TORREY PINES MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE, SOUTH COURSE
11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla; 858-452-3226, torreypinesgolfcourse.com. Yardage: 7,607. Par: 73. Slope: 143. Architect: William Bell, 1957. Greens Fees: $115$135. T+L GOLF Rating: *****
This William Bell landmark and Buick Invitational host recently received an extensive Rees Jones renovation in hopes of luring the U.S. Open. Mission accomplished. Torrey Pines South, run by the city of San Diego, will become the second true municipal track to host the Open when it is played there in 2008. And rightly so. It takes muscle to tame these 7,600 yards as they meander along La Jolla's rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific—particularly the downhill 198-yard, par-three third, peering like a picture postcard above the ocean, and the rollicking 541-yard, par-five thirteenth, which dipsy-doodles down from the tee like a ski slope, then rises to a diabolically bunkered green. It might all feel terribly trying were it not for the soul-soothing scenery.
LA COSTA RESORT AND SPA, TOURNAMENT COURSE
2100 Costa Del Mar Road, Carlsbad; 760-438-9111, lacosta.com. Yardage: 7,247. Par: 72. Slope: 142. Architect: Dick Wilson, 1965. Greens Fees: $185$195. T+L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
The world's best Tour pros love returning to La Costa each year to play the graceful, tree-lined fairways of this old-style design. But the Tournament course they play during the Accenture Match Play Championship is actually an amalgamation of holes from the resort's North and South layouts. Luckily, hotel and daily-fee guests can play this configuration a few days a month, and we strongly recommend doing so. KSL resorts, the property's new owner, has done much to restore the course to a condition worthy of its grand history. Especially around the February tournament date, golfers can look forward to quality overseeded rye fairways and surprisingly smooth Poa annua greens.
MADERAS GOLF CLUB
17750 Old Coach Road, Poway; 858-451-8100, maderasgolf.com. Yardage: 7,115. Par: 72. Slope: 145. Architects: Robert Muir Graves and Johnny Miller, 1999. Greens Fees: $135$175. T+L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
Madera means "wood" in Spanish, and it's an appropriate appellation for this marvel. Tree-filled canyons, massive rock outcroppings, sparkling creeks and leaping waterfalls gleam under the warm inland sun. Classy shot-makers' holes, such as the uphill, diabolically bunkered 341-yard tenth, blend with more modern monsters, like the strident, 487-yard par-four fifth, which requires all the muscle a young flatbelly wielding a launch-monitor-fit, thousand-dollar driver can muster. Johnny Miller designed each green with a five-tier pin-placement scheme to emphasize the accurate iron play for which he was known. Robert Muir Graves, who died last year, routed the layout through rolling terrain with grand elevation changes and dramatic views.
PELICAN HILL GOLF CLUB, OCEAN NORTH COURSE
22651 Pelican Hill Road South, Newport Coast; 949-760-0707, pelicanhill.com. Yardage: 6,856. Par: 71. Slope: 133. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1993. Greens Fees: $175$250. T+L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
This Tom Fazio masterpiece was a California golfing shrine from the day it opened in 1993 and is still the standard-bearer for area daily-fee courses in terms of service, conditioning and facilities. The track treks the plateaued hills and saddle-swaled valleys above the Pacific, all eighteen holes equally memorable for their variety and imagination. The boomerang, 543-yard par-five seventeenth and the par-four 426-yard eighteenth (both with panoramic ocean views) can compete with the best back-to-back finishers anywhere. Newport Beach's five-diamond Four Seasons hotel combines rounds at the course with spa packages—which, given Pelican's steep rates, is appreciated.
ARROYO TRABUCO GOLF CLUB
26772 Avery Parkway, Mission Viejo; 949-305-5100, arroyotrabuco.com. Yardage: 7,011. Par: 72. Slope: 134. Architects: Casey O'Callaghan and Tom Lehman, 2004. Greens Fees: $55$85. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
Orange County's newest public daily-fee course, this fair and warmhearted track sits on the pristine protected ground of the Ladera Ranch Land Conservancy. Several quiet opening holes are succeeded by ones with more drama, like the seventh through twelfth, which rise high, run gracefully along hilltops and ridges and create (a bit of) the illusion of residing in the Scottish Highlands. The closing hole, a low-lying, 513-yard par five, features a sizeable lake that snakes along the left side, not unlike the closer on Doral's Blue Monster. Don't miss the "California Ranch cooking" (i.e., BBQ) on the patio next to the clubhouse.
