Golf in Carmel Valley, California

The 318-yard third hole at Carmel Valley Ranch.
Evan Schiller

When golfers think of the Monterey Peninsula, they invariably picture the postcard coastline of Pebble Beach. What they rarely envision is a trip to Carmel Valley, just inland across Highway 1. Less crowded--and much less costly--than the celebrated tracks along 17-Mile Drive, golf here is also free of the fog that blankets so much of the peninsula in summer. Clint Eastwood knows this. He built his own golf club in clement Carmel Valley. Clint's Tehama Golf Club is private, but other fine courses are plentiful, clustered in a valley where the coastal clouds give way to California.

The Golf

Quail Lodge
6,449 yards; $160 for resort guests;
831-624-2888; quaillodge.com

This high-end resort recently underwent a $30 million renovation. It has also rejiggered its rules: You have to be a resort guest to book a tee time. What you get in return is a fair test of golf on a course that willaccommodatee soon errant shots. Fairways are wide, but 10 man-made lakes bring just enough trouble into play. On the fifth and 17th holes, both beautiful par 3s, the slightest chunk goes ker-plunk.

Rancho Canada Golf Club
East Course: 6,125 yards; West Course: 6,357; $50-$55
831-624-0111; ranchocanada.com

Neither of the courses at rancho Canada will overwhelm you with their length. Punishment comes more subtly in the form of gentle doglegs and fairways that tilt toward stands of oak and cypress trees. The East course crosses the Carmel River five times, offering ample opportunity for making sacrafices to the water gods. The back nine of the West course is a true Napoleon: short but unforgiving. At just 372 yards, the par-4 15th is so narrow your foursome may want o proceed single file.

Carmel Valley Ranch
6,234 yards; $150-$165 (resort guests); $180 (non-guests);
831-625-9500; cvrgolf.com

The weather gets warmer in this part of the valley, and you'll want your game to do the same. The design on this tight, testy course is by Pete Dye, whose signature shows up in the railroad ties that ring the water hazards. Members (the course is semiprivate but takes non-resort guest play) think of the 11th as the defining hole. It's a par 4 that drops 115 feet from tee to fairway and offers sweeping vistas of the valley.

Local Knowledge

Ag Venture Tours
831-643-9463; agventuretours.com

Guide Evan Oakes specializes in wine tasting, sight-seeing, argicultural education--you name it. Sip chardonnay. Or learn about the soil where the grapes were grown.

Horseback Riding at Holman Ranch
831-659-2640; holmanranch.com

Saddle up on a rented steed. guided rides have catchy names and range from the Hopalong Cassidy--a one-hour tour through oak-studded hills--to the Gene Autry, a two-hour trip along secluded trails to a ridgeline with stunning views. Tours and visits by appointment only.

Corn Maze at Earthbound Farm
7520 Carmel Valley Rd.

Every summer, this all-organic farm grows a maze out of maize. It's fun to wander in. And spooky to get lost in, like a sequel to The Shining, without the harmful pesticides.

Where to Eat

Marinus at Bernardus Lodge
415 Carmel Valley Rd., 831-658-3400;

Widely regarded as the best restaurant in the county. Marinus has a table in the wine cellar (it seats four to eight people), and a booth in the kitchen, so you can watch the chefs work while you eat. Both tables must be reserved in advance.

Baja Cantina
7166 Carmel Valley Rd., 831-625-2252

Good place to get lubricated. Bad place for a low-carburetor diet. Owned by car buff Patrick Phinny and decorated with automobile memorabilia, the menu is stocked with Mexican fare such as pit-roasted pork and super-size enchiladas.

Running Iron Restaurant & Saloon
24 East Carmel Valley Rd., 831-659-4633

True to its name, the Running Iron has Old West trappings--rustic wooden tables, cowboy boots and overalls dangling from the ceiling. The atmosphere is festive, the food informal, and the beer ice cold.

Where to Stay

Bernardus Lodge
$275-$765, 831-658-3400, bernardus.com

Feather beds, fireplaces, bathtubs built for two. Every guest gets a wine-and-cheese welcome. The warm reception lingers throughout your stay.

Quail Lodge
$225-$825, 831-624-2888, quaillodge.com

Newly renovated rooms include plasma-screen TVs and panoramic views to the valley. A luxurious setting to complement a lazy day on the links.

Carmel River Inn
800-966-6490, carmelriverinn.com

Casual but comfortable, it offers two lodging options: country-themed rooms in the main inn, or individual cabins, some ringed by white picket fences.

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