An introduction to San Diego

In this series of posts exploring the best public golf courses, this time we’re in the phenomenal San Diego. It is such a hugely popular holiday destination with golf a popular pastime for many of these holiday-makers. 

As to be expected, amongst the best golf courses in San Diego, a high percentage are private clubs. Therefore unless you happen to know a member, you might want to peruse this list for ideas.

See also: What are the best golf courses in San Diego?

What I can confidently say is that from a public golf perspective, ‘America’s Finest City’ more than holds its own. We have iconic golf course architects, stunning scenery and one of the below has even held a U.S. Open.

Best for…

GroupsSinging Hills Golf Resort
Value for moneyCoronado Municipal Golf Course
ClubhouseAviara Golf Club
ViewsTorrey Pines Golf

The best public golf courses in San Diego

RankGolf Course
1Torrey Pines Golf (South Course & North Course)
2Aviara Golf Club
3Maderas Golf Club
4Omni La Costa (Champions and Legends)
5The Grand Golf Del Mar
6Steele Canyon Golf Club
7Singing Hills Golf Resort (Willow Glen)
8Rancho Bernardo Inn Golf Course
9Coronado Municipal Golf Course
10Riverwalk Golf Club
Table showing the best public golf courses in San Diego

1. Torrey Pines Golf (South Course & North Course)

Torrey Pines Golf Course, San Diego, California

Without doubt one of the finest municipal golf courses in the country, maybe the world. This is a wonderfully scenic spot. There are panoramic Pacific Ocean views on one side, and the distant mountains on the other. And we’re just a mere 20 minute drive from downtown San Diego. 

Torrey Pines, named after the rare pine trees located onsite, has two outstanding golf courses, the North and the South. Both courses were designed by the architect William Bell, and they opened for play in 1957.

Bell was responsible for many course designs through his career. But it’s fair to say the two courses at Torrey Pines were probably the most challenging. Long, tight fairways, elevation changes and at times, penal rough. And all this whilst being whipped by the prevailing ocean winds.

It is here Tiger Woods had his 2008 duel with Rocco Mediate. This iconic moment in golfing history is often enough to attract golfers on a pilgrimage here. Between the North and the South, they both hold the annual Farmers Insurance Open. This is a tournament which continues to attract top caliber players on a regular basis.

Looking to play the South course on a weekend as a non resident? Then be prepared to shell out north of $250. That in itself I feel is good value, but, there are cheaper rates for playing during the week. If you’re looking for a real bargain, then look at the Twilight rates. These can often come in at nearly half the price. 

2. Aviara Golf Club

Aviara Golf Club , San Diego, California

Up in Carlsbad to the north of San Diego, is the special golf course of Aviara. This is a site that swells in flora and fauna, with patches of color always visible regardless of the time of the year. 

The site overlooks the Batiquitos Lagoon which itself swells out into the Pacific Ocean just a mile to the west. There are two upmarket hotels onsite, the couple’s favorite Park Hyatt and the Four Seasons Residence, both which offer rates on the course.

So where to start with the course? The fact it was recognised by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine as being one of the best resort courses in the country? The fact it was named as the n#1 golf resort in Southern California by Conde Nast Readers? 

It’s fair to say this is a classy golf course and one which you’re bound to enjoy. It was designed by the man himself, Mr Arnold Palmer. The bowled fairways have been sculpted around rolling hills which feature many bunkers and water features. 

To score well, you need to master the large greens, where you’ll find plenty of slope and hidden undulations. Of course, driving the ball well goes without saying, but at just over 7,000 yards and with relatively open fairways, this is not the main challenge.

3. Maderas Golf Club

Maderas Golf Club, San Diego, California

This outstanding golf club is truly up there with some of the best private member courses. Top class conditioning, awesome practice facilities and a superb clubhouse, Maderas is a class act.

The club is located around a 30 minute drive north east from San Diego, up into the Poway hills towards wine country. This fantastic location was truly destined for an expansive golf course with valleys, rolling hills and cliffs all in abundance.

Step up Johnny Miller and Robert Muir Graves to deliver on the course layout. Throughout the 40 acre site is plenty of greenery, three lakes and a waterfall. This really is one of the most scenic courses around San Diego.

With the constant changes in the site topography, plotting your way round here is all about strategy. Knowing when to attack, when to play conservative and avoiding the run-offs which surround many greens. 

Due to its location, being slightly off the beaten track, the green fee here isn’t too prohibitive. It is definitely worth the detour. 

4. Omni La Costa (Champions and Legends)

Omni_La_Costa_Resort_Champions_Course_Golf_Hole11, San Diego, California

Omni La Costa was a household name in the U.S., as the host venue for the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions. Yet after a 30 year stint this came to an end. 1989 was the year of the final tournament before it headed off to Hawaii. 

Since those heady days, the resort and its two 18-hole championship courses have been more popular with hotel guests and local golfers, than the best of the PGA Tour.

The two courses, the Champions and the Legends, are great, both equally as good as each other. The Champions course is more links in style whilst the Legends has more of a parkland feel to it. 

It was actually a composite of the two which hosted the Tournament of Champions. Certainly from the back tees, they both provide a solid challenge. 

The plot is superb, circa 400 acres of lush greenery with the San Marcos Creek splitting the site in two. You can’t quite see the ocean from the fairways, but you can certainly feel the moisture in the air. 

Both courses are highly rated, with the Champions course regularly being ranked as one of California’s best by some of the more recognised golf publications.

5. The Grand Golf Del Mar

The Fairmont del Mar is one of California’s most luxurious hotels. Aptly awarded five stars by Forbes, it is a beacon of quality service. So it stands to reason the golf course affiliated to it should be pretty good. You bet it is!

