Last week I got a chance to play Rancho Murietta, a semi-private golf club outside Sacramento, with a friend who just bought a home along the course. The course was pretty nice and well-maintained but hardly worth the $80 it cost to play as a guest.
This got me thinking about where I'd play if I had a chance to take a golf tour through Calif. (this assumes that my wife would allow me to take a fantasy vacation without her-she doesn't golf-and that I have money to burn which I don't). As I thought about it I realized I really don't know S. Cal courses well enough to weigh in on them so here is a list of places to play during a tour of N. Cal.
First off, start on the north coast near Mendocino. The coast there is very scenic and the redwood forests nearly reach the coastline. The golf course to play is Sea Ranch. This is a coastline course with the fog/wind off the Pacific. The rates are $60 or $40 for twilight. It's a par 71 with a middle tee slope of 125. For a coastline course this is a real bargain, the course is on par with the more well-known and much more expensive Half Moon Bay Golf Links. Plus the coastline here is much more scenic than Half Moon Bay.
Next up, drive inland to Mt. Shasta Golf Course. The rates are only $45 or $30 for twilight. It's a par 70 with a slope of 121. The best time to play this course is probably late May/early June when Mt. Shasta is still covered with snow. You'll be looking one way at a lush green fairway and then back at the white of Shasta in the other direction.
From there head south to Whitehawk in the Sierras. This is a spectacular mountain golf course with perfectly manicured fairways. Rates are $125/95 and it's a par 71 with a slope of 123. This is one of the best public courses, not just in N. Cal. but in the country. If the rates are too high for you a good alternative is Graeagle Meadows just 10 minutes away. Rates are $55/35 and the views are almost as spectacular.
Now head south to Lake Tahoe. First up play Incline Village Championship course. This has some spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and well manicured fairways and greens. The rates are pretty steep at $169/95. It's a par 72 with a slope of 131 and you can probably expect a few three-putts due to fast greens. From Incline drive around the Nevada side of the lake to Edgewood. This is the course used each July for the Celebrity Golf Championship and it is a another Tahoe gem. It's even more expensive at $200/150. It's also a par 72, slope 131 course and you can expect a few extra strokes due to steep sand traps or water. I recommend playing this course at twilight as the view from holes 17 & 18 as the sun sets over the west shore of Tahoe is not to be missed. The 18th at Edgewood is my favorite finishing hole. As a more reasonably priced alternative to Incline or Edgewood, Lake Tahoe Golf Course is $84/69. It's a gorgeous course and a little easier, but it's south of the lake so it lacks lake views.
From Tahoe drive about 2 hours to central Calif. and play Turkey Creek Golf Course. This course was landscaped around oak trees and granite boulders and it is very scenic as well as challenging. It's $48 dollars all the time, with a par of 72 and a slope of 135. The 18th hole will require a very accurate tee shot across water to a relatively small landing area, but the feeling of landing that shot is awesome.
From the central valley head to the Bay Area, first for a round at Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills. Most folks from the Bay Area know Tilden is one of the best public courses in the area and the rates of $65/42 are very good for Bay Area golf. It's a par 70, slope of 123, with a lot of hills so expect some uphill greens or elevated tees, all surrounded by willow and oak trees.
From Tilden head across the bay to play Harding Park in San Francisco. This basically gives you as good a golf course as the Olympic Club (site of several US Opens), but without having to be friends with a fortune 500 executive. It's lined by Cypress trees alongside Lake Merced. It's a pricey par 70 at $150/120 with a slope of 123. As a very inexpensive alternative play Sharp Park just down the road in Pacifica. Sharp Park is an Alistair McKenzie layout that borderrs the ocean and also has lots of Cypress trees. However, it's a muni course and only costs $31/19. Plus if you play there you get to stick it to the eco-nuts who want to close the course to save a snail.
After the Bay Area head south to Monterrey Bay to the site of the most beautiful public courses in the world. First stop at Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz. This is another coastal beauty with multiple views of the bay even though it's on a hillside several miles inland. It is expensive at $220 all day but many folks swear it's the best course they've ever played. It's a par 70 with a slope of 136. At that slope forget about par unless you're a scratch golfer. The advantage Pasatiempo has over it's more famous neighbors (see below) is the sun is almost always shining because the fog doesn't usually roll in as far as the course.
Then it's on the Pebble Beach and the first stop should be Spyglass. This in one of the greatest courses in the world and the 16th is world famous ( a long par 3 over crashing waves). It's a par 72 with a slope of 137, and is the most expensive so far at $360 all day. Finally the mecca of public golf the Pebble Beach Golf Links. If I have to tell you about this, then you probably wasted your time reading this blog, given that there have been multiple US Opens at Pebble and it (along with Spyglass and Poppy Hills) is the site of the A.T.&T. (formerly the Crosby) every year. If you tee it up on 18 there (with the ocean lining the entire left side of the hole) you'll be walking with the legends of Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Miller, Woods as well as the spirit of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Jack Lemmon. This will cost you dearly at $495, to play the par 72, 132 slope course. As a fantastic bargain substitute for Spyglass or Pebble, play Pacific Grove Muni. It's certainly not as pristine as those courses, but it still has shoreline views of Monterrey Bay and only costs $42/25, perhaps the best golf bargain of any course mentioned in this already too long blog.
With all that expect to spend a minimum of $1500 depending on which courses you choose (and whether you play on weekends as the rates are all weekday rates), and of course that does not include hotels, food, gas and drinks at the 19th holes. Realistically I'd guess a trip with even 1 course per day for a week probably will end up costing upwards of $3000.