planet, Pebble Beach has been the site of numerous U.S. Open Championships and home to the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am since its inception in 1919.
Located two hours south of the San Francisco Bay Area in Monterey County, directly on top of some of California's most impressive cliffy coastlines, this is one for the bucket list. Grab your clubs and walk in the footsteps of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Tom Kite and Graeme McDowell – all of whom have won U.S. Opens on this course.
Pacific Ocean view at Pebble Beach Golf Links
2. Torrey Pines Golf Course
The South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, just north of San Diego, is the stuff of U.S. Open legend, where an injured and recovering Tiger Woods famously out-golfed competitor Rocco Mediate.
For beginners, the North Course has the very same visual interest, if not more, for a lower price point. The sixth hole, with paragliders flying above the waves and glimpses down the cliffs to the beach, looks like it belongs in a painting.
Torrey Pines Golf Course sits atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean
3. PGA West TPC Stadium Course
The Stadium Course is the one you’ve got to visit when heading out for some desert golf. Located in La Quinta, southeast of Palm Springs, and designed by Pete Dye, it was carved into the landscape with spectator seating in mind – hence the name – making it an actual arena for you to experience pro-level golfing glory.
This course is known as one of the most challenging places to golf in the USA. If you think that’s an exaggeration, just wait until you’re hacking your way out of a comically deep bunker off the back of the 16th (the face is as tall as a building), then lining up for your tee shot toward "Alcatraz," the 17th hole’s island green.
Stadium Course, an oasis in the mountainous desert
4. The Course at Wente Vineyards
Part of the PGA Tour’s Nationwide Tour, the championship Course at Wente Vineyards, a short drive east of the San Francisco Bay in Livermore, was designed by Greg Norman and opened in 1998. Maybe it’s all that wine you’re surrounded by, but Wente is remarkably relaxed. The hilly landscape makes the course difficult, but the pace of play usually allows you to stop and appreciate the vineyard views.
The grass driving range also deserves attention. It’s located higher in the hills and is just as calming as the rest of the course — all the way down to the perfectly stacked pyramids of range balls left at every station. The best part is they’re free and unlimited!
The service at Wente is as legendary as the facilities. The staff will even wash your clubs at the end of your round while you sip wine on the patio and recount your best shots of the day.
Golfing among the grapevines at The Course at Wente Vineyards
5. Half Moon Bay Ocean Course
In surroundings like these and with a course design that’s a joy to play, it’s impossible not to grin for four hours straight while playing Half Moon Bay Golf Links’ Ocean Course, just down the coast from San Francisco. Even if the wind is pushing your ball back so hard that you’re practically moving backward down the fairway, this course is incapable of ruining your day.
The inviting, wide-open layout means even beginner golfers get to enjoy hitting balls as far as possible without fearing the precision involved in avoiding the random tree or kitchen window.
The Ritz-Carlton overlooking the Pacific and Half Moon Bay Golf Links
6. Pacific Grove Golf Links
Just a few kilometers up the road from Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove Golf Links shares the very same dramatic coastline and epic views. The front nine is great, weaving through narrow forest-like terrain where the biggest challenge comes from avoiding the numerous deer scattered around the course, but the back nine is where Pacific Grove earns its legendary status. Jack Neville, the same golf course architect who’s responsible for Pebble Beach, created the Pacific-facing back nine to work with the natural terrain of the dunes around the Point Pinos Lighthouse. You can’t get more California golf than this.
Point Pinos Lighthouse at sunset at Pacific Grove Golf Links