Sanderson Farms Championship

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The best courses you can play in California

One of our favorite grillroom debates that always stirs the pot is which state can boast the best collection of golf courses. Florida has so many courses, Texas deserves a seat at the table, but when you study any set of rankings of the best golf courses, New York and California usually reign supreme—mostly due to their depth of great private clubs.

How about the state with the best public golf? What’s the ‘best state for the people’ when it comes to golf? Let’s check our 100 Greatest Public Courses ranking. Wisconsin has become one of the best spots for public golf, as it leads the way with 10 courses on our 100 Greatest Public ranking. But California is tied for the lead, also with 10 courses on our best public ranking. With some of the most historical public facilities such as Pebble Beach Golf Links and Pasatiempo Golf Club, plus newcomers such as Rams Hill Golf Club and Grizzly Ranch, California has it all when it comes to golf—public or private.

This might not settle your 19th hole debate, but let us provide more evidence in support of California with this list of the best public golf in the Golden State.

Pebble Beach Golf Links
Public
Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach
Not just the greatest meeting of land and sea in American golf, but the most extensive one, too, with nine holes perched immediately above the crashing Pacific surf—the fourth through 10th plus the 17th and 18th. Pebble’s sixth through eighth are golf’s real Amen Corner, with a few Hail Marys thrown in over an ocean cove on the eighth from atop a 75-foot-high bluff. Pebble hosted a successful U.S. Amateur in 2018 and a sixth U.S. Open in 2019. Recent improvements include the redesign of the once-treacherous 14th green, and reshaping of the par-3 17th green, both planned by Arnold Palmer’s Design Company a few years back—and the current changes to the iconic eighth hole.
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Spyglass Hill Golf Course
Public
Spyglass Hill Golf Course
Pebble Beach
Given the task of designing a course just up the 17 Mile Drive from Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, Robert Trent Jones responded with a combination of Pine Valley and Augusta National. The five opening holes, in Pine Valley-like sand dunes, are an all-too-brief encounter with the Pacific seacoast. The remaining holes are a stern hike through hills covered with majestic Monterey pines (which, sad to say, may someday disappear to pitch canker, but are being replaced in some areas with cypress trees). Add several water hazards that hearken back to the 16th at Augusta (a hole which Trent Jones designed, by the way) and you have what some panelists consider to be Trent’s finest work. Others say it’s the best course never to have hosted a major event. After all, even Pine Valley and Cypress Point have hosted Walker Cups.
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Pasatiempo Golf Club
Public
Pasatiempo Golf Club
Santa Cruz
Pasatiempo is arguably Alister Mackenzie's favorite design. He lived along its sixth fairway during his last years. With its elaborate greens and spectacular bunkering fully restored by Tom Doak and then-associate Jim Urbina, it’s now a prime example of Mackenzie's art. Its five par 3s are daunting yet delightful, culminating with the 181-yard over-a-canyon 18th. The back nine is chock full of other great holes: 10, 11, 12 and 16 all play over barrancas. The storied course has hosted two USGA championships: the 1986 U.S. Women's Amateur and the 2004 U.S. Senior Women's Amateur. In 2014, Pasatiempo received a Golf Digest Green Star environmental award for its measures in dealing with drought. Today, water worries are in the past, in part because of a new storage tank that allows the club to capture and store recycled water.
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Torrey Pines Golf Course: South
Torrey Pines sits on one of the prettiest golf course sites in America, atop coastal bluffs north of San Diego with eye-dazzling views of the Pacific. Rees Jones’ remodeling of the South Course in the early 2000s not only made the course competitive for the 2008 U.S. Open (won by Tiger Woods in a playoff over Rocco Mediate), it also brought several coastal canyons into play for everyday play, especially on the par-3 third and par-4 14th. An annual PGA Tour stop, Torrey Pines hosted its second U.S. Open in 2021.
