Golf courses tend to be set among spectacular scenery, and that’s especially true in the Golden State. Mountains, deserts, forests, and hundreds of miles of pristine coastline give California course designers the opportunity to display Mother Nature’s gifts along with challenging layouts for lovers of the game. These 13 courses, listed south to north, showcase the state’s biodiversity and beauty. Pick three (or four or five), pack your clubs, and plan on an unforgettable road trip. And if you are looking for a way to hit even more iconic California courses in a single excursion, consider this Pacific Coast Highway Golf Tour.
Torrey Pines Golf Course, La Jolla
Two 18-hole championship courses, the North and the South, are offered at Torrey Pines, municipal courses owned by the City of San Diego. The challenging layouts and well-maintained facilities have made Torrey Pines the location for PGA Tour major events, including the 2021 United States Open Championship to be played on the South course. Set along the coast in picturesque La Jolla, the ocean and canyon settings create both stunning views and challenges for golfers who often have to contend with fog and wind.
Rams Hill Golf Club, Borrego Springs
Two hours east of San Diego’s beaches and minutes from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Rams Hill offers a challenging game along with views of the desert floor, mountains, streams, and lakes. At the 18th hole, players are rewarded with a wide fairway sloping to a large lake, finishing on a green surrounded by bunkers and a cascading waterfall. Five sets of tees make the course fun and accessible to golfers at all skill levels. After sundown, look skyward to see an unbelievable canopy of stars in Borrego Springs, an official Dark Sky Community.
Redhawk Golf Course, Temecula
The challenging layout of Redhawk features scenic mountain views and green hills—and golfers will struggle to hit ‘em straight when the wind kicks up. Ray’s Creek, the signature eighth hole, is a par 3 with an island green, 167 yards from the tee. Golfers can celebrate clearing the water or console themselves after a splash landing with a visit to one of the local wineries or restaurants. Drop by Old Town Temecula for some local history or drift overhead in one of the colorful hot air balloons that often dot the skies in the area.
Pelican Hill Golf Club, Newport Beach
This elegant resort in Newport Beach includes two courses, a variety of upscale accommodations, and the unique Coliseum Pool, perfectly circular and lined with more than a million glass mosaic tiles, an ideal place to unwind after a round of golf. The North Course features panoramic ocean views from every tee box, and the Ocean South Course provides vistas that include Santa Catalina Island. On both courses, lush green fairways and native trees contrast with the blue sea, while ocean breezes add a bit of challenge.
TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, La Quinta
A stay at the historic La Quinta Resort & Club gives guests the opportunity to choose from five golf courses, including the famed Stadium Course, rated as one of the toughest in the country. The 17th hole, known as “Alcatraz,” features an island green, and the course ends with the water-lined 18th. Desert terrain and the stunning San Jacinto Mountains create a memorable landscape. La Quinta offers much to do aprés-golf, with the nearby Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, superb restaurants, shopping, casinos, and resorts of the Greater Palm Springs area.
Griffith Park Golf Courses, Los Angeles
Set in one of the largest urban parks in North America, Griffith Park’s two courses, Wilson Golf Course and Harding Golf Course, are nearly 100 years old, with mature landscaping, forested settings, mountain views, and narrow, sloping fairways. Golfers playing the well-maintained courses might be surprised to encounter wildlife including deer, coyotes, foxes, and geese in the heart of Los Angeles. Within the same expansive park, the Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Observatory, picnic areas, and hiking trails offer a variety of activities in addition to golf.
La Purisima Golf Course, Lompoc
Set among gently rolling hills and studded with giant oak trees, La Purisima is a favorite of locals as well as visitors. No homes are built along its fairways, making it perfect for purists who enjoy a challenging but fair course with wide open landscapes. The layout is ideal for walking, and that’s the best way to get some exercise along with panoramic views. Located in Santa Barbara County about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, Lompoc is known for its wineries, flower fields, and La Purisima State Historic Park.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach
This iconic golf course is considered the best public course in the country, and for many golfers, a round at Pebble Beach tops their bucket list. Its 18th is a famous finishing hole, with golfers facing the decision of whether to play left or right of the cypress tree in the fairway, but every hole is an adventure. And yes, the ocean views are absolutely stunning. Unwind with an excursion along 17-Mile Drive for a glimpse of spectacular homes, more Pacific coastline, and perhaps a stop in the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea for a stroll among its art galleries and boutiques.
Snow Creek Golf Course, Mammoth Lakes
Surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks, Snow Creek is a seasonal nine-hole course set at an elevation of 8,000 feet. Water hazards, bunkers, and abundant trees challenge golfers, but the scenery will keep them happy even as they add strokes to their score. Mammoth Lakes is a true four-season wonderland, providing visitors with great fishing, hiking, boating, camping, and mountain biking.
Silverado Resort Golf, North & South Courses, Napa Valley
Both Silverado courses feature water hazards and lush oak-lined fairways, creating breathtaking scenery and challenges aplenty. The signature hole on the North Course is a short overwater par 3 to a green guarded by bunkers and mature trees. The courses are walkable, and pushcarts are available for golfers who want to add a workout to their round of golf. The estimated 2,000-calorie burn provides the perfect excuse to indulge post-golf at Napa’s excellent restaurants and wineries.
Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, Sacramento
Tune up your game at Haggin Oaks with two championship golf courses, a world-class teaching facility, and a 100-stall lighted driving range in Sacramento. The courses offer two distinct layouts that will appeal to golfers of all skill levels. Arcade Creek is ideal for beginners who will face fewer hazards and less difficulty. Low handicappers will be tested on the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course, named for its creator, the same World Golf Hall of Fame golf architect who designed Augusta National, home of the Masters.
Sea Ranch Golf Links, Sea Ranch
This Scottish links–style course winds along the far northern coast of Sonoma County with views of the rugged Pacific coastline and redwood trees. Its seaside landscape includes sea grass rough and cliffside holes overlooking the crashing waves below. Deer roam the course, and golfers can too with its walker-friendly layout. Hiking paths in the area offer views of cypress groves, tide pools, secluded beaches, and sea stacks jutting out of the Pacific Ocean. Nearby non-denominational Sea Ranch Chapel is worth a visit for the fascinating architecture and surrounding grounds.
Old Greenwood, Truckee
Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and set among Lake Tahoe’s pine forests and rolling meadows, Old Greenwood presents stunning beauty along with the challenges of a Jack Nicklaus–designed course. Greens are guarded by yawning bunkers, and water hazards lie between tee and green on the par 3 7th and 15th holes. Hiking, boating, swimming, fishing, and biking are great off-the-links options, and as the golf season gives way to snow season, winter skiing ensures that visitors keep coming to Truckee and the Lake Tahoe area all year long.