I’ve played some golf in Northern California. One of our writers has played quite a bit too as the region is only a short drive from his home in Central Oregon. In this part of the state, the landscape and topography are diverse. In a day’s drive through Northern California, you can visit the coast, mountains at elevation, high desert plateaus, and the rich soil of wine country.
In between all that is a lot of great golf. With the help of our writer and our trusty readers, I’ve compiled a list of the best public courses in the northern part of the Golden State.
Ocean South Course at Pelican Hill
You can’t talk about golf in the OC without mentioning Pelican Hill. Both courses are out of this world, but the South Course is my personal favorite.
It’s not cheap to play here but it’s more than worth it.
The course occupies one of the most majestic pieces of land on the west coast. Set high on the rugged cliff above the Pacific, holes are interspersed amongst native sage and eucalyptus trees.
Don’t get too caught up in the views though. The Ocean South Course demands precision from tee to green. If you venture too far off line, chances are you’ll need to reload.
An unforgettable experience that’s worth every penny.
Monarch Beach Golf Links
Another course set high on the cliffs above the Pacific is Monarch Beach Golf Links.
This Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design is challenging and fair in the same breath. Target golf without a ton or room for error.
One of the features that separates Monarch Beach from other coastal destinations is that it’s an easy walk. The distance between greens and tees isn’t that great.
The amenities are first-rate here too. If working on your game is a top priority, the practice facilities are great for working on both your long and short game.
When you’re done with your round, stick around for a cold beverage in the bar that overlooks the course and the Pacific. Take it from me, catching a sunset from this vantage point is borderline spiritual.
Tijeras Creek Golf Club
If you’re looking for world-class golf at a fair price, you won’t want to miss Tijeras Creek.
The two nines here are quite different from one another. The front nine is a tight, parkland design with plenty of water. Course management is the key. The back nine, conversely, is much more wide open and has plenty of elevation changes that make for some interesting shots.
Regulars sing the praises for two reasons above all else. First, the course is always in amazing shape. No bad lies and the greens roll true. Second, pace of play is never a problem.
Though I haven’t played here myself, you can bet I’m marking a day for a round at Tijeras Creek.
Ben Brown’s Golf Course – The Ranch at Laguna Beach
You know I’m a sucker for really good nine-hole courses. Let’s face it, you don’t always have time for 18.
Ben Brown’s Golf Course is hands down the best nine-hole track in Orange County.
This is a short course. But it’s full of character and charm. Those characteristics can be noticed the moment you check in. The clubhouse resembles a surf shop more than it does a golf shop.
When you’re done with your round, kick your feet up in the festive patio seating, grab a pint of award-winning brew, and take in the live music that’s present most evenings.
One of my favorites and a reminder that this is how golf should be.
Tustin Ranch Golf Club
Tustin Ranch Golf Club was voted “Best Orange County Golf Course” by the Orange County Register in 2009, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2015. That’s pretty impressive.
Designed by the infamous Ted Robinson, Tustin Ranch is classic SoCal target golf. Palm trees line the fairways, and the greens are well protected by water hazards and white sand bunkers.
The Players’ Lounge is known far and wide for serving some of the most delicious golf course food anywhere. Be sure to grab a burger and beer here when you finish.
Oak Creek Golf Club
Locals call Oak Creek Golf Club a hidden gem.
Designed by Tom Fazio, this track is fun to play while challenging for golfers of all levels.
The fairways are tapered. That means that the farther you hit it off the tee, the narrower the fairways get. There’s some serious strategy involved.
Other unique features include undulating greens, plentiful lakes, and bull-nose bunkers. As beautiful as these hazards are, they’re equally penal if you stray off line.
Oak Creek is a golfer’s sanctuary. When you play here, you’ll feel far removed from the concrete jungle that’s oh so close nearby.
A remarkable round of golf and one that I won’t soon forget.
Strawberry Farms Golf Club
Tranquility is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Strawberry Farms. Our readers seem to agree.
The course is laid out among natural wetlands and a 35-acre reservoir. The views of the surrounding countryside are stupendous. You can also expect to see plenty of wildlife during your round.
Once again, target golf is the name of the game here. While there’s room to hit driver on most holes, you’d best be accurate.
A peaceful round that asks you to perform with every club in your bag, don’t overlook Strawberry Farms.
Black Gold Golf Club
Black Gold Golf Club was designed by the one and only Arthur Hills.
This course isn’t long by modern standards, but it demands your very best. Rolling hills, elevation changes, and strategic bunkers and hazards keep you on your toes.
Don’t forget your camera either. From most spots on the course, you’re afforded expansive views of Catalina Island, the Pacific Coast, and Newport Beach.
Always in great shape and a public course with a private feel, I have nothing but good things to say about Black Gold Golf Club.
Anaheim Hills Golf Course
Don’t get me wrong, I love Disneyland just like everyone else. But, after two or three days of long lines and cotton candy, I’m happy to leave the kids with my wife and escape. More often than not, that means Anaheim Hills as it’s just minutes away.
This is where local die-hards come to play.
Tree lined fairways and prominent elevation changes present a variety of shots that will ask for your full commitment and trust.
For more than 40 years, this track has been a staple in Orange County golf. My guess is that’s not changing anytime soon.
Newport Beach Golf Course
I love Newport Beach Golf Course. This place screams muni and the layout is plain fun to play.
An executive design, Newport Beach Golf Course is rich with character and a cast of characters that I absolutely love. On any given day, you’re likely to see local pros, night shift workers, and world-class surfers strolling the fairways.
What I love most about this course is that you can play at night under the lights. When I come to Newport Beach, I usually fly into John Wayne Airport after dark. My first stop is religiously a round here.
Muni golf, blue collar culture, and a fun and friendly vibe, I’ll be back again soon.
The OC is a place I have come to love. Nowhere else on the West Coast does beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery, and culture come together in one place like they do here.
I love bringing my family here. Disneyland is always a favorite with the kids, the wife loves the food, fashion, and beach. For me? All those things have their place, but I love the golf more than anything. It’s a good thing there’s plenty of it.
Thanks to all of you that took the time to contribute your thoughts to this article. You never cease to amaze me and for that I’m thankful.