Golden State golf: Ranking the best nine courses in California


US Amateur champion Nick Dunlap claimed a landmark victory as the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing teed off with the American Express in La Quinta, California last week – and that certainly isn’t the only great course in the Golden State.

You will never struggle to get a round of golf in California, but if you are looking for the absolute best, consider these nine gems.

9. Olympic – Lake (Daly City)

The Lake Course was originally dubbed “the best in the west” by legendary golfer Bobby Jones.

With forest-lined fairways and stunning vistas of San Francisco, the Lake Course is one of the best courses in the United States.

The Lake Course has hosted several tournaments and championships, including six US Opens, and notably their first US Women’s Championship in 2021.

The Lake Course was designed by Willie Watson and built by Sam Whiting. While It opened in 1924 damage from winter storms in 1925/6, forced Sam Whiting to reconstruct the course, which reopened in 1927 with all 18 holes north of Humphrey Drive. Only the opening four holes stayed the same. In 1955, the Club had the honour of hosting the first US Open.

8. Pasatiempo (Santa Cruz)

Pasatiempo provides a spectacular golf experience, with greens that have tested generations of golfers such as Bobby Jones, Ken Venturi, Juli Inkster, and Tiger Woods, as well as rich golf history and gorgeous surroundings.

It is one of the world’s best championship golf courses.

Alister MacKenzie, a world-renowned golf architect, built Pasatiempo. And despite also designing Augusta National and Cypress Point, MacKenzie’s favourite layout was Pasatiempo, where he built his American house, which still borders the sixth fairway.

7. Valley Club of Montecito (Montecito)

“The Valley Club” was founded in 1929 and the course built by Robert Hunter and Alister MacKenzie has delighted golfers ever since.

The Valley Club of Montecito’s distinguishing features include high-quality tiny greens, subtle breaks owing to the mountain/ocean impact, tranquil locations with mountain backdrops, and MacKenzie-designed bunkers that blend into the course with a ‘camouflage’ effect.

The course’s strength is its reasonable hazard placement and the designers’ ability to route fascinating holes through the varied environment.

6. California Golf Club of San Francisco (South San Francisco)

The California Golf Club of San Francisco (also known as the “Cal Club”) was established in 1918 and was initially located in Ingleside, southwest of San Francisco, on land leased from the Spring Valley Water Company.

After being unable to get a long-term lease from the water company, the club purchased roughly 425 acres along the Peninsula in 1924.

The area was part of the original Baden Farm, and the undulating hills, timbered terrain, and vistas of the bay made it an excellent location for a world-class golf course.

The members enlisted Willie Locke and A. Vernon Macan to help design the first route, which opened on May 26th, 1926.

Later, Alister MacKenzie would rework the bunkers and at least two of the greens.

5. San Francisco (San Francisco)

The course, located near the Golden Gate Bridge, was not only the first notable example of the great architect Albert Warren Tillinghast’s art, but also the first course of any genuine quality to be built on America’s West Coast.

The course, which is laid out on a rolling pine-forested countryside near Lake Merced, spans several valleys and ravines, with the front nine occupying the most spectacular topography. One of Tilly’s favourite holes is the par three 7th “Duel Hole,”.

This short hole is located on the site of the final legal duel in American history, and it leads downhill to a little kidney-shaped green that dips out to the right.

4. Riviera (Pacific Palisades)

Founded in 1926, The Riviera Country Club has traditionally been considered the pinnacle of Golden State golf.

The 18 holes are ranked as one of the top 50 golf courses in the world and a top 25 in the United States, and they continue to test the world’s finest.

Riviera, which now hosts the Genesis Invitational, will welcome golf’s elite in 2028 as the official location of the Olympics golf competition.

The Los Angeles Athletic Club commissioned George C. Thomas, an amateur architect who volunteered to work on the project for free.

It took almost 18 months to complete and was met with great praise when it premiered in 1927.

Today, Riviera, is still regarded as one of the best natural layouts in all of golf.

3. Pebble Beach (Pebble Beach)

Pebble, the first great American public oceanside course, is distinguished by its inventive routing that takes the golfer to the ocean’s edge, then to much higher ground before returning to the cliffs for the climactic closing two holes.

Even today, with so many world-class layouts created over the last century, there is no more exhilarating, breathtaking stretch than 4-10 at Pebble Beach.

The club’s genesis story is quite involved and it would be some time from the first work at Pebble Beach until a fully functional course was up and running .

However, the spectacular course as it stands today is on most golfer’s bucket lists.

2. Los Angeles – North (Los Angeles)

The course, now known as the North, was designed by Herbert Fowler in 1921 at the now-renamed Los Angeles Country Club. However, in 1927, George C. Thomas Jr. and his right-hand man, William Bell, successfully reconfigured it. Gil Hanse was tasked with restoring this storied course to its former brilliance in the year 2000.

With its swales, valleys, ridges, and hills, the design is often thrilling and enthralling all at once.

Though it would be impossible to include every superb hole, the par threes at 7, 9, and 11 are particularly notable.

1. Cypress Point (Pebble Beach)

Cypress Point has contended for the slot of best course in America in the past and right now there isn’t a finer layout in California.

However, being a private club, getting a round at this top course is easier said than done.

Cypress Point Club is located in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains on the very edge of the Monterey Peninsula, and the cliff-top topography is varied and adventurous. Almost as many superlatives have been used to praise the beauty of the setting as the course itself.