AVIARA GOLF CLUB, FOUR SEASONS RESORT
7447 Batiquitos Drive, Carlsbad; 760-603-6900, fourseasons.com. Yardage: 7,007. Par: 72. Slope: 144. Architect: Arnold Palmer, 1991. Greens Fees: $185$205. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
This Arnold Palmer design suffers a bit from an identity crisis. On one hand, it functions as an easygoing, picturesque resort course, with breathtaking par threes including the downhill 201-yard fourteenth, where a psychedelic blaze of wildflowers, lakes, boulders and waterfalls frames the hole's wide and shallow green. Yet when tackled from the tips (which play longer than their yardage due to the heavy sea air and breezes off the nearby Pacific), the course presents the kinds of narrow landing areas, long approach shots and large, slanting greens that any low handicapper would want. Pro and hacker alike can find common ground in the clubhouse's gourmet-quality Argyle restaurant, which overlooks the course and the lovely Batiquitos Lagoon.
DEL MAR NATIONAL GOLF CLUB
5300 Del Mar National Way, San Diego; 858-792-6200, delmarnationalgolf.com. Yardage: 7,054. Par: 71. Slope: 136. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1999. Greens Fees: $125$155. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
A superbly conditioned Tom Fazio design, Del Mar National offers a delightful paradox: a big, bold and open golf course that also conveys serenity and seclusion. Its wide user-friendly fairways, large greens and adjacent meadows safely guide golfers through their rounds, while intensely narrow canyons, valleys and barranca-streaked foothills frame these energetic holes without squeezing or tightening them. So secluded are the holes, one can easily feel lost. But just when it seems necessary to send up the flares for a rescue party, a reorienting glimpse of the Pacific emerges several times on the back nine. A sprinkling of native fescue grass, especially around the greenside bunkers, augments the layout's links styling, yet it is how Fazio creates so many level fairway lies on such hilly terrain that confirms his status as a landscaping wizard.
OAK CREEK GOLF CLUB
One Golf Club Drive, Irvine; 949-653-5300, oakcreekgolfclub.com. Yardage: 6,850. Par: 71. Slope: 132. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1996. Greens Fees: $95$135. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
This gentle Fazio design features rolling doglegs, fairways lined with California wildflowers and large, open-fronted greens. Although the San Diego Freeway is just an echo away, this walking-friendly facility maintains the feel of a secluded sanctuary. The tight, 500-yard par-five ninth and the 456-yard par-four eighteenth close each side strongly. A twelve-acre practice range—with chipping, putting and bunker areas—and a bar and grill with an outdoor patio overlooking the final green round out the amenities.
THE RANCHO BERNARDO INN GOLF COURSE
17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive, San Diego; 858-675-8470, rbigolf.com. Yardage: 6,631. Par: 72. Slope: 133. Architect: William Bell, 1962. Greens Fees: $90$115. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
At 6,631 yards, this old-style William Bell course isn't long by today's standards. It does, however, give recreational golfers all the challenge they might want, along with pleasing aesthetics, fine conditioning and a rare chance for long hitters to semi-retire their drivers and think their way around a golf course. A virtual arboretum of Southern California tree species, the course shows its strength via a particularly intelligent collection of par fives. The final one, number eighteen, bends right off the tee, crosses a creek, then rises sharply uphill to a pond-protected three-tiered green. The hole also fronts the patio of the hotel's lovely Veranda restaurant, which appeared in a scene in the film Traffic.
