The West Coast of the United States stretches roughly 2,250 miles, as the crow flies, from Mexico to Canada.
That's a lot of coastline directly on the Pacific Ocean. With all that land from Washington and Oregon to California, it's hard to fathom so little of it is used for golf. Plenty of courses feature ocean views, but only 20 U.S. of them have been built close enough to the Pacific to offer true ocean holes where the water, the beach or the cliffs are actually in play.
These are the holes of our dreams, where the wind, the water and the waves overload the senses. They're the ones featured over and over again on TV during the PGA Tour's 'West Coast Swing." They're the reasons golfers pay hundreds of dollars to tee it up at Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes and beyond.
In honor of 2019, I've rounded up the best ocean holes from 19 of these oceanfront courses. The only coastal course I overlooked was Coronado, simply because its views are more of the San Diego Harbor than true open ocean like the others. For the record, Chambers Bay is the closest thing Washington state has to an "ocean" course and it's 90 miles inland on the Puget Sound. I also didn't really want to rank the "19 best ocean holes" since almost all of them would belong to the famous courses on the Monterey Peninsula and Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Instead, I picked one from each course (excluding Hawaii) to create a scenic smorgasbord of the greatest holes smack dab on the Pacific Ocean:
No. 4. Torrey Pines South, La Jolla
The host of the Farmers Insurance Open - and the 2008 and 2021 U.S. Opens - sports ocean views from many holes, especially the infinity backdrop on the par-3 third hole. However, it's the fourth hole that runs closest to the cliffs. At 467 yards, the longest par 4 on a course is tough on everybody, from the pros to the amateurs.
No. 16. Torrey Pines North, La Jolla
Just like the South course, the North course, which co-hosts the Farmers Insurance Open for one round, has views to die for from a few spots, but it's a par 4 that takes up much of the real estate along the cliffs. The 393-yard 16th hole features the most thrilling tee shot of the day, climbing uphill bending gently right along the bluffs. Tom Weiskopf's renovation softened the course in 2016.
No. 13. Pelican Hill Ocean South Course, Newport Beach
When I last played Pelican Hill's stunning Ocean South course years ago, I had that 'magic' moment you expect from an oceanside course. As I was putting out on the 13th green, a trio of pelicans flew overhead, almost as if they had been released for visual effect. You can't make this stuff up. For that reason, the 131-yard 13th hole - the second of back-to-back par 3s right on the water - remains my favorite spot. Tom Fazio built two greens, separated by a large bunker, to give members different looks.
No. 3. Monarch Beach Golf Links, Dana Point
The most scenic hole at Monarch Beach - the par-4 third hole - also happens to be one of is easiest at only 315 yards long. Golfers hit their tee shots into a sliver of a fairway that sweeps left. Once you reach the green, the beauty of the site reveals itself - an epic view of the ocean. Don't get too distracted. The green has just as much movement as the waves on the water, so pay attention to the breaks.
No. 18. Trump National Los Angeles, Rancho Palos Verdes
Most golfers know the tale of golf's most expensive hole. In 1999, the finishing hole of Ocean Trails, the course's original name, plunged into the ocean during a landslide. The Pete Dye design opened as a 15-hole layout before Donald Trump bought the property in 2002 and rebuilt the hole for a reported $20 million. Needless to say, the long, demanding par 4 delivers "million dollar" views to end the round.
No. 11. Sandpiper Golf Course, Santa Barbara
Sandpiper has earned the nickname the "Poor Man's Pebble Beach" for its $200 green fees, less than half the cost of a round at Pebble. You could argue its par-3 11th hole is every bit as special as Pebble's most famous holes. The elevated tee shot stares down at a beautiful beach on the ocean. The next tee is so close to the sand you can actually walk down to test the temperature of the water before you hit your drive.
No. 7. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach
Feel free to criticize my selection if you wish. After all, there are too many great coastal holes at Pebble Beach to select just one. Jack Nicklaus has anointed the eighth hole the best par 4 he's ever played. The par-5 18th hole along Stillwater Cove belongs among the five best finishing holes in golf. That said, I'm picking the seventh. For such a short hole of 106 yards, it's profoundly difficult depending upon the wind. The pros at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am have hit anywhere from 3-iron to wedge. In one swing, the seventh captures the essence of all that is great about playing Pebble Beach - the beauty, the strategy, the history. It doesn't get any better than this.
