How To Enjoy Golfing In South California: A Seasoned’s Golfer Survival Guide
If you are looking for the best public golf that America has to offer, then roll out a map and start with the four corners of the nation. Beginning in New York, you have the wonderful playing experience of Bethpage Black, where golfers stay overnight in their cars to play a course that’s hosted U.S. Opens and soon-to-be Ryder Cups. Moving to the southeast, in the humidity of Florida, you have the delightful opportunity of taking shots at the iconic island green of Sawgrass.
Up in the Pacific Northwest, Bandon Dunes stands alone as a miracle of incorporating the natural landscape into a stunning feat of golf architecture. And finally Southern California, with its incredible weather and stunning views, hosts world-class golf year-round for travelers from all over the world.
For those looking to start their American golfing journey, there is no better place to begin than the Southern California area. Here’s a survival guide to playing four of the best golf courses in the Los Angeles and San Diego area.
Rustic Canyon – Los Angeles
A few miles north of Los Angeles, just outside of Simi Valley, is one of the best-kept secrets of the Southern California golfing scene. Rustic Canyon, a 6900-yard links-style course, offers a spirited layout with the distinctive feature of seamless transitions between fairway and green.
Nestled in Happy Camp Canyon, the course gives the golfer several unique options when facing typical shots. For example, when standing over a 30-yard shot off the green, the smooth integration of fairway and putting surface allows the golfer to putt the ball toward the hole without impediment.
With generous fairways holding your drives, Rustic Canyon is all about shaping shots into the green. This advice is very important when heading into the final five holes. The home stretch of Rustic Canyon is a genuine delight with a tough combination of jagged par-4s and a slippery par-3 that demands focus and precision. At Rustic Canyon, despite every shot being a challenge, you will fly through the course with a smile on your face because of the ultimately charming experience.
Oak Creek Golf Club – Los Angeles
A stunning golf course that should be shortlisted on any golfing trip to Los Angeles is the Oak Creek Golf Club. Located in Irvine, the experience of playing at Oak Creek is aided by year-round weather that averages temperatures in the mid-70s coupled with a pleasing environment supported by eucalyptus trees.
The Tom Fazio-designed layout gives way to an entertaining 18-holes boosted by huge greens that are fed by spacious fairways. You don’t have to be on your A-game to post a great score at Oak Creek as the beautiful course helps keep you afloat even when your shots are off-center (don’t blame your putters for that!).
That said, Fazio has lined the holes at Oak Creek with strategic sand traps and gentle use of natural waterways to offer a form of obstacle that shouldn’t feel like punishment to the mid-to-high handicapper.
The hole that I always look forward to when playing Oak Creek is the short par-5 18th. For golfers that are feeling adventurous, the final hole rewards the long drive off the tee with a genuine shot at eagle. It is risk/reward holes, like the 18th, that make Oak Creek one of the most entertaining courses in the Los Angeles area.
Rancho Bernardo Inn Golf Course – San Diego
Recently renovated, the course at Rancho Bernardo is one of the best Southern California layouts for players seeking an affordable, yet challenging golfing experience. Located north of San Diego, just off of Interstate-15 among a cluster of excellent local golf courses, Rancho Bernardo stands out for its well-manicured grounds, scenic views, and compact design.
Even though the famous golf architect of Torrey Pines, William Bell, designed Rancho’s 18-hole layout, does not mean the course shares the length and difficulty of its outstanding and nearby golfing brother. Instead, I love Rancho Bernardo because of how much fun the course is to play. For low-handicappers, the course can surrender a low score that will have you bragging all the way through drinks at the 19th hole.
Rancho’s lack of length allows mid-to-high handicap players, who typically hit shorter drives, to experience their second shots with a lower iron. Unlike longer courses where you may be hitting driver-and-hybrid into the green, Rancho rewards the well-placed drive no matter how long it flew off the tee box.
Another cool feature of golfing at Rancho Bernardo is that it is close in proximity to the Air Force’s Miramar Air Station. So your round may be accompanied by the occasional fly-over from a couple of F-18s! For affordability and enjoyment, Rancho Bernardo is one of my favorite courses in Southern California.
Torrey Pines South Course – San Diego
No golfing trip through Southern California is complete without a stop at the historic grounds of Torrey Pines. Located north of San Diego, in the town of La Jolla, Torrey Pines is the home to two immaculate courses named the North and South course. If you are a golfer who finds a thrill playing the courses where majors have been won, then the Torrey Pines South course is the one to plan your vacation around.
The South course at Torrey Pines held one of the most dramatic U.S. Opens in recent memory with the 2008 win by Tiger Woods over Rocco Mediate. The injured Woods, playing on, what he would later discover was a torn ACL in his knee and a broken leg, won the tournament by outlasting Mediate in an 18-hole Monday playoff.
What I think is unique about Torrey Pines is the concerted effort of the city of San Diego to house a course that is maintained for the golfing public. Yes, the course hosts yearly PGA events and has been anointed for the return of the U.S. Open in 2021, but those tournaments don’t define Torrey Pines as much as the ability for any golfer of any skill level to walk the same 18 holes that Tiger and Phil walk each year.
But be forewarned, playing the popular south course is not something for the timid. The layout stretches close to a whopping 8,000 yards in length, making the South course the longest 18 holes the PGA Tour plays every season. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be forced to play from the tips. Several accommodating tee box levels will suit the length of your drives allowing you the luxury of soaking in the beautiful scenery that Torrey Pines offers year-round.
Even at the non-professional length of 7,000 yards, Torrey Pines will take every ounce of strength you have off the tee box to challenge shooting a round close to par. If you don’t really care about your score and instead are there to soak in the natural vistas and history of the course, then I suggest adding a stroke to each hole’s par to enhance your experience.
Every year, the Farmers’ Open takes place on the South course, and I believe that it is important to know when the tourney is happening because the layout is toughened up for the pros. As a result, the greens are much firmer and unforgiving in the weeks leading up to the Farmers’ Open tournament. Knowing this detail will allow you to sidestep Torrey at its most difficult and plan a vacation at the perfect time so you can fully enjoy the best course in Southern California.