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Scenic San Diego golf courses: Swing where it's easy on the eyes

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Rancho Bernardo Inn golf course - hole 18
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The par-5 18th hole at Rancho Bernardo Inn caps a scenic round. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

SAN DIEGO -- When the air is crisp, the sun is shining, and that little white ball keeps finding fairways, it can make any golf course paradise.

Considering San Diego is one of the most golf-rich destinations in one of the world's great year-round golf climates, it can certainly stake its claim as one of America's most scenic places to play golf.

Some of these plays are more scenic than others. With a mix of oceanside courses and those cut through green hillsides and valleys, you can find a good variety of eye candy from San Diego up north to Carlsbad or out east along tucked-away valley floors.

Courses new and old, bargains and splurges, coastal or mountainous can be enjoyed throughout San Diego.

Rancho Bernardo Inn

Offering a little taste of old-time charm, the Rancho Bernardo Inn is a traditionally designed course in a postcard setting. The course naturally and gently rolls up and down through valley terrain, around small ponds, with gentle doglegs cut through mature trees.

The course's 18th hole is a beastly par 5 that plays to a steeply elevated green. But the climb is worth it. Once on the green, you can look back on the hole, a tall springing fountain and golden rays shining above the hillside. Better yet, enjoy a cocktail a few steps behind the green and stay for sunset.

Torrey Pines North and South

Atop the world famous cliffs of La Jolla, parasailers glide through the air beside the beloved state park and golf courses of Torrey Pines. Torrey is home to 36 holes of cliff-top golf and one of the country's most coveted municipal courses, not to mention a PGA Tour and U.S. Open host. Void of any residential development within the grounds, both the North Course and South Course are a scenic walk through Torrey Pine trees that roll up and down beside the ocean. Hopefully, the morning fog will lift and leave you with expansive views by the back nine.

Both the Lodge at Torrey Pines and Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines feature views and guest rooms with balconies overlooking the fairways and ocean beyond. So you don't have to leave the setting once you shake hands on 18.

Sycuan Resort's Willow Glen and Oaks Glen

One of San Diego's most unique settings for golf is in El Cajon at 54-hole Sycuan Resort. The facility sits on a valley floor entirely surrounded by steep mountainsides, most of which is far too severely sloped for anything to be built on. The result is that golfers seemingly have their own little escape during their stay at Sycuan. There are two full-length courses, plus one 18-hole executive course. The most scenic tee shot is at the fourth hole on Sycuan's Willow Glen Course. It plays from an elevated tee down to a reachable green that is well guarded by a pond.

The Crossings at Carlsbad

In the steep hills of Carlsbad, just a whiff from the Pacific Ocean, is one of San Diego County's new munis: The Crossings at Carlsbad. The rough and tumble layout is set through lush, rugged mountainsides and within a nature preserve. Carries over ravines and canyons make the play a demanding one, but panoramic views are a constant.

The views crescendo at the clubhouse, which is hardly your average muni facility. Set above the golf course, it features the best ocean and course views on the property.

Maderas Golf Club

As one of San Diego's top upscale, member-for-a-day experiences, Troon Golf-managed Maderas Golf Club rolls out all the stops. Not only are conditions kept as good as any area course, but also the Johnny Miller and Robert Muir Graves design winds artfully through rolling hills, rock outcroppings, forests and the inland hill country north of San Diego.

Salt Creek Golf Club

In Chula Vista, Salt Creek Golf Club boasts a links-style layout on the natural terrain beneath Mt. Miguel and beside a state wildlife preserve. The course, designed in 2001 by John Cook and Cary Bicker, is a modern layout with three lakes and 78 bunkers. While Mt. Miguel towers overhead, the ocean is distant but in view as well.

Aviara Golf Club

Artfully manicured just a sniff from the Pacific Ocean at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort is Aviara Golf Club, the county's only Arnold Palmer design. The course can play tough, but it's an afterthought to the ground's extensive beautification. The course blends ocean views and a wealth of flora and fauna on the grounds that surround Batiquitos Lagoon.

Encinitas Ranch Golf Course

Set on high bluffs, the Cary Bickler-designed Encinitas Ranch Golf Course features several holes with ocean views, while others have huge elevation changes and play toward mountain backdrops.

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Encinitas Ranch Golf CourseAviara Golf Club - hole 11Willow Glen at Sycuan Resort - hole 4Torrey Pines - North golf course - No. 3

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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