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Torrey Pines Coastal Cliffs

18 Best Golf Courses in California: Best Public Golden State Greens

May 2, 2024

The Golden State boasts an unparalleled collection of golf courses that rival the best in the world. From the stunning coastal courses to the challenging layouts nestled within picturesque landscapes, each course is a testament to the state’s rich golfing heritage. 

So here we’ll explore the top courses open to the public that any keen golfer exploring California should consider, ranging from unique settings to formidable challenges.

1. Pebble Beach Golf Links

Past champions at Pebble Beach Golf Links include Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, all American golfing royalty. It’s no wonder that the cream rises to the top here, because this is America’s most famous public (resort) course. 

With 9 holes perched on right the cliffs of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove, guests will never forget their bucket-list round here on the well manicured fairways and tiny seaside greens. Sooner or later, you just have to walk in the footsteps of legendary golfers at Pebble Beach!

Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach, California

Course Details

Opened: 1919
Par: 72
Length: 7,075 yards
Designer: Jack Neville, Douglas Grant, Harold Sampson, Arthur Vincent, Herbert Fowler, Robert Hunter, H. Chandler Egan, Alister MacKenzie, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer

2. Spyglass Hill Golf Course – Pebble Beach 

Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed this world-class course in 1966 and immediately upon opening, the celebrated columnist of the Los Angeles Times, Jim Murray, called it “500 acres of unplayable lie”. It was considered, at that time, the hardest golf course in the world.  Over the years, the Northern California Golf Association (original owners) and then the Pebble Beach Company have made some changes to the course to make it more resort user friendly, but the overall greatness remains unchanged.

The course starts off by the ocean and finishes in the quiet pine forests, and the short par 4 fourth hole and fourteenth are among the world’s best. Spyglass co-hosts the AT&T Pro Am each year and features an excellent practice facility. 

Course Details

Opened: 1966
Par: 72
Length: 6,953 yards
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Sr

3. Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA WEST – La Quinta 

PGA West Stadium Course is to many golfers considered among Pete Dye’s lasting legacies, and is not for the faint hearted. The demanding bunkering and “Dye-abolical” greens make it a challenge for even the best tour professionals. Whereas most play the course at a manageable 6,200 yards, or maybe 6,700 yards, it can stretch to over 7,300 yards of pure riddle. Have you ever played a course with two par-5 holes over 600 yards long? 

That being said, The Stadium Course is fun and exciting, and presuming you bring enough golf balls, will be one of your golfing careers greatest challenges. You just have to try it! 

Course Details

Opened: 1986
Par: 72
Length: 7,300 yards
Designer: Pete Dye

4. PGA West Mountain Course – La Quinta

The PGA West Mountain Course is among the favorite tracks of Coachella Valley residents and guests, due to the wonderful views over La Quinta and soothing mountain breezes on a warm day. Pete Dye created another masterpiece here that has held up to the test of time over 40 years. 

On the back nine, holes 14 through 16 are an amazing stretch where you just might run into a Bighorn sheep along the cliffs. Always a delight to play, The Mountain should be included on any Southern California desert itinerary. 

Course Details

Opened: 1985
Par: 72
Length: 6,666 yards
Designer: Pete Dye

Mountain Course, La Quinta Resort
Mountain Course, La Quinta Resort

5. The Links at Spanish Bay – Pebble Beach

Opened in 1986, The Inn and Links at Spanish Bay became the second resort under the Pebble Beach Company umbrella after 11 years of difficult planning, zoning and political debate. The links style course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. (with Sandy Tatum and Tom Watson) and is currently undergoing a renovation by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner. 

The course is intended to play firm and fast and is quite demanding from the back tees, and even more demanding on the large, undulating greens. The views of the ocean, dunes and pine forests are among the best in the world and with a late afternoon tee time, you can hear bagpipes in the distance, making for a memorable conclusion to a beautiful day of golf.  

Pro tip: A secret to scoring well here is to leave the driver in the bag and keep long irons in the fairway. 

Course Details

Opened: 1987
Par: 72
Length: 6,739 yards
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Tom Watson, Sandy Tatum

6. South Course – Torrey Pines

Long recognized as one of the nation’s foremost municipal golf facilities, Torrey Pines is located about 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego on the coastal bluffs of La Jolla. Bounded by mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west, the seaside courses are often swept by sunshine one day, then fog and a chilling wind the next. 

