Few states are as well known for the beauty and size of their golf courses the way California is. Indeed, the sunshine state is often considered one of the prime locations for avid golfers to go to for a real challenge.
Are you considering going to California for some golfing?
In this article, I'll go over what I FEEL, (as a California Native) are the 21 best golf courses in California for you to visit and enjoy!
The 21 Best Golf Courses in California
These might not be the same as your favorite golf websites or publications, but they're courses I've truly enjoyed over the years, and continue to enjoy! [no_toc]
1. Pebble Beach Golf Links
Location: Monterey, California
The Links At Pebble Beach is not just the greatest meeting of land and sea on an American golf course; it's also the largest, with nine holes perched immediately above crashing Pacific waves—the fourth through 10th as well as the 17th and 18th.
Pebble’s sixth through eighth are golf’s real abalone corner (cough amen corner cough), with a few Hail Marys thrown in over an ocean cove on the eighth from atop a 75-foot-high bluff. In 2018, the Pebble hosted a successful U.S. Amateur and a sixth U.S. Open in 2019.
Related: Best Golf Courses in Bay Area
Recent improvements include the redesign of the once-treacherous 14th green and reshaping of the par-3 17th green, both planned by Arnold Palmer’s Design Company a few years back.
2. Cypress Point Golf Course
Location: Pebble Beach, California
This historic course was another designed by world-renowned golf architect Alister MacKenzie, a notable architect of some of the most highly-regarded courses in the world.
The Cypress Point Club was established in the 1920s along Monterey Bay and has since come to be considered one of the top golfing spots in the country.
A testament to this is that the club was most recently ranked No. 3 in Golf Digest’s 2021-2022 list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, beating out more famous and visited courses.
3. Los Angeles Country Club (North Course)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Originally designed by George C. Thomas, the course has seen a complete renovation in the 2010s led by Gil Hanse which further increased its appeal to serious golfers. The course will be the stage for the upcoming US Open in 2023, further cementing its status as a golf course for golfers.
Boasting grand par-3s and the occasional view of downtown Los Angeles, this Los Angeles Country Club is also a great option for anyone looking to play golf without straying too far away from the city.
4. Riviera Country Club
Location: Pacific Palisades, California
Designed by George C. Thomas in 1927, it actually took 15 attempts to finally create a golf course that the owners and designer could be proud of. This alone shows that great thought and care went to every aspect of the course, from the length of the grass to the placement of the hazards.
It has recently undergone a renovation led by Coore & Crenshaw, revamping its facilities and improving the layout further. The Riviera has hosted a handful of major tournaments and is the annual host of the Genesis Open.
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5. The Olympic Club
Location: San Francisco, California
Historic as it is beautiful, The Olympic Club was established back in the 1860s and is currently one of the oldest sports clubs in the United States. Situated between Lake Merced and the Pacific Ocean, the club has a whopping 45 holes and several separate courses within it.
The most famous ones for members are the Lake Course, the Ocean Course, and the Cliffs Course. On top of that, many spots on the land are worthy of postcards, making them ideal to bring the whole family along for a lovely picnic alongside nature.
6. California Golf Club of San Francisco
Location: San Francisco, California
With a history going back a century, the newly renovated and restored San Francisco Golf Club offers players downhill tee shots, a two-tiered green, and a handful of bunkers long and left.
All of this comes with some of the most scenic pieces of land you’ll ever see from a golf course. From towering pine trees to rolling hills, golfers tend to come for the view if for nothing else.
Location: Santa Cruz, California
Located in Santa Cruz, this historic course was another designed by world-renowned golf architect Alister MacKenzie, a notable architect of some of the most highly-regarded courses in the world.
The course has hosted the Western Intercollegiate for the past 65 years and often features the top college players in the world. Pasatiempo has also hosted USGA Championships including the 1986 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 2004 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur.
Other than golfing with wonderful views of Monterey Bay, visitors can also enjoy the MacKenzie Bar & Grill and the famous Hollins House Restaurant/Special event venue. Pasatiempo is also a favorite venue for corporate meetings, banquets, weddings, and fine dining.
8. Indian Wells Golf Resort
Location: Palm Springs, California
This 36-hole course is located in Palm Springs and is only minutes away from the Palm Springs International Airport. The clubhouse, at 53,000 square feet, is massive, to say the least. It is also one of the few golfing establishments to have two courses ranked in the Top 25 "Best Municipal Courses in the United States" by Golfweek Magazine.
The host of the Golf Channel's Big Break and the PGA's Skins Game, it’s also a great place to catch professionals compete firsthand.
The property is a stone’s throw away from 4 luxury hotels, beautiful walking trails, and world-class restaurants – giving your family lots to do while you play to your heart’s content.
9. Pelican Hill
Location: Newport Beach, California
A resort and golf course located at Pelican Hills, Newport Beach. A 36-hole course designed by Tom Fazio, every single aspect of the terrain compliments the natural landscape beautifully. This makes for some breathtaking views which only have to be seen to fully appreciate.
Golf carts, locker rooms, a world-class café, and complimentary parking are all offered onsite. If you’re looking to hone in on your skills as a golfer, there’s even a golfing Academy where clinics and private sessions can provide you with lessons given by the PGA Professionals themselves.
10. Marriott Shadow Ridge Golf Resort
Location: Palm Desert, California
Situated in the heart of the Palm Desert, you get to enjoy views of the snow-capped Santa Rosa mountains in a course that essentially gets sunshine and blue skies 365 days a year. Due to the ideal conditions and the many surrounding golf courses, the area that The Marriott finds itself in is often considered the “golf capital of the world".
They offer weekly memberships, golf clinics for kids, and an adjacent hotel with luxury accommodations for the whole family. There’s even a place for you to have your clubs custom-fitted, improving your game as a result.