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CordeValle Golf Club
Located in the little known but abundant golfing area south of San Jose, the gorgeous CordeValle was a private club when it first opened, but is a high-end resort destination these days, with climbing and descending soft hills dotted by gnarled oaks. It hosted both the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur and PGA Tour's Frys.com Open in 2013 and was the site of the U.S. Women's Open in 2016.
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The Links At Spanish Bay
Public
The Links At Spanish Bay
Pebble Beach
The Links at Spanish Bay was the first true links course built in America in many decades, but it took years for conveyor belts to deposit sand atop exposed bed rock to return this mined-out sand quarry back to a linkland site. The trio of designers, playfully dubbed "The Holy Trinity," thoughtfully shaped an 18 that looks natural, plays strategically and is sensitive to the coastal wetland environment.
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PGA West: Stadium Course
Public
PGA West: Stadium Course
La Quinta
Originally private, the Stadium Course (the original 18 at PGA West) was among the rota of courses for the old Bob Hope Desert Classic, until some pros, objecting to its difficulty, petitioned to remove it. (It’s now back.) It's Pete Dye at his rambunctious best, with a finish mimicking his later design at TPC Sawgrass: a gambling par-5 16th (called San Andres Fault), a short par-3 17th to an island green and an intimidating par-4 18th with water all the way to the green.
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Poppy Hills Golf Course
Public
Poppy Hills Golf Course
Pebble Beach
When originally built, Poppy Hills had unpopular perched greens framed by massive containment mounds. Following a 2013 remodeling by Jones and Charlton, it's now a graceful, low-profile layout. "We popped the hills at Poppy Hills," says Trent Jr. A new feature are sandy naturalized areas and pine straw off the fairways instead of manicured rough, part of a concerted effort to significantly reduce water consumption. The renovated course was on display at the 2018 U.S. Girls' Junior, won by current LPGA player Yealimi Noh.
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Grizzly Ranch Golf Club
Public
Grizzly Ranch Golf Club
Portola
Located in the Sierra Nevada foothills 50 miles northwest of Reno, Grizzly Ranch is getaway, escapist golf and a refreshing trek through nature. When given such serenity and untouched natural beauty, it’s important not to overcook the design. The late architect Bob Cupp didn’t. He layered the holes onto a basin of forest floor with minimal buildup, directing them easily up and down the tilted property and positioning the greensites in ways that mingle thoughtfully with creeks and dry washes.
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Rams Hill Golf Club
Public
Rams Hill Golf Club
Borrego Springs
Local residents revived this golf development within Anza Borrego Desert State Park, on the western edge of the Sonoran Desert about an hour from La Quinta, Calif., in the mid 2000s with an entirely new course built by Tom Fazio. Some of Fazio’s spacious holes are molded into the desert earth and others ride the up and down rocky elevations, leading to a finish that includes the short par-4 17th and gambler’s par-5 18th that streaks downhill around a water feature.
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Torrey Pines Golf Course: North
112 Panelists
Redesigned by Tom Weiskopf in 2018, Torrey Pines' North course became friendly for the average golfer. The number of bunkers were reduced from 60 to 42 and made easier to play out of. And the average green size was increased from 4,500 square feet to 6,000. Lastly, Weiskopf added one of his signatures: a short, drivable par 4 (the seventh)—making the companion course to the championship South course a little more fun.
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Pelican Hill Golf Club: Ocean North
135 Panelists
This Tom Fazio-designed oceanside course provides stunning views of Catalina Island and Newport Beach. Set on slightly higher ground than its sister course (Ocean South), the North Course at Pelican Hill features sloping greens and several carries over canyons off the tee.
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Pelican Hill Golf Club: Ocean South
The first of the two Tom Fazio designs at Pelican Hill, The Ocean South course opened in 1991 and boasts striking Pacific Ocean vistas. Wide fairways, large undulating greens and fantastic conditions make for an enjoyable round on this coastal track.
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Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles
Public
Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles
Rancho Palos Verdes
Just 30 minutes south of LAX, the Pete Dye design features Pacific Ocean views on every single hole. Built among the jagged cliffs of Palos Verdes Peninsula, Trump National L.A. is known as one of the most expensive golf courses ever constructed – $250 million was spent to develop this scenic public golf experience.
