Tee Off in Southern California

Check out some of the best courses in LA and Santa Barbara.
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LA may be better known for Hollywood stars than memorable pars, but the golf is pretty good too.

From Santa Barbara to the Palm Springs desert heading east and back across to the Pacific Ocean, the region has more than its fair share of blockbuster courses. From bluff-top layouts influenced by the ocean winds to desert courses where the Rat Pack once romped; from high-priced resort experiences to mid-scale daily-fee play, Southern California has it all -- if you know where to look.

Los Angeles proper offers a strong collection of renowned and very private golf clubs, including the Riviera Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club and Bel Air Country Club. But because land is so valuable, those looking for daily-fee golf often have to search harder and drive farther. With the exception of Rancho Park Municipal -- where a 6-hour round is not uncommon -- there are not many choices close to the city center.

In recent years, though, some excellent designs have opened in the outlying cities. You may need to drive an hour or so to find them, but you'll be glad you did.

The Pete Dye-designed Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles sits on the cusp of a cliff above the Pacific coastline in Rancho Palos Verdes, 30 minutes south of Los Angeles International Airport. It is one of the loveliest sites for golf south of Pebble Beach, bragging ocean views from every hole. The Donald himself helped redesign what was at first a very penal layout although there is still considerable challenge -- including tight fairways, water features and deep rough -- as the course ambles across the Pacific-sloping topography. The clubhouse is also spectacular in true ornate Trump style, featuring The Café Pacific, a fine lunch and dinner restaurant, worth sticking around for.
Sounds swanky, huh? But Malibu Country Club is a down-to-earth, very friendly golf course set in the rolling coastal hills several miles from the ocean. Well-groomed putting surfaces, wide fairways allowing plenty of room off the tee, elevation changes, mature trees and idyllic surrounds make for a pleasant loop. Several holes play to uphill greens, so club selection is important. There is no practice range here, but a few driving cages are available to help you loosen up.
Tucked into the golden mountains east of Ventura, on a cat-tail winding stretch of Highway 33, is the George C. Thomas-designed Ojai Valley Inn and its adjacent golf course. Dating back to the classic age of golf architecture (Thomas also designed Riviera Country Club), it opened in 1924 and is characterized by eucalyptus-lined fairways, rolling terrain and a design style that emphasizes enjoyment (though it's no pushover) over demand.
Located near downtown LA and Dodger Stadium, Griffith Park’s 4 courses include a fun 9-holer, Roosevelt Golf Course, a hilly, executive-length layout perfect for beginning golfers. But the main acts are the Woodrow Wilson Golf Course, built in 1923, and the Warren G. Harding Golf Course, built in 1924. Both have that classic, pre-golf-cart design approach. Greens and the next tee sit close together, making them perfect walking courses. Both are lushly lined with mature oak and eucalyptus trees.
Rustic Canyon Golf Club is one of the better bargains in Southern California. A links-style layout set in a valley, the design features big, undulating greens that players can roll the ball onto. The big greens mean you’ll get some long, curving putts. Chipping and putting aprons surround every hole, making it friendly for beginning or occasional golfers. No trees or water, but the bunkers keep you honest.
Sandpiper sits on an ocean bluff 15 minutes north of downtown Santa Barbara. Towering eucalyptus trees and shady canyons, as well as headland fully exposed to the elements, make all 18 holes unique. Measuring more than 7,000 yards from the black tees and with a healthy men's rating of 74.7 from that distance, this course is truly "beauty and the beast."
George Fuller, author of California Golf: The Complete Guide, has been writing and editing about golf travel for more than 30 years. In addition to California Golf, he has written 8 other books on golf, including I Golf, Therefore I Am... Nuts!
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