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Northern California golf: Bodega Harbour, Half Moon Bay give Pebble Beach competition

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,

Pebble Beach is the big dog of Northern California golf, but not far from the hallowed grounds prowled by PGA Tour greats you'll find Bodega Harbour and Half Moon Bay, two equally spectacular settings for a great golf vacation.

California is like two states wrapped in one.

Southern Californians enjoy plenty of thriving golf destinations like Palm Springs and San Diego. Northern California boasts golf as diverse and scenic as its landscape.

When the subject is northern California golf, topic A is usually Pebble Beach. And why not? A stay at the Lodge at Pebble Beach with the challenges of Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course on tap is the ultimate golf fantasy.

Indeed, Pebble Beach captures the essence of so much that is good in northern California. But it remains a place many golfers will never play -- price alone puts it out of a lot of duffers' reach.

That doesn't mean you can't make a northern California golf fantasy come true. The region offers other options to experience a beautiful golf challenge on par with Pebble Beach.

Some Pebble Beach competition

Just north of San Francisco on Bodega Bay lies The New Links at Bodega Harbour, where true Scottish-style golf links complement breathtaking visages of the Pacific Ocean.

Playing to 6,275 yards from the tips, this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design is widely considered one of the region's golf treasures and has earned a four-star rating from Golf Digest.

"The views are breathtaking and the course is brutal ... in a good way. For a golfer of my skill level the course is a challenge, but worth it," 15-handicapper Jonathan Swain wrote in a WorldGolf.com reader review. "For the views and quality of the course, there is no better value on the coast."

South of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway you'll find Half Moon Bay. Home to two courses and a spectacular Ritz-Carlton rising from the ocean's doorstep, Half Moon Bay Resort was named a "World's Best Golf Resort" by Travel+Leisure Golf Magazine.

Half Moon Bay's Old Course plays 7,003 yards with a 135 slope rating from the tips; the Ocean course runs 6,649 yards and a 131 slope. Whichever you play you'll have stunning sea views on every hole, just as designer Arthur Hills intended.

This is no mere second-fiddle alternative to its legendary neighbor, according to eight-handicapper Linda Osborne, who played Half Moon Bay Golf Links with her husband "and had an incredible time."

"We played the Ocean course, amazing views and great conditions from tee to green. We can't wait to come back," Osborne wrote. "Three days earlier we played Pebble Beach ... Half Moon Bay was in better shape, more welcoming, fun bar and just a great day."

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

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