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Rustic Canyon Golf Course
Public
Rustic Canyon Golf Course
Moorpark
Rustic Canyon earned the honor of Golf Digest's Most Affordable Public Course in 2002, and it has continued to generate attention as one of Southern California's best public options since. With wide, generous fairways routed through a seasonal stream bed in the foothills north of Los Angeles, this Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford design is a natural, minimalistic and strategic gem that should be on any list of the best in California.
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DarkHorse Golf Club
Public
DarkHorse Golf Club
Auburn
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, this Keith Foster-designed course has been praised by many for the variety in its layout. Several valleys offer noteworthy elevation changes and many holes play alongside natural penalty areas.
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Tahoe Mountain Club: Old Greenwood
Old Greenwood is one of two 18-hole courses at Tahoe Mountain Club, and since 2020 the Jack Nicklaus signature design has hosted the PGA Tour’s modified stableford event, the Barracuda Championship. Winding through pine forests, meadows, and hilly terrain, Old Greenwood is both a challenging and aesthetically pleasing course.
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TPC Harding Park: Harding Park
Public
TPC Harding Park: Harding Park
San Francisco
Across the street from the Olympic Club is San Francisco's most famous muny, designed by the same architect, Willie Watson. Framed by eucalyptus, cypress and monterey pines, TPC Harding Park hosted a PGA Tour event in the 1950s and 1960s. And it hosted the 2020 PGA Championship, won by Collin Morikawa, after a significant renovation a couple years prior. The course also hosted the 2009 Presidents Cup, as well as the 1937 and 1956 U.S. Amateur Public Links.
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Maderas Golf Club
Public
Maderas Golf Club
Poway
Just minutes from downtown San Diego, this Johnny Miller and Robert Muir Graves design snakes through rolling foothills with an abundance of elevation changes. Maderas not only features a challenging, target-oriented layout, but it also stars over forty acres of native wildflowers.
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Aviara Golf Club
Public
Aviara Golf Club
Carlsbad
Aviara, part of an upscale Hyatt resort, has held the LPGA's JTBC Classic (formerly the Kia Classic) for the past nine years. The only Arnold Palmer design in the area, this resort course meanders through rolling hillsides and is landscaped with native Southern California wildflowers.
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Oak Quarry Golf Club
Public
Oak Quarry Golf Club
Riverside
Built on the site of a 100-yard-old marble quarry, Oak Quarry presents some terrific golf amidst magnificent views. Hidden just off an exit ramp on the way from L.A. to Palm Springs, this course is a thrill ride with bouncy, big-shouldered fairways framed by white-granite cliffs that amaze almost as much as they antagonize.
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Stanford Golf Course
Public
Stanford Golf Course
Stanford
Home to the top-ranked Cardinal men’s and women’s golf teams, the Stanford Course is a par-70 George C. Thomas and Billy Bell Jr. design. Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Michelle Wie, and many more famed Stanford alums experienced pivotal years in their young golf careers at this sprawling championship layout. Grand oak trees line the fairways and elevated tee boxes provide beautiful views of the surrounding mountain scenery.
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Bayonet & Black Horse
Public
Bayonet & Black Horse
Seaside
This pair of 18-hole championship courses is riddled with history: The Bayonet and the Blackhorse are built on Fort Ord, a retired U.S. Army training facility. General Robert B. McClure famously built the Bayonet to perfectly fit his chronic fade as a left-handed golfer—the course is known for its “Combat Corner,” a series of sharp doglegs on the back nine. The Blackhorse was added in 1964, 10 years after the Bayonet, and features panoramic views of Monterey Bay.
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PGA West: Nicklaus Tournament
This Jack Nicklaus-designed course annually hosts the first PGA Tour event in the continental U.S. each calendar year, along with PGA West’s Stadium Course and La Quinta Country Club. Surrounded by picturesque desert mountains, the championship venue is equipped with two island greens and challenging cavernous bunkers.
