Golfing in California isn't just a sport, its an experience. The region has produced major championship winners such as Johnny Miller, Ken Venturi, George Archer and Juli Inkster. And, where else can you walk links that have played host to four U.S. Opens? Yes, if you are in the San Francisco area, you owe it to yourself to book at least 18 holes and see what the experience is all about.
It doesn't get much better than this Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed course. It is ranked No. 8 by Golf Magazine for Best Public Courses in the state. The downside? The course is open to resort guests only. It sits in a valley bordered by the Santa Cruz Mountains. The signature hole is the 450-yard, par 4, 17th.
2. TPC Harding Park Golf Course
Host of the 2009 President's Cup, TPC Harding Park is ranked 14th and 25th in California respectively on Golf Magazine's and Golfweek's 2012 Best Public Courses list. Ask anyone around San Fran about golf and they'll immediately focus on Harding Park's historic layout, now part of the TPC network. Towering Monterey Cypress trees frame the fairways. According to the club's web site, "the finishing stretch of holes, 14-18, plays along Lake Merced and offers some impressive views beyond the tree line." The signature hole is the 440-yard, par-4 18th.
Phone: (415) 664-4690
Cost: $52.00 - $175
3. Saddle Creek
This gem, located in the Sierra foothills, was designed in 1996 by Carter Morrish. The resort features 18 scenic holes and is ranked 8th by Golf Week Magazine for Best Public Access Courses in California.
4. Lincoln Park Golf Course
You won't be disappointed with the views from this 1902-built course. Lincoln Park, once a cemetery, has had several major architects reshape its greens and fairways, including: Jack Neville of Pebble Beach fame, Herbert Fowler (Royal Lytham) and years later, Jack Fleming.
Cost: $16 - $44
5. Presidio Golf Course
One of the oldest golf courses on the west coast, Presidio Golf Course was first laid out in 1896. Formerly, the course served as a military/private course. And, over the years, it has played host to its share of VIPs, including several U.S. presidents. After the base was decommissioned in 1995, Presidio became part of the 77,000-acre Golden Gate Recreation Area. The course's storied history includes President Theodore Roosevelt reviewing the troops on the links in May 1903 and, just three years later, the course being used as a refugee camp for survivors of the 1906 earthquake. Presidio Golf Course has hosted some of the world's most famous golfers. Babe Ruth, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Charles Schulz, and Joe DiMaggio all have played here.
Cost: $49 $145
6. Sharp Park Golf Course
If you want to play this 1932 Alister Mackenzie-classic (for newbies, Mackenzie designed iconic Augusta National and Cypress Point, among others) you'd better hurry -- the course has been under fire from conservation groups seeking to close the historic venute. The course features Scottish seaside links character, distinguished architecture, great natural beauty and modest greens fees. One review said, "At $30 or less, this might be the best value in San Francisco-area golf." Often called "The Poor Man’s Pebble Beach," the par 72 course is 6,300 yards long and offers fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding headlands and mountains.
Cost: $16 - $59
7. Half Moon Bay Golf Links
Situated on the grounds of one of the best hotels in the area, the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay Golf Links features two championship 18-hole courses and breathtaking views of the Pacific Coast. The complex was honored in 2014 as "America's Golf Resort" by the Global GOlf Tourism Organization. The Old Course, designed by Francis Duane and golf legend Arnold Palmer, is a par-72 course totaling 7,090 yards from the championship tee. The equally acclaimed par-72, 6,712-yard Ocean Course was designed by Arthur Hills, the famed architect whose resume includes Michigan’s Bay Harbor and the Country Club at Mirasol and LPGA International in Florida.
Cost: $50 - $132
8. Golden Gate Park Golf Course
Nestled on the western edge of beautiful Golden Gate Park, this course is the premiere 9-hole, par 3 course on the west coast, with challenging holes ranging from under 100 yards up to 200 yards. Built in 1951, the course is shaped by the sand dunes on which it was developed. On this course you're less than 100 yards from the regal Dutch Windmills and two blocks from Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park Golf Course.
Cost: $11 - $22
9. Pasatiempo Golf Club
Designed by world-renowned golf architect Alister MacKenzie (Augusta), this was his favorite course. He made his American home, which still borders the sixth fairway, here as well. Today, this historic top 100 course is a semi-private golf club that sets aside certain tee times each day for public play. In 2012, the club was ranked 13th in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play and ranked 24th in Golf Digest’s 2013-14 America’s Greatest Public Courses. Golf Digest also named Pasatiempo Golf Club one of the top 3 courses you can play in California, along with Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill.
Cost: $240 - $272
10. Poppy Ridge Golf Course
Inspired by the successful opening of Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach 10 years earlier, the Northern California Golf Association commissioned Golf Digest’s 1995 Architect of the Year Rees Jones to weave 27 holes through the vineyards of Livermore Valley. Come play the three nines as distinct as the grape varietals they are named after – Merlot, Chardonnay and Zinfandel.
Cost: $45 -- $72
11. Olympic Club
Established on May 6, 1860, The Olympic Club has long been a west coast powerhouse. By 1922, the Club had acquired enough acreage to replace the original golf course with two 18-hole golf courses. Willie Watson and course superintendent Sam Whiting designed the first Lake and Ocean courses in 1924. Unfortunately, storm damage led Sam Whiting to redesign both courses again in 1927. The Lake Course remains true to the 1927 design with minimal renovations in the intervening years. Prior to the 1955 U.S. Open, the Club brought the USGA’s official course architect, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., to toughen the Lake Course for competition. The club was recently named to be the host of the 2021 U.S. Women's Open. The Lake Course will become the 12th course to host both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open, joining such notable venues as Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo., Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C., and Champions Golf Club in Houston, which will host the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open on its Cypress Creek Course.
12. Gleneagles Golf Club
Ask anyone who knows golf and they will tell you, there is no other golf course in the region, country or world quite like Gleneagles. For more than 50 years, Gleneagles GC has quietly catered to San Francisco's citizenry, be it politicians, uber wealthy or Joe the Plumber. Established in 1962, Gleneagles prides itself on fast place and affordable rates.
Cost: $17 - $29
13. Tilden Park Golf Course
With stunning views of the Bay and the Oakland and San Francisco skylines below, the drive to Tilden Park Golf Course gives the player a hint of what they will experience once they arrive. Located above the UC–Berkeley campus in the Berkeley Hills, TPGC is just minutes from downtown Berkeley. This 6,294-yard championship course designed by William Park Bell, Jr. features rolling tree-lined fairways, contoured greens and a setting inside a natural park that will make you feel as if you are miles from civilization.
Cost: $22 - $40
14. Bodega Harbour Golf Course
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., the back nine was originally opened in 1978. Then in 1987, the front nine was added to complete the full 18. Extensive renovations were completed in 2008 where over 96 bunkers were re-constructed, all 18 greens were stripped of the Poa Ana grass and bentgrass was added. Overall, the course conditions were greatly improved and The NEW Links at Bodega Harbour is the best it's ever been.
Cost: $55 - $90
15. Chardonnay Golf Course
Chardonnay Golf Club & Vineyards is an 18-hole semi-private club located Southeast of the city of Napa in Jameson Canyon at the gateway to the world renown Napa Valley wine district. Here you can play 18-holes of semi-private championship golf. Unfortunately, the facility has experienced a number of setbacks over the last few years, including a bankruptcy in 2005, reducing the course from 27 holes and 100 acres of vineyards down to 18 holes and 150 acres of vineyards. The signature hole is the par-3 14th, which boasts an 22,000 square foot, six tiered green.