TUSTIN RANCH GOLF CLUB
12442 Tustin Ranch Road, Tustin; 714-730-1611, tustingranchgolf.com. Yardage: 6,803. Par: 72. Slope: 134. Architect: Ted Robinson, 1989. Greens Fees: $95$145. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
When Tustin Ranch opened in 1989, it became the first contemporary-styled daily-fee course in Orange County. Designed by renowned architect (and area resident) Ted Robinson, the course presents a test of classic Robinson golf, characterized by undulating fairways, elegant palm trees, mounded greens and signature waterscapes. (Robinson, a serious environmentalist, uses water features as conservation measures, on the premise that reducing a course's sodded areas lessens the need for watering.) The 170-yard par-three eleventh, with an island green flanked by matching waterfalls that feed a large lake, illustrates this strategy with aplomb.
MONARCH BEACH GOLF LINKS
22 Monarch Beach Resort North, Dana Point; 949-240-8247, monarchbeachgolf.com. Yardage: 6,601. Par: 70. Slope: 138. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1983. Greens Fees: $160$195. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
The only Robert Trent Jones Jr. public track in Orange County, this course has hosted the Hyundai Team Matches, which feature players from the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours. The links-style layout offers many ocean views, curvaceous fairways and sets of strategic directional fairway bunkers. Golfers may want to consult Mapquest more than their cart's GPS system to navigate the dramatic, double-bending, barranca-leaping, 612-yard par-five seventh.
BEST OF THE REST
San Diego's Mt. Woodson Golf Club ($59$85; 760-788-3555) is a short and tight mountain track with the angular beauty of a cubist painting. Immaculately conditioned and pleasing to the eye, San Clemente's Fred Couplesdesigned Talega ($95$125; 949-369-6226) contrasts wide, lusciously green fairways against bunkers of crushed white marble sand on a course that rewards accurate driving and intelligent strategy more than mere brute strength. Irvine's Strawberry Farms Golf Club ($95$145; 949-551-1811) is set among scenic canyons, wetlands, granite boulders and natural waterfalls that wrap around the picturesque thirty-five-acre Sand Canyon Reservoir. Golfers can cross one of the attractive cobblestoned bridges at Coyote Hills Golf Course ($90$110; 714-672-6800) and remember Payne Stewart, who designed the Fullerton course with Cal Olson. Tijeras Creek Golf Club ($60$95; 949-589-9793), another area creation by Ted Robinson, presents an ordinary front nine that is followed by a collection of magical holes routed through old-growth sycamores, oaks and native chaparral on the back. Aliso Viejo Golf Club ($65$95; 949-598-9200) offers twenty-seven relatively short, hilly and tight holes designed by Jack Nicklaus and son Jack Jr., the only publicly accessible Orange County layout by the Golden Bear.
The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Santa Fe (2000). The name derives from the five elegant suspension bridges spanning huge canyons on the 7,000-yard course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Featuring arching fairways, canyon carries and daunting water hazards, it hosted the nationally televised Battle at the Bridges (starring Tiger Woods) in 2003 and 2004.
Coto de Caza Golf and Racquet Club, Coto de Caza (North, 1987; South, 1995). This is the only Orange County private facility with two courses, both by Robert Trent Jones Jr. The 7,162-yard North plays over creeks and canyons, while the newer and tighter South features various water hazards and winding doglegs.
Dove Canyon Country Club, Dove Canyon (1991). Orange County's only private Jack Nicklaus Signature Course is a tight and tough one that winds through scenic canyons and over elevation changes, offering great views of distant mountain ranges.
The Newport Beach Country Club, Newport Beach (1954). This old-school 6,600-yard design hosts the Toshiba Senior Classic on the PGA Champions Tour. Originally designed by William Bell in 1952 and reworked several times since then by Ted Robinson, it features small greens, ocean views and fairways lined with pine trees.
Pauma Valley Country Club, Pauma Valley (1960). Horse ranches and citrus and avocado groves border this 7,077-yard Robert Trent Jones Sr. treasure revered for its varied collection of holes. One of the country's best little-known private clubs.
The Santaluz Club, Santaluz (2002). This well-elevated 7,112-yard layout represents Rees Jones's first original course in Southern California. Its sweeping views of the distant Pacific reinforce its links-style accents.
Shady Canyon Golf Club, Irvine (2002). Developers transplanted four hundred mature oak trees in building this Tom Fazio wonder. It's a winding 7,000-yard serenade of rugged boulder outcroppings, hidden valleys and creeks.