The course was designed by the legendary architect Tom Fazio and opened for play in 1999 just before the millennium. For a number of years it was called the Meadows Del Mar, but more recently changed to Grand Del Mar.

The natural setting is sensational, an elevated plot known as the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.  You’re not close enough to the Pacific to see the crashing waves. But you can certainly smell the sea breeze not far away.

The expansive canyons which run alongside the plot provide a fantastic rolling canvas upon which Fazio routed the layout. There are constantly changing elevations, cracking shots over water and valleys. This is fun golf. 

Naturally being affiliated to the Fairmont, you can be assured of quality conditioning. Compared to many courses in the region, the footfall will be low as only resort guests can play here.

6. Steele Canyon Golf Club

Up in the hills to the east of San Diego towards the Dehesa Valley, is the superb Steele Canyon golf club. This is without doubt one of the best public golf courses in San Diego. And it has the awards to show for it including being awarded 4 1⁄2 stars by Golf Digest. 

This is a Gary Player design, and the ‘Black Knight’ used the natural topography to create three distinctly different loops of 9 holes.

The Canyon course features plenty of elevation changes and dramatic shots. Whilst the Ranch course juxtaposes this perfectly, with generous fairways winding through fields of a working ranch. 

And lastly the Vineyard course, with again a completely different character full of woodlands and streams stretching along the valley floor. Regardless of which combination you play, this is fun and exciting golf definitely worth the drive and modest green fee.

7. Singing Hills Golf Resort (Willow Glen)

Singing Hills Golf Course, San Diego, California

Up in the Dehesa Valley to the east of San Diego is the Singing Hills Golf Resort. There is an impressive 54-holes of golf onsite.

There is a hotel onsite for those looking to put their feet up post-round. Although you are just a 30 minute drive from San Diego.

There are two 18-hole championship layouts onsite, the Willow Glen and the Oak Glen. Whilst there is an 18-hole par-3 course called the Pine Glen. 

Despite being in the Dehesa Valley and being surrounded by a backdrop of mountains, the site is relatively flat. The elevation changes which you do come across are mostly man-made. Ted Robinson Sr, who redesigned the layout in 1980, was responsible for most them.

All three courses were originally routed by the architect Cecil Holingsworth. But following severe flooding, the resort brought in the more renowned Ted Robinson Sr to essentially start again. 

The core routing was kept intact. But Robinson oversaw the creation of lakes, the redesign of bunkers as well as the introduction of numerous elevation changes. These were largely in the form of raising tee boxes and creating multiple levels to a number of greens. 

To add to this, many of the fairways are tight, which demands precise shot-making to score well. In recognition of the challenging layout, the Willow Glen course has hosted Junior World Golf Championships as well as numerous other high-profile tournaments including SCGA and USGA Championship qualifiers.

8. Rancho Bernardo Inn Golf Course

Rancho Bernardo Inn Golf, San Diego, California

Half an hour’s drive north of San Diego taking the Interstate 15 in the direction of Escondido and San Marcos, is the luxury resort of Rancho Bernardo Inn. This 265-acre resort has outstanding spa facilities and top class dining options.

But it also has a decent golf course which is well established having opened for play back in 1964. The original course designer was William F. Bell but over the years there have been a couple of major investments in improving the layout. 

In the 80s Ted Robinson Sr was employed to upgrade the course. Whilst in the late 90s the Schmidt-Curley Design team were brought in to remodel the course.

On the whole the fairways are tight, so straight hitting off the tee is important. It’s one of the few courses to have hosted both LPGA and PGA events. Depending on the time of the year, the conditioning can suffer. But generally the maintenance is on point and this is a great day out. 

9. Coronado Municipal Golf Course

Coronado Municipal Golf Course, San Diego, California

The wonderful peninsula of Coronado which sits right in the heart of San Diego Bay, is an immensely popular resort city. There are glorious beaches, sumptuous hotels and quaint streets with bars, restaurants and quirky shops. Tourism is a big thing here. 

Yet hidden away on the eastern side of the island, with scenic views back across to San Diego’s downtown and overlooking the Coronado Bridge, is Coronado Golf Course. This hugely popular course has been here since 1957. It is arguably one of the best value public golf courses around with green fees around the 50 bucks mark.

So highly rated is the course here, it was ranked #5 nationally by Golf Digest for offering up the best value golf. But inevitably, getting a tee time here is not easy, so booking well in advance is required.

The course is neat and tidy, tucked up along the coastline and measuring over 6,500 yards from the tips. The fairways are relatively generous but you’ll not necessarily need the big dog to score well. 

10. Riverwalk Golf Club

Riverwalk #9, San Diego, California

Last on our list of the best public golf courses in San Diego is Riverwalk Golf Club.

This is the scenic Mission Valley, a wonderful green space in the thriving city. Literally dissecting the course is the San Diego River. On more than a couple of occasions, the river needs to be carried from the tee or to reach a green.

No this is not Top 100 quality golf, nor is it in the portfolio of an iconic golf course architect. But this is better than average public golf, in a really convenient location, with some great strategy shots.

The course was designed by Ted Robinson and son, and opened for play in 1998. There are wide tree lined fairways with water being a constant threat. Wind will often play a part, blowing down the valley and sweeping across the course.

Location plays a major part in including Riverwalk golf club. I mean we’re talking a mere 10 minute drive from downtown and just 5 minutes from many popular hotels. 

What is the best public golf course in San Diego?

The best public golf course in San Diego is the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf. The course is located on the clifftops north of San Diego and La Jolla. It was designed by William Bell and has hosted many major tournaments.

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