Updated February 2024 to update booking information.
Southern California is one of my favorite places in the country. There is so much to see and do, and most importantly, there are more great golf courses here than one could ever play in a lifetime. I have spent a good amount of time in this area, as has one of our writers.
Recently, when we caught up over the phone, the topic of the best public courses in Southern California came up. What was supposed to be a short conversation turned into a month-long exchange of calls, emails, and texts. In the end, we were able to compile our top ten list, but let me tell you, it was not an easy task.
Coronado Golf Course
After much discussion, it was agreed that Coronado Golf Course should be at the top of this list. Truth be told, this is a list of public golf courses and that’s exactly what Coronado is.
The course sits right on the water of the eastern shore of Coronado Island. Views of downtown San Diego and the iconic Coronado bridge are visible from almost every hole.
Even though this track is flat, it’s full of character. Palm trees line the fairways and sloped greens present a challenge for even the most skilled players.
My favorite time to play Coronado is early in the morning. It’s hard to beat having breakfast in the bar, watching the sun rise over the city skyline in the east as Navy Seals go for their morning training swim in the bay. It’s a scene I’ve experienced many times and one I can replay over and over in mind.
Reasonably priced, this is a round you won’t want to miss if you’re in San Diego.
South Course at Pelican Hill
This is West Coast seaside golf at its finest.
The South Course at Pelican Hill is beautifully integrated into the natural landscape. Sage and Eucalyptus trees quickly transition to rocky cliffs and the stunning blue water of the Pacific below.
Designed by Tom Fazio, this course is a fair but challenging test for your game. It may not be excessively long, but precision is crucial both off the tee and approaching the green.
When the winds pick up in the afternoon, it’s wise to consider using an additional club.
A round at the South Course at Pelican Hill is an unforgettable experience. So, what are you waiting for?
Angeles National Golf Club
The only Jack Nicklaus design in Los Angeles County is Angeles National.
Situated at the base of the Angeles National Forest, this course has generous fairways and expansive greens.
Keeping focused on your round might be the toughest part about playing this course. That’s because the views of the valley below and surrounding mountains are breathtaking.
Plan to spend the day out here. Not because pace of play is slow, but because there’s so many world class amenities to enjoy.
To start, the practice facility boasts one of the best ranges in all of Southern, CA as well as a top-notch short game area.
The Spanish mission style clubhouse is fully appointed with a bar, restaurant, pro shop, locker room, banquet facilities, and event lawn.
Oak Quarry Golf Club
One of Riverside’s finest is Oak Quarry Golf Club. Built on the site of the historic Jensen Quarry, this track has plenty of rocky, jagged features you won’t find anywhere else.
Hole #14 has been voted the ”Best Par 3 in Southern California” and the par four 4th the “Prettiest Par Four.” It’s not hard to see why.
Be sure to take full advantage of the practice facilities before your round. They’re first-rate.
When you’re done, make time for lunch or dinner in the restaurant. The menu is full of savory items and the views overlooking the last three holes are a sight to behold.
For a golf experience unlike anything else, put Oak Quarry on your list.
PGA West Stadium Course
If you’ve watched golf for a long time, you might remember the days when PGA Tour Q-School was played at PGA West. This grueling six-day event determined the fate of golf’s hopefuls for the following year. The final round was always played at the Stadium Course at PGA West where there was no shortage of drama.
I’ve played this course a number of times and let me tell you, there’s nothing easy about it.
Designed by Pete Dye, water comes into play on what seems like every hole. Railroad ties and deep bunkers punish errant shots that are wide of the small greens.
Everyone should play this course at least once. Not to shoot your lowest score ever, but to gain a sense of just how difficult Tour-level courses are.
The iconic island green 17th is nicknamed Alcatraz. Even though it’s only a short iron from the tee, any shot that misses the green will bounce off jagged rocks to a watery grave.
Come here for the experience. You won’t be disappointed.
Rustic Canyon Golf Course
Designed by world-famous architect, Gil Hanse, Rustic Canyon is a true lay-of-the-land creation.
Even though the course is flat and fairly open off the tee, don’t be lulled into a sense of comfort. Runoffs are closer to the edges than you think, and you don’t want to try and hit your ball out of the surrounding Barranca.
If you’re a fan of links golf, Rustic Canyon will give you the chance to play plenty of shots along the ground.
Having received the award of “#1 Best Value in the USA” from Golf Magazine, this track is a hidden gem.
Truly a unique experience that you might need to play a couple times to figure out.
Firecliff Course at Desert Willow
It’s hard to believe that the city of Palm Desert owns the courses at Desert Willow. Of the two, the Firecliff Course is my favorite.
When you arrive at this facility, you’ll get the feeling you’re pulling up to some swanky country club where only Hollywood socialites and ex-Presidents are allowed in. In reality, it’s quite the opposite. This track is a true public facility.
The course winds its way through natural areas where thorny underbrush and water hazards abound.
Keep it in front of you at Firecliff and you’ll do just fine.
Course conditions are always immaculate, and the amenities are to die for.
I make sure to squeeze in a round here every time I’m in Palm Desert. You should too.
The Classic Club
Another great public track in Palm Desert is the Classic Club.
Once home to the Bob Hope Classic, this course affords a Tour-level experience to the average Joe.
The clubhouse is huge and boasts world class dining, spacious locker rooms, and plenty of space to host your next party or event.
The golf is verdant from wall-to-wall. Tree lined fairways and expansive greens are always kept in great shape.
If you play this course in the afternoon, expect the winds to come up. This can make for some tricky shots so proceed with caution.
Ojai Valley Inn
One of the best kept secrets in all of Southern, CA is the Ojai Valley Inn, just a few miles east of Santa Barbara.
Built in 1923, this track is quintessential West Coast old-style design.
The course traverses expansive canyons and features narrow fairways and small greens. You won’t need the driver much out here.
Aside from great golf, the resort has plenty of amenities to keep the whole family busy. The rooms are nicely appointed and there’s no shortage of quality dining options.
If you feel like getting off-property after your round, the town of Ojai is filled with great restaurants, boutique shops, and plenty of green space.
Balboa Park Golf Course
The 18-hole course at Balboa Park, in the heart of downtown San Diego, is where Phil Mickelson learned the game.
You know I’m a sucker for a true muni and this is about as good as it gets.
The clubhouse is perched atop a hill and has the bare essentials, not much more. I always make a point to have lunch in the restaurant. The food isn’t about to win any Michelin awards but, it’s everything it should be – hearty, cheap, and filling.
The course isn’t a pushover by any means. Narrow fairways, small greens, and elevation changes present a tough, but fair test.
For as much play as this course gets, I’m always astounded with how great the conditions are.
A top-5 muni of all time in my book.
Southern California might be one of my favorite places in the world. There’s more to see and do than I can ever fit into a single trip. And the weather is always perfect.
With so much diversity in land, people, and golf, there’s something for everyone in the southern part of the Golden state.
I’ve played a lot of golf here, but I’ve nowhere near scratched the surface as the possibilities are endless.
What are some of your favorite tracks in Southern California? I’m always open to exploring new courses and hidden gems. Let us know in the comments below!