As part of a series, I’m going through the 25 favorite courses I’ve played. (Clearly, this is only a reflection of where I’ve been lucky enough to play, not the best courses in the world or even the country.)
Part 1, courses 25-21, is located here.
Now, we dive into the top-20.
20. Corica Park South, Alameda, CA
When I started playing golf, the north and south courses of “Chuck Corica Park” in Alameda were the quintessential muni’s – flat as a board, fairly uninteresting and in acceptable shape at best. The course has completely rebuilt the South course with architect Rees Jones, and is in the process of doing the same with the North. I hope that will be even half as successful, because in the Bay Area proper, Corica South is my favorite course to play. Though Alameda (which sits next to Oakland, near the airport) is fairly far from Australia, it was designed as an Australian sandbelt style course. There is not much elevation but enough grade in the fairways to cause funky lies and true challenges. The bunkering is fantastic and the drainage is now elite. While the truly tall rough only shows up on some holes, avoid it at all costs – it’s basically a death sentence. But otherwise, you’re bound to have a great walk and a lot of fun on the best public course in the Bay Area.
19. Streamsong Red, Bowling Green, FL
A bit of a hedge because there’s a lot to love about the other two courses, Blue and Black. And while the insanity of the Black and the accessibility of the Blue are appealing, nothing really is close to as gorgeous as the Coore-Crenshaw masterpiece, Streamsong Red. Most tee boxes cause a golfer like me to pause and just admire the view … before shanking my ball into one of many, many hazards. Just look at the opening tee shot:
It is hard to say which course is the most fun to play – and most of the time, the course is walking-only with a healthy dose of Florida heat and humidity, so “fun” isn’t always top of mind. But Streamsong Red is truly unforgettable, and belongs firmly in my top-20.
18. Poppy Hills Golf Course, Pebble Beach, CA
If you – like me – show up at Poppy Hills and realize only THEN that the course is landlocked with no true ocean views, you might first be disappointed. But then, when you just take on the Parkland style course on its own merits, you’ll likely fall in love.
Poppy Hills used to be part of the rotation for the AT&T Invitational, but over time wasn’t really up to snuff. It’s home to the NCGA and plays an important part in public golf, which is great – but not necessarily something the PGA cares about when it’s time to play a tournament. But the renovation yielded a fantastic course (I only played after it, so I cannot compare). It’s very challenging but fair from the right set of tees. There are holes that dogleg, but you can’t really tell from the tee boxes, so course knowledge matters. You’ll rarely lose a ball (though I did my best) but the trees, pinestraw and numerous sand traps will take their toll on your score. And yet, at the end of the round, if you’re like me, you’ll want to head right back out.
17. Rustic Canyon Golf Course, Moorpark, CA
I’ll be honest. This entire series was sparked by my realization that Rustic Canyon, which I just played two weeks ago for the first time, soared into my top-20. Designed by Gil Hanse (with Geoff Shackleford), the greens are predictably terrifying and mildly insane. Lots of false fronts and tricks of the eye that allow you to hit an approach shot and have you reaching for your putter – only to find you’re still 40 feet off the actual green. (But in most cases, you can still putt!) It’s also a fully public course, with twilight rates as low as $20 to play, an incredible bargain for the quality of the course. It’s truly a “rustic” course in that it’s far from a manicured white glove experience. A true “width-and-angles” course, there’s a lot of places to grip it and rip it, with the main risks being the barrancas that loop across many holes, the cacti and other desert plant life that run besides the fairway, and the numerous sand traps. Note: we found it on a quiet day, but a lot of wind here could amp the difficulty up considerably.
16. Pacific Grove Golf Links, Monterey, CA
If Rustic Canyon isn’t the best value in California public golf, then Pacific Grove in Monterey is. Called “The People’s Pebble” due to the back nine running across the Pacific Ocean like its toney neighbor, Pacific Grove is truly fantastic. The front nine uniquely starts with two par-3’s, and then turns into what D.J. Piehowski memorably referred to as a “tight, tight piece of property.” He’s not wrong. If you keep it straight, you don’t have to blast it off the tee to find success, but if you are wild, the trees will absolutely get you. But, when you make the turn and head out onto the coast, it’s almost another course entirely. The 10th hole is nothing special, a short par-3 that could be anywhere. But the 11th is a short par 4 with the green up against the dunes that guard against the Pacific Coast Highway. The 12th is a masterpiece (and tricky as hell to negotiate a good drive). Once you get to the 11th hole, there’s not a bad hole in the bunch and the entire experience costs about $50 on the weekend. It truly doesn’t get much better than this. (Except the 15 courses to come on this list.)
Are any of these on your personal list of favorites? Chime in down in the comments section. That’s what it’s here for.
Coming soon, courses 15-11…
Pacific Grove is up to $76 on the weekend, $71 weekday.