Rustic Canyon (805-530-0221, $36-$66)
The best bang for the buck in Southern California, and possibly in the entire country, this Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner/Geoff Shackelford design 45 minutes north of Los Angeles engages at every turn, thanks to an easy-to-walk routing with tremendous variety that allows for run-up shots galore. Creative green complexes and chipping areas are stars of the show; shaggy-fringed bunkers and sagebrush-framed fairways crisscrossed by barrancas are added highlights. Rustic can be had for the low price of $36 Monday through Thursday, $39 on Friday and $59 on the weekend -- all after 11:00 am. Before then, you’ll pay $43-$66 to walk. A cart with GPS will set you back another $15. Twilight and replay rates for all are significantly lower still. That’s great value for a course consistently ranked in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play list.
WORTH THE MONEY
Pelican Hill (855-315-8214, $275-$290)
If it's possible to feel underdressed at a 19th hole, it's here at this oh-so-posh resort where a bevy of attractive locals flock to happy hour and gaze at both the ocean and each other. Pelican Hill is located between two of the state’s poshest towns, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, so it’s no surprise that both the Ocean North and Ocean South courses here run nearly $300 apiece, seven days a week. Even the twilight rate of $160 isn’t cheap. That said, you get what you pay for. Its two superb Tom Fazio courses are absolutely worth the splurge. Both date to the early 1990s and feature wide fairways and the usual artful Fazio shaping. First-timers and middle handicappers will gravitate to the elder sibling, Ocean South, which sports back-to-back oceanside par-3s at 12 and 13, plus a stellar finish, highlighted by a double canyon crossing at the 453-yard, par-4 18th. Ocean North doesn’t get as close to the sea, but it’s the players’ course, longer by 400 yards, with more forced carries. The 558-yard, par-5 17th that climbs to a bluff overlooking the Pacific is unforgettable. Toss in a superior forecaddie, world-class service and facilities and nearly unbeatable weather, and it’s easy to see why Pelican Hill serves up special occasion golf at its finest.
TRAVELIN’ JOE SAYS:
“If you like to play in famous footsteps, you’re in luck when you come to Southern California. If you’re somewhat ambitious, the triangle of LA/Palm Springs/San Diego can be comfortably navigated in one trip. Your reward is an unparalleled variety of tournament tracks that you can play. San Diego is the obvious hit, with Torrey Pines South the must-play, thanks to its Tiger Woods-at-the-2008 U.S. Open pedigree, as well as being an annual PGA Tour stop, but don’t neglect its shorter but more scenic sibling, the North, which co-hosts the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance event each year. Nearby La Costa boasts a sterling tournament history as well, with winners that include Woods, Mickelson, Nicklaus and Watson. Most of L.A.’s top tracks are strictly private, but Rancho Park, one of the nation’s busiest munis, played home to 18 L.A. Opens. Jack Nicklaus cashed his first check (for $33.33) as a professional there in 1962. Arnold Palmer won there as well. Finally, in Palm Springs and its environs, every time you turn around you bump into a public access PGA Tour venue. Tops among them is the PGA West TPC Stadium Course in La Quinta, Pete Dye’s sadistically fun romp through the desert that was deemed so difficult as host to the Bob Hope Desert Classic in the late 1980s that the pros refused to return. These days the Humana Challenge is played over LaQuinta Country Club and private courses by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at PGA West. Famous footsteps indeed.”
• San Diego native and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson has been hired to renovate the North Course at Torrey Pines. Although used during the PGA Tour’s annual stop each January, the shorter North is often overlooked by visiting golfers even though it’s less expensive and a bit more accessible and playable than its counterpart. The work should be completed by early 2016. You won't find better views along this coastline, particularly at the seventh tee. Be sure to linger a while there, because that's the end of the appeal -- the rest of the round is strictly mediocre municipal golf with conditions to match. Phil’s project should change that. Still, the lower price tag (it might be worth $80, but certainly not the $132 peak rate), friendlier challenges and extra photo ops make the North every bit as tough a tee time to obtain as the South.
• While it’s not always just a beer and pretzels in the clubhouse anymore, few resort courses can offer a post-round dining option like The Grand Del Mar’s Addison. The region’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant is one of the country’s ultimate intimate fine dining experiences.
• Carlsbad, just north of San Diego, is the epicenter of golf equipment companies. Headquarters for Titleist, Callaway and TaylorMade are all in the area, with fittings available at each usually by appointment.
• Only time for a quick nine holes? Check out one of the country’s best par-3 courses at The Links at Terranea (310-265-2751, $40-$48) in Ranchos Palos Verdes, 20 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport and three miles north of Trump National Los Angeles. Holes range from 104 yards to 173 yards and the coastal views are very memorable.
Omni La Costa Resort & Spa (800-854-5000)
The only Golf Magazine Gold Medal Premier Resort in Southern California has undergone much needed and well-received renovations in recent years. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson own wins on the Champions Course, which was redesigned in 2011. The adjoining South Course is currently closed for its own renovations and expected to reopen in late 2013. The San Diego resort is only about a mile away from Interstate 5, making it convenient to get to any of the area's coastal courses. At green fees that range from $185-$240, La Costa isn't cheap, but packages can help bring the prices down.
St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point (949-234-3200)
Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa, Indian Wells (760-773-4444)
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai (888-697-8780)
Park Hyatt Aviara, Carlsbad (760-448-1234)
La Quinta Resort & Club, La Quinta (800-598-3828)
Champions Resort, Indian Wells (760-341-1000)
The Resort at Pelican Hill, Newport Coast (949-467-6800)
FROM THE EXPERT
“You can play year round in Southern California, with little concern for rain or other weather issues. But there is the traffic, which is as bad as you have heard (avoid the 405 whenever possible, but especially at rush hour), so get good directions to the course you are playing and plan your route carefully. As for green fees, you can get particularly good deals in the desert (how us locals refer to the Palm Springs area) as long as you’re willing to brave the serious summer heat. You can play 18 or even 36 for less than half the high-season price. You’ll also find some discount lodging options during the hot weather. The Los Angeles and San Diego areas are known for some fantastic private courses, but you’ll need to get connected to a member for access. On the muni side, Torrey Pines in San Diego and Rancho Park in Los Angeles are worth a round. While there is plenty of sunshine throughout the region, bring a few sweaters or wind shirts. SoCal is not the tropics, and from November through February you’ll get temperatures in the 50s and 60s with an occasional bit of drizzle.”
-- Mike Chwasky, Deputy Editor (Equipment), Golf Magazine
“In sunny Southern California we get to enjoy great weather, beautiful sunsets and amazing beaches. Most of the courses here also have lots of sand so odds are you are going to have to play out of a few sand traps. Here are a few tips on how to improve your greenside bunker game. First, open the clubface of your sand wedge slightly so that the leading edge of the clubface points at your forward ankle. That creates bounce and allows the club to skid, rather than dig, through the sand. Second, you need to hit two inches behind the ball in a greenside bunker. Because the sand acts as a cushion, you need to use a 3x multiplier for distance control. For a 10-yard bunker shot, you will need to make a 30-yard swing to offset that sand cushion. Finally, don't try to help the ball up over the bunker lip. Focus on hitting the sand with a full follow through so that the sand is thrown forward out on to the green instead of up in the air. When the sand goes out on the green the ball will follow there.”
—Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Glenn Deck is director of instruction at Pelican Hill Resort.