11. Links At Spanish Bay
Location: Pebble Beach, California
Found in Pebble Beach, a site of many famous golf courses, the Spanish Bay Club is arguably the most famous with its Scottish-style links golf course which runs along a breathtaking coastline.
Other than that, enjoy accommodations at The Inn and pamper yourself at their resort’s award-winning Spa.
12. PGA West
Location: La Quinta, California
This La Quinta golf course is located near Palm Springs and Palm Desert. The home of 6 world-renowned courses, the Stadium Course is the most well-known, being the premier track of PGA West.
The rest of the courses are great for golfers of all times, from beginners to professionals. Often considered to be one of the best courses in California, PGA West is a great place to get serious about the sport while still enjoying the scenic backdrop of the Santa Rosa Mountains.
It is also the setting for many local and internationals tournaments for both professional and amateur players.
13. Bayonet And Black Horse
Location: Seaside (Monterey Peninsula), California
If you’re one of those golfers looking to be the best, the Bayonet and Black Horse course boast narrow playing corridors and steep, and penal bunkering. It has long been considered the most difficult test of golf on the Monterey Peninsula. Playing on this course is a challenge even on a sunny day so keep that in mind before booking your Tees.
The par-72, 7,104-yard course has gone under renovations done by award-winning architect Gene Bates, improving its playability greatly while still retaining the difficulty. Suppose you’re looking for something less taxing. In that case, the club thankfully has a par-3 hole, created during the renovation, which faces the bay and is sure to offer an almost complete view of the Pacific Ocean from the scenic peninsula.
It is the site of several annual tournaments and events and is frequented by many golfing groups looking to play 4-ball on a course that would certainly require teamwork to beat.
14. The Grand Golf Club
Location: San Diego, California
The Grand in San Diego lives up to its name in many ways. Established in 1999, the course was designed by golf course architectural legends Tom Fazio, Beau Welling, and Dennis Wise.
Formerly known as The Grand Del Mar, Meadows Del Mar Golf Club, and Del Mar National Golf Club, the 18-hole course is so large that traveling without a caddy would be difficult.
15. Barona Creek
Location: Lakeside (North San Diego), California
The beautiful rolling hills and well-kept grass of Barona Creek in San Diego look like something out of a movie. The 18-hole course offers such an inviting atmosphere that golfers of all skill levels can come and enjoy it.
Sadly though, as of the writing of this article, in an effort to conserve water due to extreme drought conditions, and improve playing conditions, the course transitioned to a 9-hole golf course.
16. Trump National LA
Location: Rancho Palos Verdes, California
Located in Ranchos Palos Verdes, this course endorses a luxury public golfing experience. Golfers visiting the course are treated to 18 holes right on the bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, overlooking the majestic Pacific Ocean.
On top of golf, the club also offers walking trails that allow those inclined towards hiking to tour the golf course and stand on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The trails also provide access to the beach and a public park located on the bluffs in front of the clubhouse. These paths allow you to appreciate the beautiful scenery, the diverse flora, and fauna, and maybe even catch a glimpse of the endangered Coastal California Gnatcatcher (a small migratory bird).
17. TPC Harding Park
Location: San Francisco, California
The 18-hole, par-72 Harding Park Course can be found on a peninsula in Lake Merced, San Francisco. Proclaimed as being built for professionals, following a layout designed by architect Willie Watson and Sam Whiting in 1925, the course has hosted tournaments like the San Francisco Open and the Lucky International Professional Golf Championship just to name a few.
If you’re looking for a challenge, TPC Harding Park is infamous for featuring a 9-hole course, the Fleming 9, which is over 2,100 yards.
18. Rustic Canyon
Location: Moorpark (Ventura County), California
With land that’s incredibly similar to the landscape of Scotland, where the game originated, the Rustic Canyon, at Moorpark, is as close to golfing’s roots as any player can get in the United States.
Another aspect that makes this course a great challenge for avid golfers is that the course is built without detailed blueprints or working drawings. The Rusting Canyon instead goes for terrain that looks as natural as possible, with patches of grass, sand, bushes, and cacti all over.
It was also ranked #1 BEST VALUE in the September and October 2010 issues of Golf Magazine.
19. La Quinta Resort
Location: La Quinta (Palm Springs), California
Another golf course found in La Quinta, The La Quinta Resort and Club is mostly known for its Mountain Course, found at the base of the Santa Rosa mountains.
Don’t let the stunning visuals fool you, this is an extremely challenging course with pot bunkers, rock formations, elevations of tee boxes, and well-bunkered greens.
20. Aviara Golf Club
Location: Carlsbad (North San Diego), California
Created by the Park Hyatt group of hotels, Aviara Golf Club is located in Carlsbad, San Diego. The golf course is the only one of its kind designed by Arnold Palmer, the American professional golfer. It was named the #1 golf resort in Southern California by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler and has also been recognized as one of the country’s best resort golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, being a mainstay in many of their best golf courses lists.
Almost fairytale in look, the Aviara offers public tee times to golfers of all ages and playing abilities.
21. Torrey Pines Golf Course
Location: La Jolla (North San Diego), California
Largely considered to be one of the country’s premier locations for golfing, Torrey Pines Golf Course is located in La Jolla, San Diego, California. The 36-hole golf course gets its name from a species of pine tree native and exclusive to the surrounding area.
Another claim to fame for this particular course is that it hosts several major championships and tournaments throughout the year.
And that was our list of the 20 best golf courses in California. No matter where you decide to go, we do not doubt that you’ll have an amazing time. Each of these clubs offers something special for golfers, from great scenery to high-class amenities, it's very unlikely you’ll be disappointed with any one of them.
Book a trip as soon as you can because, honestly, there’s nothing like playing your favorite game surrounded by unparalleled views.