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The Course At Wente Vineyards
Tucked away in the native woodlands of Livermore Valley just 50 minutes east of San Francisco lies this beautiful Greg Norman design. Providing several striking panoramas of active vineyards, the Course at Wente Vineyards hosted the then-Nationwide Tour’s Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship from 2006 to 2008.
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Sandpiper Golf Club
Public
Sandpiper Golf Club
Santa Barbara
Lining the breathtaking Santa Barbara cliffside, Sandpiper provides spectacular Pacific Ocean and beach views on most of its holes. This William F. Bell design has hosted several professional events, including the final stage of the PGA Tour’s Q-School and the LPGA Tour’s Santa Barbara Women’s Open. Sandpiper also has a unique history: The property was a site for ARCO crude oil production from 1938 to 1954.
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PGA West: Pete Dye Mountain
Public
PGA West: Pete Dye Mountain
La Quinta
This esteemed Pete Dye design weaves in and out of the picturesque Santa Rosa Mountains, which provide ample elevation changes and stunning visuals. The signature 16th hole—a downhill par 3 played to a trademark island green—is practically cut out of the mountainside.
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La Purisima Golf Course
Public
La Purisima Golf Course
Lompoc
Designed by Robert Muir Graves, this old-school style oak-tree lined course is tucked away 30 miles north of Santa Barbara. With rolling fairways and frequent windy conditions, La Purisima is an aesthetically beautiful and enjoyable track that will challenge golfers of all levels.
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Soule Park Golf Course
Some of the best architecture you can play for the price ($40!). Gil Hanse renovated this William F. Bell (architect of Torrey Pines, among others), giving public golfers a chance to play a course with invigorating, strategic options. The greens are interesting—and depending on where the pin is on the day—force the player to focus on shot placement from tee to green.
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Silverado Resort: North
Home to the PGA Tour’s annual Fortinet Championship, the North Course at Silverado Resort features narrow, tree-lined fairways and deep bunkers that force accurate approaches. This championship course is located in the heart of Napa Valley wine country and was designed by PGA Tour Hall-of-Famer Johnny Miller.
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Desert Willow Golf Resort: Firecliff
One of the most underrated courses in the desert is the Firecliff course at Desert Willow. Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry designed 36 holes (including the Mountain course) on this flat desert floor in the Coachella Valley and moved enough earth to create some interesting holes that frame the surrounding mountains. Playability for all handicap ranges is strong, but even for the better players, the Firecliff course is a intriguing and fair test of golf.
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Corica Park: South
Public
Corica Park: South
Alameda
Reconstructed by architect Rees Jones in 2018, the South Course at Corica Park is a classic sandbelt track with natural fescue and large, flat bunkers lining vast fairways. The minimalist design and expansive yet contoured putting surfaces allow the ball to be played by both the air and the ground at this Bay Area gem.
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Omni La Costa Resort & Spa: Champions
Just north of San Diego, this Carlsbad championship course has hosted 37 PGA Tour events since it opened in the 1950s, but four new holes were added during its 2011 renovation by Steve Pete, Damian Pascuzzo and Jeff Brauer. This layout meanders through the surrounding valley—providing an enjoyable setting with some history.
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The Golf Club At Copper Valley
Public
The Golf Club At Copper Valley
Copperopolis
Formerly known as Saddle Creek Golf Resort, Copper Valley is a Carter Morrish design hidden within the serene Sierra Nevada foothills. The course weaves throughout the undulating natural landscape, making for an off the beaten path, but pleasant round of golf.
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Pacific Grove Golf Links
Public
Pacific Grove Golf Links
Pacific Grove
Of course, Pebble Beach is on most golfers' bucket lists. For locals, though, it's tough to beat the $40-60 normal rate at Pacific Grove, aka The Poor Man's Pebble. Pebble's designers, Jack Neville and Chandler Egan, did the layout for Pacific Grove, too—and the back nine has a Pebble feel in terms of your sense of enjoying the intimate setting on the Monterey Peninsula. Just like everyone should experience Pebble Beach once in their life, you should play Pacific Grove, too.
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