Torrey Pines North and Torrey Pines South are each 18-hole courses, and both are played by PGA Tour professionals during the Farmers Insurance Open, held in January or February every year. Torrey Pines South is considered the best of the two courses, and hosted the US Open in 2008 (Tiger Woods) and 2021 (Jon Rahm). Both courses were originally designed in 1957 by William Bell, Sr., and in the last two decades Rees Jones has done extensive renovation work, making it longer and more difficult.

Fourth hole at Torrey Pines South Course
The South Course at Torrey Pines

Course Details

Opened: 1957
Par: 72
Length: 7,805 yards
Designer: William Francis Bell, Rees Jones

7. Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West – La Quinta

Nicknamed by Members as the Nick Tourney, the Nicklaus Tournament Course regularly features on the annual American Express on the PGA Tour. Set among the mountainous terrain of the Californian desert, the course is known to be forgiving off the tee, but challenging around the greens. 

A unique feature of this course are the two island greens among its 7,204 yards, which can play on golfers minds throughout their round!

Course Details

Opened: 1986 
Par: 72
Length: 7,204 yards
Designer: Jack Nicklaus

8. North Course – Torrey Pines

The North Course at Torrey Pines is joining its sister course, the South Course, to host the annual Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour. 

While the south course is deemed the tougher challenge, the north course is often seen as a more enjoyable, and more beautiful round of golf. This is in part due to its proximity to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, and its famed views over the Pacific Ocean from atop the sandstone cliffs.

Course Details

Opened: 1957
Par: 72
Length: 7,258 yards
Designer:  William Francis Bell, Tom Weiskopf

9. Del Monte Golf Course

Opened in 1897, Del Monte Golf Course is said to be the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi. Designed by golf and polo enthusiast Charles Maud, this inland Monterey course boasts a meandering layout that has challenged golfers for over 125 years. 

Locals often insist that “Old Del” has some of the best greens on the Monterey Peninsula, and most of the top local golfers honed their games here. It was the original host of the California State Amateur, and being slightly inland, it can be warm and sunny when the coastal golf courses are chilly and damp. 

Course Details

Opened: 1897
Par: 72
Length: 6,357 yards
Designer: Charles Maud, Tom Bendelow 

10. Greg Norman Course at PGA West – La Quinta

Located in the Coachella Valley, the dramatic backdrop, combined with the lush green and chalk-white bunkers makes this a truly striking and special golf course. 

102 bunkers set across the layout make for a guaranteed challenge for any golfer, with water hazards a feature on exactly half of the course.

Greg Norman Course PGA West La Quinta
Greg Norman Course, PGA West

Course Details

Opened: 1999
Par: 72
Length: 7,156 yards
Designer: Greg Norman 

11. Pasatiempo Golf Club – Santa Cruz

Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s 1929 course has often ranked in the world top 100 and features beautiful Santa Cruz redwoods and ocean views. Despite MacKenzie also designing Augusta National and Cypress Point, Pasatiempo was said to be his favorite layout and where he made his American home, which still borders the sixth fairway. 

The course officially opened in 1929 with the first group to play consisting of the original developer Marion Hollins (1921 US Women’s Amateur Champion) and Bobby Jones, with whom Mackenzie would later work with at Augusta National. “Pasa” was also home to Juli Inkster, who learned her craft here, and hosts the annual Western Intercollegiate, among the top University tournaments. 

Today, this historic course is a semi-private golf club that sets aside certain tee times for public play and in 2023 and 2024 is undergoing greens and bunker renovations by Jim Urbina. 

Course Details

Opened: 1929
Par: 70
Length: 6,495 yards
Designer: Alister MacKenzie

12. Rustic Canyon

Located in Moorpark, California, inland from Malibu, this Gil Hanse layout opened in 2002 to much acclaim. Utilizing the natural lay of the land, this minimalist design encourages play along the ground, much like a traditional links – a rare challenge in the U.S. 

Large green complexes are afforded from the contours of the land, and hazards are presented in the form of native barrancas. The uniqueness of this design really makes it a must-play when in the Los Angeles area.

Course Details

Opened: 2002
Par: 72
Length: 7,044 yards
Designer: Gil Hanse, Geoff Shackelford

13. Dunes Course – La Quinta

Pete Dye’s second contribution to the La Quinta Resort, the Dunes Course, offers a flavor of traditional links golf in the Californian desert. Rolling mounds and penal rough make the relatively short 6,500 yards a true test of skill and accuracy. 