No. 14. Monterey Peninsula Country Club Dunes Course, Pebble Beach
Visiting the Monterey Peninsula for the first time in 2003, I was driving along 17-Mile Drive with a buddy when we stumbled upon this hole. We parked the car, climbed on the tee box and envisioned throwing darts at the green 167 yards away across the cove. Still relatively new to golf, I thought I had snuck onto Cypress Point. Only later did we figure out we were trespassing on the par-3 14th hole of the Dunes course at MPCC, the only hole at the 36-hole private club on the ocean side of the road. Someday, maybe, I'll actually play it for real.
No. 13. Monterey Peninsula Country Club Shore Course, Pebble Beach
The Shore course was added to the rotation of courses at the AT&T Pebble Beach a couple years ago, so anybody with a ticket can go explore this wonderful setting the first three days of the tournament. There are a handful of holes closest to the shore - hence the course's name - but the 434-yard 13th stands out.
No. 16. Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach
The 16th hole at the Cypress Point Club is the stuff of legend. It also separates the contenders from the pretenders to decide many a match. Reaching the green requires a roughly 220-yard carry over an ocean inlet. Do you have the game to get there? Should you lay up on a par 3? Are you willing to swallow your pride and hit a driver? These are the questions you need to ask before taking on this beautiful beast.
No. 1. The Links at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach
The Links at Spanish Bay was built to be America's first true links along the Pacific Ocean by Sandy Tatum, Tom Watson and Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1987. The opening hole sets the tone with a twisting and dramatic par 5, where the elevated green sits perched closest to the ocean.
No. 3. Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Pebble Beach
You could make an argument that the third hole on Spyglass is the most scenic at Pebble Beach Resorts. That's saying something. The 172-yard, drop-shot par 3 plays directly into the wind off the water. One gust or bad swing can send your shot into the natural sand dunes that look so amazing.
No. 12. Pacific Grove Golf Links, Pacific Grove
This municipal course is the most affordable ocean golf you'll ever play. The 5,727-yard routing is quirky at times, but that's all forgiven once you reach the back nine roaming through the dunes near the shore and the Point Pinos Lighthouse. These nine holes were designed in 1960 by Jack Neville of Pebble Beach fame. The par-5 12th hole (513 yards) is called "Rocky Shores" with the ocean along the left side from start to finish. There's out of bounds on the right side, where the wind tends to redirect shots, so it's a fun and memorable challenge to make par.
No. 18. Half Moon Bay Golf Links Old Course, Half Moon Bay
I've taken some grief for ranking this Arnold Palmer course among my favorite courses in northern California. Weighing heavily on that decision is the beauty of its final hole, the par-4 18th. After playing through the neighborhood homes most of the day, the course finds its way to the coastal cliffs for the grand finale. From the tee, your eyes dart back and forth between the beach, the cliffs, the ocean and the dazzling Ritz-Carlton. The approach shot plays to a green with a built-in gallery, where hotel guests gather around fire pits to toast marshmallows, savor the fresh air and watch the action.
No. 16. Half Moon Bay Golf Links Ocean Course, Half Moon Bay
The Ocean course, designed by Arthur Hills on the other side of the hotel, counters with its own scenic par 4. The 16th tee is perched on the highest point of the course, offering panoramic views of the entire links-style layout, the cliffs and the five-star hotel. With winds whipping off the water, it's tough to hit the fairway of this difficult par 4.
No. 16. The Links At Bodega Harbour, Bodega Bay
The two ocean holes at Bodega Harbour are unique in that golfers have to park their carts at the 16th tee to play the par-4 16th and the par-3 17th hole on foot before returning to retrieve the cart for the 18th hole that heads inland again. The 16th hole is a great risk-reward short par 4 at 318 yards with a tee shot to a diagonal fairway right on the beach. This original back nine dates to 1978 before the front nine was added by RTJ Jr. nine years later.
No. 16. Bandon Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon
The original course at Bandon Dunes by David McLay-Kidd introduced the world to links golf on the glorious Oregon coast. The round climaxes on the 16th hole, a dynamic par 4 with a split fairway. Any miss right, either off the tee or on the approach, will end up on the beach.
No. 4. Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon
There's a handful of excellent clifftop holes on Pacific Dunes by Tom Doak. Let's go with the first one, the fourth hole, the second-longest par 4 at 463 yards. It's a great walk, whether you've got your own bag or hired a caddie to tote it for you.
No. 7. Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon
No. 7 on Old Mac is named appropriately named "Ocean". It's the hole nearest the beach and the water. Golfers playing the course for the first time don't realize that fact until they make the climb to the elevated green. This elevation change - and the wind that you may not feel from the fairway - makes the 363-yard par 4 play much tougher than the yardage implies.