Golf: Tee It Up on the Coast

By Robert Kaufman

PHOTO: Robert Kaufman

On any scorecard of American golf destinations, California shines as the ace of states. No other domain from east to west can match the diversity of golf experiences—plus climate conditions to enjoy most all year long—that the Golden State tees up: mountains, rivers, lakes, valleys, forests, desert, it's all within these borders. But the one landscape most golfers relish above all is where fairways and ocean converge. When it comes to a coastal golf experience, with the state's 840 miles of Pacific coastline, it's no wonder players have California dreams.

Viewing a satellite image from south to north, California resembles a long, left-to-right dogleg fairway with one massive sand bunker or water hazard coming into play. From ground level, however, the challenge will demand any golfer to withstand the occasional stiff ocean breezes and "Kodak moment" distractions of the breathtaking coastal scenery.

Golf Paradise

There are numerous self-proclaimed golf paradises throughout the world, but one temple of golf that would never be questioned is the acclaimed Monterey Peninsula. When golfers think about California, the iconic courses situated on this rugged coast—only a two-hour drive south of San Francisco—are typically top of mind. Naturally, it helps to have the quintessential scenes of these beachfront properties broadcast every February during the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of the three courses (plus Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula) used for this event, in addition to having hosted five U.S. Open Championships (1972, 1982, 1992, 2000, 2010 and #6 in 2019), makes America's #1 public course the most coveted piece of real estate on the golf edition of Monopoly. Given all this history, bucket-list golfers will happily open their wallets for an adrenalin-filled experience to play in the shadows of legends and finish on, arguably, the greatest 18th hole in golf, where an errant golf ball will wind up in Davey Jones' Locker.

Aside from this granddaddy of courses, there is a lineup of superb challenges filling Monterey's treasure chest of emerald jewels. Adjacent to Pebble Beach is the notoriously long-playing Spyglass Hill GC and a short drive down the famed 17-Mile Drive brings you to The Links at Spanish Bay, an environmentally sensitive layout spread throughout the rolling sand dunes. Time the end of your round with sunset and you'll be treated to a taste of Scotland with a lone bagpiper playing every evening next to the first tee.

Just a chip shot away, Pacific Grove Golf Links offers both parkland and links-style nines at what many locals have referred to as the "poor man's Pebble."

Headquartered at the former Fort Ord military base and perhaps the best golf value overlooking Monterey Bay, the 36-hole facility consisting of Bayonet (long time host for PGA Tour Qualifying School) and Black Horse courses was the beneficiary of recent multi-million dollar renovations.

San Francisco & Beyond

With Monterey situated halfway between the Oregon and Mexico borders, there is a multitude of coastal golf experiences not to be bypassed north and south. A three-hour drive north from San Francisco up scenic Highway 1, Sea Ranch Golf Links blends seamlessly into the natural landscape of native plants and grasses.

Heading back south along the Sonoma Coast is The Links at Bodega Harbour, located in a town made more famous by flying birdies than those on your score-card, thanks to Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller, The Birds. Perched on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, this spectacular layout provides a thrilling front row seat for golfers of all skill levels.

Inside the boundaries of San Francisco, golfers can tee it up under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, while also playing within the world's largest urban park. The Presidio Golf Course on the grounds of the Presidio within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a National Park overlooking the gateway to San Francisco Bay, has entertained the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Dwight Eisenhower and Babe Ruth.

A 30-minute drive south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay Golf Links takes full advantage of the spectacular ocean cliffs with The Old Course and Ocean Course, two 18-hole championship bookends to the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. Continuing on Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, a not-to-be-missed opportunity is Pasatiempo GC, a highly regarded classic by Alister Mackenzie, the famed golf course designer of the ultra-private Cypress Point GC on the Monterey Peninsula.

Southern California Gems

California's southern coast may be better known for beaches, but there is a plethora of prime fairways within range. The San Luis Obispo region dishes up some very affordable treats such as Hunter Ranch GC, Cypress Ridge GC and Monarch Dunes where, in addition to the 18-hole Old Course, there is a 12-hole, par-3 Challenge Course. Down Santa Barbara way, Sandpiper GC rests on a plateau high above the Pacific, and the nearby Glen Annie GC also provides excellent ocean views.

Surrounding the tinsel town stage of Los Angeles, there awaits a cast of celebrated courses hugging the shores. At, perhaps, the glitziest of all, Trump National GC, "The Donald" spent more than $250 million resurrecting the golf course after the 18th hole slid into the ocean. Within a stone's throw on the bluffs of Rancho Palos Verdes lies The Links at Terranea, a 9-hole par-3 course masterfully integrated with the seaside environment at the Terranea Resort.

Edging the Pacific a bit farther south is a pair of properties epitomizing golf's luxurious scene. Monarch Beach Golf Links, with commanding ocean vistas, is flanked by the grandiose St. Regis Monarch Beach, and on the headlands of Newport Beach, the palatial Resort at Pelican Hill boasts 36 championship holes carved out of the coastal land.

Meanwhile, along San Diego's sunny coastline in the swank city of La Jolla, golfers can smack tee shots against the Pacific backdrop at Torrey Pines GC (North & South Course), a top-ranked municipal venue that has hosted a PGA Tour event for more than 40 years and the 2008 U.S. Open.

Wherever the sun dips over California's horizon, there is a lineup of fairways and greens to satisfy any golfer's penchant for a world-class coastal golf experience.

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