An introduction to San Diego
The laid-back city of San Diego in California is one of the most popular places to visit on the Pacific coastline. It is a place renowned for its endless stunning beaches. And the golf courses in San Diego are pretty epic too.
The city is an explosion of styles with a significant central American culture combined with old-age European influence. This is best manifested in the vibrant art scene. There are many galleries and exhibitions dotted throughout the city, primarily around the Balboa Park area.
There are so many things to do in San Diego, choosing where to start is half the problem! As with any southern Californian city, there are magnificent beaches. You could literally put a pin in the coastline to find a decent one.
See also: What are the best golf courses in California?
Coronado is a peninsula which can be accessed by the imposing Coronado Bridge. From here there are some stunning views back across San Diego Bay. Coronado is hugely popular with tourists for its hotels, beaches and quirky shopping. But it also houses a vast naval base where it isn’t uncommon to see an aircraft carrier docked.
And a trip to San Diego is unfulfilled without visiting the world-famous San Diego Zoo. This vast animal sanctuary of over 100-acres, is tucked away in the huge Balboa Park. This is without doubt one of the most impressive zoos worldwide with over 650 species.
The best golf courses in San Diego
Encinitas Ranch Golf Course
We kick off this list with one of the most in-demand public golf courses in San Diego, Encinitas Ranch. Heading north out of San Diego up the coast towards La Costa, just past the San Diego Botanical Gardens and you’ll have arrived at this fabulous course.
Set on a magnificent site in the foothills of the La Costa range, the course is up there with the best. For starters, the natural setting is second to none. From pretty much most points on the course you overlook the picturesque Pacific coastline.
Measuring just shy of 6,600 yards, if you’re playing well you should post a good score. There are open fairways just inviting the big dog to eat, whilst there isn’t an excessive use of bunkers. They are instead strategic and subtle but perfectly manicured. Likewise, with five sets of tees on each hole, the course is open to many different levels of players.
The back nine is fantastic, with many of the main elevation changes coming into play but never being too penal.
The scenery is out-of-this world and you can score well. What isn’t there to be liked!
Aviara Golf Club
The course at Aviara is the perfect example of a top class resort course. In years past it has been voted as one of the best golf courses in San Diego.
It was designed by the legend himself Arnold Palmer. He has done a wonderful job routing the layout in what is a splendid natural landscape. The site is characterised by rolling hills and is abundant with native wildflowers and vegetation.
From the back tees the course stretches to just over 7,000 yards with numerous different challenges as the round unfolds. Shots over water, like the superb par-3 third hole, long narrow fairways, greens surrounded by bunkers, it is all here. The setting and layout is truly stunning.
You’ll be pleased to know the superb Aviara is open to the public. Guests at the onsite luxury hotel are also offered preferential green fees.
Maderas Golf Club
Set a good half hour’s drive north into the San Diego hills is the wonderful Maderas golf club. You’re far enough away from the hubbub of the city to just relax and play golf.
The location is fantastic. Up in the valleys where the course weaves its way over and around rolling hills and cliffs. Across the 40 acres of land, there are three lakes, waterfalls and an abundance of natural plantlife and wildlife. Add to this creeks and forests.
The course was designed by Johnny Miller and Robert Muir Graves. Due in large part to the topography, Maderas is the ultimate in strategy golf.
With numerous run-offs and constant undulation changes, it is essential to plot your way round the course. Of course, all whilst enjoying the stunning natural scenery.
Like many of the courses we’ve already looked at, Maderas Golf Club accepts the public. Although prepare yourself to pay around $150 per green fee with cheaper flights in the afternoon.
Torrey Pines Golf Course
Just a short drive up the coast past the trendy neighborhood of La Jolla, is Torrey Pines Golf.
The world renowned club has hosted numerous major tournaments. Amongst these we have the U.S. Open, namely the 2008 tournament where Tiger Woods prevailed. It has also hosted numerous other tournaments including the San Diego Open.
This is no mean feat for a municipal course. Torrey Pines is managed and owned by the City of San Diego. There are two outstanding 18-hole championship golf courses onsite, the North and the South.
Though it is the South course which has been the main recipient of acclaim. It was also the South Course which hosted the U.S. Open.
This really is coastal golf at its best, with the Pacific coastline literally hugging numerous fairways. Both courses are long, with the South course able to stretch to a mind-boggling 7,600 yards. Not only do you need to hit the driver, but you also need to hit it straight!
Being a municipal course means anyone and everyone has a chance of gracing the fairways. Yet again though, be prepared to splash out on the green fee.
But I’d argue it is worth it as you can literally follow in the footsteps of the pros. Just don’t expect to score likewise.
La Costa Golf Club (Champions)
Positioned onsite at the luxury Omni Resort & Spa, is La Costa golf. This beautiful spot is just 5 minutes from the coast and a half hour drive up the coast towards Carlsbad.
