Left: Maderas. Right: Torrey South.
The new Golf Digest top 100 public course rankings for 2015-16 are out. For your convenience, I’ve broken out the rankings and comments for the California courses. You can see the complete list here – golfdig.st/1tM5fpc.
I’ve now played five of the top 100 and visited another. Might not seem like much, but it’s four more than when I moved out here three years ago.
Anyway, consider this the CliffsNotes for CA.
1. Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach has been the No. 1 course ever since we introduced the 100 Greatest Public in 2003. It’s 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 the 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 a ocean cove on eight from atop a 75-foot-high bluff. Pebble will host another U.S. Amateur in 2018, and its sixth U.S. Open in 2019.
21. Pasatiempo, Santa Cruz
Pasatiempo is arguably Alister Mackenzie’s favorite design. After all, he lived along its sixth fairway during the last years of his life. With its elaborate greens and spectacular bunkering fully restored by Tom Doak, Pasatiempo is a classic example of Mackenzie’s art. The back nine, playing repeatedly over deep barrancas, is a test for even the most talented of golfers. Presently dealing with drought conditions that restrict watering, Pasatiempo received a Golf Digest Green Star environmental award in 2014.
39. Torrey South, La Jolla
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’s remodeling of the South Course in the early 2000s not only made it competitive for the 2008 U.S. Open, it brought several coastal canyons into play for everyday golfers, especially on the par-3 third and par-4 14th. The USGA recently awarded Torrey Pines its second U.S. Open, to be held in 2021.
40. PGA West (Stadium), La Quinta
Originally private, the TPC Stadium Course (the original 18 at PGA West) finished third in Golf Digest’s survey of Best New Private Courses of 1986. It was also once 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 Pete Dye at his rambunctious best, with a finish that mimics 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 hard against the left edge all the way to the green.
44. Cordevalle, San Martin
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 will be the site of the U.S. Women’s Open in 2016.
49. 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.
61. Pelican Hill (Ocean South), Newport Beach
One highlight of Pelican Hill’s Ocean South Course, which was Golf Digest’s Best New Resort Course of 1992, are the 12th and 13th, back-to-back par 3s tucked on a ledge just above the Pacific Ocean, the latter hole with alternate greens. Although the rest of the course is farther from the coastline, mostly on highlands above the Pacific Coast highway, the entire 18 offers spectacular views and short but tricky holes.
89. Pelican Hill (Ocean North), Newport Beach
The slightly younger companion to No. 61 Ocean South at Pelican Hill, the Ocean North Course (previously called the Links Course) is a bit longer and a bit farther inland. Some holes are on higher plateaus, too, which provide for even more scenic Pacific vistas. Only one pond is in play, on the inside corner of the par-5 17th, but deep canyons must be carried several times during a round, including on the approach off the dogleg right 18th.
92. Maderas GC, Poway
A rare core design with residential homes amidst rock-dotted hillsides around its perimeter, Maderas features ponds, lakes, creek gulches, dry washes, canyons and chasms as hazards and sports some of the longest greens in southern California. Its setting below the San Jacinto mountain range is invigorating. Practice sidehill and downhill lies before playing Maderas, as its fairways have few flat spots.
93. Sandpiper GC, Santa Barbara
On bluffs adjacent to the Pacific outside Santa Barbara, Sandpiper occupies land only slightly less spectacular than No. 39 Torrey Pines (another William F. Bell design), with certain holes, like the par-3 11th, actually closer to the surf than anything at Torrey. Corridors are comfortably wide to accommodate windy conditions. Greens on holes like the par-4 10th and par-5 13th are perhaps the earliest versions of a current design trend, “infinity greens” that hug the horizon with a vast ocean beyond.