Since Sacagawea helped guide Lewis and Clark on the first US expedition to the Pacific Coast in the early 1800s, the American West has been a place of big sky, big open spaces and big dreams. Historically the West has drawn travelers with gold and gambling. These days it’s golf that brings visitors.
Golf now permeates the vastness of the American West, with great courses found among mountains, deserts, high plains and deep woodlands. And nowhere in the West is the game more spectacular than it is along the Pacific Coast. You can play great golf on public courses without ever straying too far from the Pacific Coast Highway that hugs the coast from Canada to Mexico.
Located just outside of Tacoma, WA, this links-style course at the southern extreme of Puget Sound will host the 2015 US Open. The layout is stunning, set among windswept dunes and punctuated by rugged bunkers and views of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. The course’s dramatic setting calls to mind the work of famed nature photographer Ansel Adams.
The love of golf and the vision of what the game can be is a winning combination. So when Mike Keiser turned his business eye toward a piece of sandy loam along the Pacific Ocean, just north of Bandon, OR, it was destined for greatness. After 12 years and 4 courses -- Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old MacDonald -- Bandon Dunes has risen to the top of American golf, known both for the quality of its courses and its resort.
Sam Whiting and Willie Watson designed Harding Park in San Francisco in 1925 and nurtured it to become one of California’s great courses. Named after President Warren G. Harding, an avid golfer who died on a visit to San Francisco two years earlier, the course hosted big tournaments, including an annual PGA Tour stop, but fell into disrepair in the 1960s. A spectacular redevelopment in 2002-03 restored the course to its classic luster. Since then Harding Park has been the site of a World Golf Championship event (2005) and a President’s Cup (2009).
Alister MacKenzie’s fame in the golf world is linked to his designs of Augusta National and Cypress Point, 2 of the world’s greatest courses. But MacKenzie once claimed that Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz County, CA, was his best work. The transplanted Scotsman liked it so much that he made his American home along the sixth fairway. The course opened in 1929, 7 weeks before Black Tuesday, and is still ranked by golf magazines as one of the best American courses open to the public. The layout lies naturally across the hills and gullies of the terrain above the ocean town of Santa Cruz.
“If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach.” Those words came from the game’s greatest player, Jack Nicklaus, in 1992. Really, what more can you say? Pebble Beach is the pinnacle of American golf, and no argument can be made to the contrary. Where the course meets the Pacific Ocean -- at holes 4 through 10 and then again at 17 and 18 -- May just be the best golf in the world.
Tiger Woods out-dueled Rocco Mediate in 2008, in one of the most memorable US Open battles of the modern game. And you can play the same course that sits high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean just north of San Diego. It’s recognized as one of golf’s great municipal courses and one of the few purely public courses that has hosted the US Open. The holes wind between and along deep coastal ravines and it’s hard to determine whether the course or the incredible views of the Pacific are better.
Golf courses on the West Coast rival any courses throughout the world. And your travels there will be far more comfortable than those of Lewis and Clark.
Jeff Thoreson is a golf and travel writer based in Washington, DC. He edits the GolfStyles network of publications.