There are two 18-hole championship courses onsite, the Champions and the Legends. The Champions course is without doubt the better of the two. Although neither would disappoint you and both are great fun to play.
In complete contrast to the parkland-style Legends course, the Champions course is inland links in style. The fairways offer generous landing areas whilst playing firm and fast. There are deep bunkers and delicate undulations throughout.
As yet another top class public golf course you can play near San Diego, this one is definitely worth the detour. So much so it has been recognised as one of the best resort golf courses by a number of the main golf publications.
Crossings at Carlsbad
If you’re looking for a golf course with unrivalled ocean views, then this is the place. Yet again, another golf course located on the stretch of coastline between San Diego and Carlsbad. And yet again, a superb public golf course on offer in this city.
The course is nestled amongst 400 acres of hilly terrain off the Carlsbad coastline. The constant elevation changes are going to test your focus and shot-making. But generally there is enough leniency to let a few stray shots go unpunished.
From the back tees the course stretches to just short of 6,900 yards. It was designed by Greg Nash, a man who over the years has designed close to 80 courses. Here at The Crossings he encountered a stunning site with plenty of natural beauty and native wildlife.
The course is great value with members of the public paying around $100 and local residents quite a bit less. And if you’re wondering why it’s called The Crossings, that is because of the five bridges throughout the course. Their job is to get you over the valleys and ravines that are dotted in this scenic spot.
The Farms Golf Club
Slightly inland towards the Santa Monica area, is the private member’s Farms Golf Club. The club is nestled amongst an upmarket luxury residential area.
The course opened for play in 1984 after the original members wanted an exclusive golf-centric club north of San Diego. It was then that Tommy Jacobs, along with Pete, Perry and Alice Dye were commissioned to design a top class course. They also wanted it to be challenging, routed through the 240 acres of gently rolling landscape.
And create a challenging course they did indeed. So much so, the Farms is considered one of the most challenging golf courses off the tee in Southern California. The great Phil Mickleson claims the Farms is where he comes when preparing for a major tournament to really test his driver.
There are narrow fairways with numerous bunkers dotted throughout. Most are strategically positioned in the already tight landing zones and tightly tucked around the elegant greens. Water comes into play on a few holes, namely the par-3 16th hole a particular highlight.
The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe
This is a magnificent setting in the exclusive Santa Fe region north of San Diego. The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe is a very special course, but also very private.
But for a special golf course you need a special golf course architect, and deliver they did by entrusting the work to Robert Trent Jones Jnr. Trent Jones Jr.’s reputation for designing top class golf courses is right up there with the best.
The spot at Rancho Santa Fe is special, with rolling foothills and dense citrus groves providing a lush backdrop. The topography is pretty impressive with throughout the course no less than seven bridges. These serve to unify different parcels of land to one another over the vast canyons.
Despite this being a tricky course at more than 7,000 yards from the back tees, there are five sets of tees on each hole making it accessible to lesser mortals.
And if you do get the chance to play here, make sure you spend some time in the outstanding performance centre. It is a state-of-the-art facility for honing your golf game.
Grand Golf Club San Diego
The Grand golf club is a resort course affiliated to the luxury Fairmont hotel onsite. It is located in the Carmel Valley, a five minute drive from the Pacific coastline.
The location is without doubt magnificent, characterised by expansive canyons which are ideal for hiking and exploring.
So it is no wonder with these canyons as a raw and rugged canvas, that the great golf course architect Tom Fazio was able to craft this wonderful course.
As to be expected with a golf course weaving through a dramatic canyon, elevation changes are a constant challenge. As is the diverse bunkering.
You also need to pick and choose when to get the driver out. There is a contrast between tight and narrow fairways, whilst others are literally begging you to get the big dog out.
And as you would expect from a Fairmont course, the condition is superb.
Steele Canyon Golf Club
Up in the rising hills to the east of San Diego, is Steele Canyon Golf Club. This is a massively underrated public golf course well worth a drive out of the city.
There are 27-holes of fun and exciting golf on offer designed by none other than the ‘Black Knight’ himself.
Player was brought in to work his magic with the stunning natural terrain and he has done a wonderful job. For starters, the course was awarded 4½ stars by Golf Digest. And it continues to collect other awards for being one of the best public golf courses in Southern California.
All three loops of nine are great to play. Although if push came to shove you’d pick the Canyon and Vineyard nines.
If you’re looking for an unassuming and fun day out to play golf, then look no further than the Steele Canyon golf club.
What is the best golf course in San Diego?
The best golf course in San Diego is the South course at Torrey Pines. The club is located close to La Jolla, north of San Diego on the coast. Over the years it has hosted a number of iconic golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open.