If Los Angeles is largely a clutter of unplanned and unchecked growth, Orange County is the opposite. Master-planned communities in the area between LA and San Diego Counties mix with protected open space, charming coastal artist colonies and hip surfer towns. Green spaces and good golf courses are easily found, everything from 5-star oceanfront resort courses to affordable public facilities and hidden 9-hole gems.
And it’s difficult to feel uncomfortable in San Diego. It’s not as big and busy as Los Angeles, its downtown is right at the scenic waterfront and the weather is supreme year-round. What’s not to love?
The terrain for golf in both regions is quite diverse. Inland, rolling hills and elevation changes are the norm, while at the coast, several of the top resorts in the land dish up dramatic ocean views, superlative service and accompanying accommodations and spas fit for kings and queens.
Residents in both Orange County and San Diego have many golf-course options, but they have just as much fun off the course too, taking full advantage of all the boating and ocean sports, hiking and back-road exploration their home territories offer.
Visitors can do the same. Bring your clubs, but also pack your swimsuit and sneakers.
“I couldn’t pick a signature hole, because there are so many of them,” architect Tom Fazio said of his 36 holes at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast. The North course has ocean views from all 18 holes and wide fairways, but places a premium on shots to the greens. The south course has more trees and routes across several arroyos, with 3 holes perched right on ocean bluffs. Both of these top-100 beauties are in the "must-play" category for the serious golfer.
Another Tom Fazio design, this course sits several miles inland from Newport Beach. Here, good shots are rewarded and bad shots are penalized. Landing zones are generally wide and driver-friendly. If you tend to miss fairways, though, bring plenty of golf balls, because they get lost easily in the deep rough. The course is particularly women-friendly, with the forward tees measuring under 5,000 yards.
Arroyo Trabuco, in Mission Viejo, is one of Orange County's best public golf bargains: an excellent design at a reasonable rate. The 240-acre site occupies an abandoned gravel pit, and several holes play around the old facility. The layout encompasses quite a bit of rolling topography, making for some fun and memorable holes.
Rated the number-1 course in San Diego County in many player polls, Maderas combines a strategic round of golf with a member-for-the-day service approach. Designed by Johnny Miller and Robert Muir Graves, the course winds through rolling inland hills, creeks, forests and past dramatic cliffs and rock outcroppings.
Set on the Pacific headlands north of downtown and site of the 2008 US Open (won by a limping Tiger Woods), the South Course plays a whopping 7,600 yards for the pros. But even from the mortal tees players need to hit solid shots to score. A demanding yet must-play course, Torrey Pines South bares its teeth when the wind is blowing off the ocean. The North Course is equally tough and almost as scenic, though without the oceanfront holes.
Cross over a gracefully arching bridge from San Diego across the San Diego Bay and onto Coronado Island, and time seems to have stopped 50 years ago. The Del Coronado Hotel presides beachfront, while the municipal Coronado Golf Course provides a low-key round. Open fairways and large greens typify this popular public course. It hosts a large number of rounds each year due to its wonderful setting and low rates. Golfers enjoy idyllic views of San Diego and sailboats coming in and out of the harbor.
George Fuller, author of California Golf: The Complete Guide, has been writing and editing about golf travel for more than 30 years. He has written 8 other books on golf, including I Golf, Therefore I Am...Nuts!