As you would expect from a Dye design, he toys with the golfer’s mind throughout the round, with some dramatic punishment for minor errors. Like all La Quinta golf, the mountainous desert backdrop makes for a stunning scene.

Dunes Course, La Quinta
Dunes Course, La Quinta

Course Details

Opened: 1981 
Par: 72
Length: 6,578 yards
Designer: Pete Dye

14. Rams Hill Golf Club

Located just under 2hrs inland from San Diego, Rams Hill enjoys the moniker of being in the middle of nowhere. A true retreat feel, this Tom Fazio layout utilizes the hill from which its name originates, and a surprising amount of water (from local springs) to create a true oasis in the desert. 

The spring also allows the course to remain well-maintained through the hot summer months, making it a true year-round golf facility.

Course Details

Opened: 1983
Par: 72
Length: 7,232 yards
Designer: Ted Robinson, Sr., Tom Fazio, Dennis Wise, Jackson Kahn Design

15. Poppy Hills Golf Course

This lovely course situated in the heart of the Del Monte forest in Pebble Beach is a Robert Trent Jones II design that opened for play in 1986 and is home to the Northern California Golf Association. The course was totally renovated by Jones in 2014 and reopened to rave reviews. Similar to the redesign of Pinehurst #2, the course now plays firm and fast and has waste areas instead of irrigated rough.

This beautiful, tree-lined layout is quite a challenge from any set of tee boxes you choose to play and will require an accurate tee ball on every hole. The undulating greens, many of which are well protected by water and bunkers, are perhaps the course’s biggest challenge to overcome in order to score well here. As PGA Tour co-host of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am from 1986 until 2010, Poppy never ceased in challenging the worlds best players. 

Course Details

Opened: 1986
Par: 71
Length: 7,002 yards
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Donald Knott, Gary Linn, Mark Rathert

16. CordeValle Golf Club

CordeValle was host of the 2016 US Women’s Open won by American Brittany Lang, and for four years hosted the Open on the PGA Tour. A true championship course by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., perhaps his best anywhere, set adjacent to a vineyard and a 36,000 square foot Clubhouse.  

Opened in 1999, the development was originally intended to become the playground of the Silicon Valley titans until the dot com bust of 2000. CordeValle was repositioned to the resort component and is now open to members and resort guests only, and to this day it still maintains its very exclusive feel.  

The course winds up and down the oak studded fairways with great views and memorable tee shots. The course conditioning is always nice, the service is world class, and the temperate climate of the south Santa Clara Valley is among the world’s best. 

Course Details

Opened: 1999
Par: 72
Length: 7,360 yards
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Jay Blasi, Donald Knott, Gary Linn

17. Ocean North – Pelican Hill Golf Club

Located in Newport Beach, California, Pelican Hill’s Ocean North course offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean below. The North is one of two Fazio designs on property, features include tee-shots over canyons and dramatically sloping greens which utilize the contours of the landscape. 

Pro tip: Consider a twilight round to enjoy views of sunset over the water – a truly spectacular experience.

Course Details

Opened: 1993
Par: 71
Length: 6,945 yards
Designer: Tom Fazio, Dennis Wise

18. Ocean Course – Half Moon Bay Golf Links

An oceanfront course designed to play like a links, but aside from the oceanfront setting, really plays like a parkland course. Arthur Hills has used his immense design talent to create a course that is among the best along the California coast with public access. 

A former site of The Samsung LPGA Championships, the course is always in good shape with a very good staff and easy location just 40 minutes from San Francisco Airport. The Ritz Carlton Hotel on site dominates the landscape, but it’s the ocean view from each of the 18 holes that makes it most pleasurable. 

Course Details

Opened: 1997
Par: 72
Length: 6,854 yards
Designer: Arthur Hills, Spencer Holt 


There are multiple major golf tournaments held in California. From the regular PGA Tour events at Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Riviera Country Club, and La Quinta, the US Open and PGA Championship have also been held in the Golden State on multiple occasions.

There are 4 PGA Tour tournaments held in California each year, these are held in consecutive weeks and are known as the ‘California Swing’. California has also hosted the PGA Championship five times, and 13 U.S. Opens.

California golf offers a wide variety of experiences, from the dramatic scenery of desert golf in La Quinta, to the pacific views afforded by many courses along the coast including the iconic Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines. You can also find some lush parkland courses and layouts that resemble traditional links.