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California (golf) dreaming: 10 percent of Top 100 public golf courses found in the Golden State

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Pebble Beach Golf Links - Hole 8
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Pebble Beach lost its No. 1 spot, but still ranks 2nd in the entire U.S. (Courtesy of Pebble Beach Resorts)

California put more golf courses on Golf Magazine's 2008 list of the "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" than any other state, including Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Torrey Pines, Trump National and the PGA West Stadium Course.

LOS ANGELES - Sometimes California doesn't seem like a state as much as republic of its own: sprawling, vast, varied and possessing a different mindset than the rest of America.

"Going to California is like visiting Mars," Milwaukee resident Evan Huff said. "Only there's beautiful women."

And great golf. It's really no surprise that the Golden State put more golf courses on Golf Magazine's 2008 list of the "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" than any other state. In fact, the home to Hollywood and Fresno (which are about as far apart in spirit as two cities can get) takes up a whooping 10 percent of the entire list, with its 10 courses four more than any other state managed.

The selections highlight California's diverse geography, from its ocean vistas to its palm tree and mountain deserts. But they also show how many Top 100 courses you could play in just one California golf trip with only a modest amount of driving.

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions about California from golfers from other parts of the country who haven't been there is that everything is super spread out," said Tim Hurja, a golf packager who runs SanDiegoGolfCentral.com and PalmSpringsGolfCentral.com. "They don't realize that you can play golf in Palm Springs and San Diego on the same vacation for example."

Most of the Top 100 courses are clustered in either SoCal or Northern California, which won't be much surprise to the people who live in those locales and largely shun the rest of the state.

Pebble Beach Golf Links lost its No. 1 spot to Oregon upstart Pacific Dunes, but the 89-year-old course with the ocean-sprayed fairways still comes in at No. 2 in the U.S. Whether you can actually play Pebble or not will depend on your ability to swallow the sticker shock of the $495 weekday green fee, plus the $500-per-night resort stay that's the only way to guarantee a tee time.

Pebble's sister course, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, took the ninth spot, just two ahead of Pasatiempo Golf Club, another Northern California golf course that doesn't draw close to the Pebble empire's hype despite its own impressive Alister MacKenzie pedigree.

Pasatiempo is actually closer to San Jose than San Francisco, with its location in the trendy town of Santa Cruz giving it a unique feel among coastly Monterey golf courses. Somewhere along the way, Pasatiempo got dubbed "The Poor Man's Pebble Beach" and considering its green fee is $200 with no mandatory resort stay, the moniker might apply more than ever today.

The other Northern California courses that made the Golf Magazine Top 100 are The Links at Spanish Bay, the third public course at Pebble, which came in at No. 40, and No. 65 Cordevalle Golf Club, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that runs through 270 acres near the Santa Cruz mountains.

That means half of California's Top 100 public courses are within a few hours drive of each other, all in the greater Monterey region.

Top Southern California golf courses

Torrey Pines South is the top ranked Southern California course on the list, No. 23 overall. This is a big jump from the 41st spot it held in the 2006 Top 100, the last edition of the list. It turns out that's what a historic U.S. Open won by Tiger Woods on one battered knee and a new emphasis on actually having good course conditions can do for what had been an overrated course for a long time.

Donald Trump's ode-to-extravagance, Trump National Golf Club L.A., ranks 34th overall in the Top 100, something that the pro athletes who flock to it when their teams are in town would likely agree with.

The third SoCal course that made the Top 100 public courses is the ultimate underdog, about as anti-Trump in design, feel and price as you can get. Rustic Canyon Golf Club is up in the un-trendy hills northwest of Los Angeles and it's a wide open course that rolls out across the land and doesn't try to Pebble Beach anyone.

Top greens fee at Rustic Canyon? Try 72 bucks. In SoCal. And it's No. 83.

The Palm Springs region puts two Pete Dye courses in the Top 100 with PGA West Stadium Course, the track that scared PGA Tour players when it opened and led to a near protest, at No. 37, and La Quinta Resort Mountain Course, which literally snuggles against mountain edges on some holes, at No. 70.

Click here to see the complete list.

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Spyglass Hill Golf Course - Hole 1Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Rustic Canyon

    steve weeks wrote on: Feb 24, 2009

    That Rustic Canyon would make anyone's Top 100 list is a complete joke. There is not even one spectacular hole on the golf course, and some of the green sites are a joke. Add routine 40 to 50 mph winds, and it's a place I tend to avoid even though I live 10 minutes away. My daily muni in Thousand Oaks is better. Poppy Hills in Monterey and the Presidio GC in San Francisco truly deserve to be on the list.


      • RE: Rustic Canyon

        edward sierra wrote on: Oct 28, 2009

        that anyone would play rustic canyon and not appreciate its strategic design suggests a true lack of understanding of golf course architecture.
        the golf course is set in a wide canyon with the golf course taking up the area in its entirety. over 300 feet in elevation change is provided from the fourth green up to the thirteenth green.
        not one house borders the course.
        the fairways are generous, but only one side will provide an angle which will be advantageous.
        the greens are not severely sloped, but while putting if one does not consider the general slope of the course one can be made to look foolish.
        the greens have large closely mown areas surrounding them which serves two wonderful purposes: First, run up shots are an option from the fairway. Second, these areas provide an opportunity to be creative: do you want to putt or chip or pitch?
        the holes are varying lengths requiring one to use all the clubs in your bag. the par threes are from 120 yards to over 200.
        there are two holes that can be driven by the longer player, but it would require a perfectly struck shot with the correct shape.
        the sand features ares spectacular. usually it is a bunker, but often is a waste area with wild grasses creating a look like nature, not a flat space with sand in it.
        as the course is links like in its soul, comments on the wind are misplaced. wind is an element, like any other on a golf course and must be factored in. to say the wind is always 40-50 miles per hour is dishonest. we played at 750 this morning with barely a breath of wind. by the time we were done, the velocity was less than 1 club.
        the course opened in 2002 and golf digest rated it the best affordable new course in the nation. since that time minor alterations have only improved it with the addition of a cross bunker on number 4 and number 10.
        rustic canyon is a fantastic place to play for very reasonable rates.


      • RE: Rustic Canyon

        Damn Right wrote on: Apr 2, 2009

        Rustic Canyon is a joke. The only challenge is the severely sloped greens.
        It's a fun course to play but I'll never know how it got on the top 100.


          • RE: RE: Rustic Canyon

            G Money wrote on: Feb 8, 2013

            The front 9 at rustic is good but not special. The back 9 is a gem. I'd like to combine the back 9s of olivas and rustic - that would be my favorite course in Ventura County.
            Rancho San Marcos is a real sleeper too. It's not convenient to get to so no one goes. La Purisma is great as well.