There might not be a more diverse state in the country than California. From the mountains and evergreen forests of the northern part of the state, to the white sand beaches of SoCal, to the arid deserts in between, the Golden State is something to behold.
Along with diversity in geography, the culture is a true melting pot as well. You can see where I’m headed with this, right? Indeed, the same can be said about California’s golf courses. Many of us at Golfer’s Authority have played a lot of golf in California – clear from the Oregon border to the Mexico border. That’s why it was so hard to come up with a list of only the ten best public courses.
Nonetheless, here you go.
Pasatiempo Golf Course
Santa Cruz’s finest public golf course is without a doubt, Pasatiempo. I’ll come right out and say it, you’re going to pay a price to play here. It’s worth it though.
This course was designed by Alister MacKenzie. Yeah, the same guy who designed Augusta National.
In typical MacKenzie fashion, Pasatiempo doesn’t demand that you bomb it off the tee. Instead, you need to find the fairway before the fun really begins…
The green complexes at Pasatiempo are unlike anything you’ve probably ever played. Severe undulations can make for tricky pin placements that demand precise approach shots.
Having played this course multiple times, I can tell you that there’s some occasions where you’d rather be 30 feet below the hole rather than five feet above it.
If you can afford it and appreciate old school designs, bite the bullet at Pasatiempo.
Poppy Hills Golf Course
It’s no secret that Monterey is full of great golf. Think Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Spanish Bay, etc.
One of the most underrated golf courses that you can play for a somewhat reasonable price, however, is Poppy Hills.
If you’re going to play well at Poppy Hills, you’ll need both distance and accuracy from the tee. The holes are long here, especially since you’re playing at sea level. They’re narrow too.
Elevation changes make approach shots into small greens equally demanding.
Multiple sets of tees allow players of levels to enjoy this special track though.
An enjoyable, yet challenging round of golf that’s one of the more reasonable options in Monterey.
Blackhorse Course and Blackhorse and Bayonet
The best value in Monterey is the Blackhorse Course.
Formerly home to PGA Tour Q-School, this course is long and challenging.
While this track used to be characterized by ball-gobbling trees, a recent renovation has seen the fairways become much more open and playable.
Golfers continuously rave about the condition here. The poa anua greens are some of the best on the West Coast.
For a fair and fun challenge, put Blackhorse on your list.
TPC Harding Park
The home of the 2020 PGA Championship was Harding Park. Remember when Colin Morikawa drove the green on that short par four on the back nine on Sunday? You can try the same thing too as this course is open to the public.
TPC Harding Park looks like something out of a Harry Potter book with ghostly trees lining every fairway and the misty fog of the Bay lingering in the air.
This is a long golf course, and the ball doesn’t fly very far. Make sure you pick the right set of tees. It’s no fun hitting three-wood into every par four.
Ram’s Hill Golf Club
If you’ve never been to the town of Borrego Springs, I’m not surprised. It’s not very big. If you like great golf however, you need to go.
The premier course is without a doubt, Ram’s Hill.
Designed by Tom Fazio, Ram’s Hill is classic desert target golf. Expansive, verdant fairways are surrounded by endless seas of desert and scrub. Yes, the fairways are generous. But if you venture off the golf green stuff, best of luck.
This venue is a great spot for an extended golf vacation. Check out the stay and play options available at this outstanding property.
The Links at Terranea
By now, you know how much we love golf courses that are a little different than the norm.
That’s exactly the case at the Links at Terranea. In fact, I’ve never played a more picturesque executive course than this one.
Nine par threes are set along the cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean. The course is a joy to walk and the perfect venue for a casual round if you’re on limited time.
There’s more than just great golf to be found here. The amenities of the resort proper are world class. There’s something for everyone at Terranea.
The Golf Club at Copper Valley
Northern California is home to some great golf. One of the best kept secrets is The Golf Club at Copper Valley.
Elevation changes and breathtaking views are the hallmark of this course. From most holes, you can see the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Yosemite National Park.
Having undergone a major renovation in 2019, this facility has since been met with rave reviews ever since.
The Bungalows offer a great lodging option that make you feel like you’re out home.
It’s a bit of trek to get here but well worth the effort.
Heritage Palms Golf Club
In a previous article, we discussed the best public golf courses in Palm Springs. One that deserved to be on the list is Heritage Palms.
This course has been here a while, but it remains a timeless design.
Heritage Palms isn’t overly long, but you’d better hit it straight.
Small greens demand precision on approaches and are quite undulating.
Straight forward, but fun to play for a reasonable price.
The Golf Club at Gray’s Crossing
I love Lake Tahoe. There’s something about being at elevation during the summer that seems right.
That’s exactly what you get when you play a round at Gray’s Crossing.
Designed by Peter Jacobsen, Gray’s Crossing sits in the shadow of the beautiful Mt. Rose.
A true mountain golf experience, the fairways are framed by sagebrush and ponderosa pines.
The greens are large and undulating so be sure you pay attention to hole locations.
One of the splendors of Lake Tahoe, Gray’s Crossing is a course you won’t want to miss.
Carmel Valley Ranch
There’s more than enough to see and do Carmel Valley Ranch. Of course, I love coming to this resort for the golf.
Designed by the infamous Pete Dye, this course has beautiful scenery and dramatic elevation changes. There’s plenty of opportunity for risk and reward.
The course sits in a microclimate that sees more than 300 days of sunshine per year. Talk about a great place to play golf!
Be sure to enjoy a cold beverage after you finish your round, too. The bar and expansive patio afford tremendous vistas of the valley below.
You’re going to need multiple trips to see all the wonderful parts of California. I’ve spent a lot of time all over the state and I still haven’t even scratched the surface.
One thing is certain though, the diversity and quality of golf courses can’t be argued.
What are your favorite courses in California? Let us know in the comments.