Best public golf courses on the west coast you can play with Pacific Ocean scenery

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Round Trip feature: San Diego

There's a common theme to the early calendar year part of the PGA Tour schedule: the ocean. After Hawaii, the PGA Tour makes what is referred to as the West Coast swing. Most notably, of course, are Torrey Pines, the 36-hole municipal venue just north of San Diego and site of the Farmers Insurance Open, and venerable Pebble Beach, host of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Fortunately, Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach represent just a small fraction of the ocean courses available to the masses on the West Coast.

And while many are a bit pricey, you might be surprised to learn that there is value seaside golf. Here's a look at the affordable and the bucket-list variety on the Pacific Coast.

Southern California Pacific Ocean golf courses

For those who live in San Diego, the two courses at Torrey Pines, which were designed by William P. Bell and his son, are very affordable. You can play the North Course for as little as $40 and the South Course for $61 (even cheaper for seniors) during non-peak season.

For non-residents it's a little steeper, as much as $229 on the weekends on the South Course and $125 on the North, but considering the history (the Rees Jones-renovated South was the site of Tiger Woods' dramatic 18-hole playoff win over Rocco Mediate) it's still a decent deal. Tee times aren't easy to come by either, but if you stay in the Torrey Pines Lodge, you can guarantee them in advance.

If you want an ocean view that's a little more affordable in the area, though, you don't have to venture far from the airport in San Diego. City-owned Coronado Golf Course is situated under the Coronado Bridge right on the water. With its great sailboat and city views, Coronado is hard to beat and is pretty cheap to play -- as little as $35 without a cart -- but you'll have to get in a lottery to get tee times or pay an additional fee for advanced guarantees.

Head a little ways north toward Los Angeles, and there are several more public golf options on the Pacific Ocean, albeit some of these definitely run on the premium side. Head over to Newport Beach and The Resort at Pelican Hill, which has 36 spectacular Tom Fazio-designed holes, most of them with ocean views.

Monarch Beach Golf Links is another seaside venue open to the public in the area. Located in Dana Point in Orange County, the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course not only presents players with panoramic views of the sea but outstanding playing conditions and a challenging test of golf to boot.

If you drive west as far as you can in Santa Barbara, then you're likely to run into Sandpiper Golf Club, a William P. Bell design that has both PGA and LPGA pedigree. With both mountain and ocean views, this 7,000-yard championship test was built on an old crude-oil production site that was shelled by a Japanese submarine during World War II.

More affordable and certainly quicker is the Links at Terranea course, a 1,239-yard gem right on the water in Rancho Palos Verdes. Designed by Todd Eckenrode, the holes range from 104 yards to 173 yards, plus there's a nice short-game practice area.

And while the Links at Terraea is the economy version of ocean golf, right next door is the most expensive golf course ever constructed -- Trump National Los Angeles, also in Rancho Palos Verdes. Originally designed by Pete Dye as Ocean Trails Golf Course, much of the 18th hole fell into the ocean during a landslide, requiring a repair job that cost some $20 million. Donald Trump later bought the course out of bankruptcy and had it redesigned by Tom Fazio. Total estimated cost: $264 million for the lavish course that reopened in 2005.

While not as close to the water as Trump, nearby Los Verdes Golf Club is a lot easier on the wallet. The William F. Bell design is a municipal, so expect affordable green fees but stacked tee sheets, too.

Northern California Pacific Ocean golf courses

Of course, any discussion of seaside golf usually begins on the Monterey Peninsula with Pebble Beach Golf Links, the five-time U.S. Open course that Jack Nicklaus once said if he could only play one golf course the rest of his life, Pebble Beach would be the one. Originally opened in 1919 and designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, this may be the ultimate bucket-list course, despite the $500 green fees and two-night resort stay requirement.

But it's hardly the only game in town. Spyglass Hill Golf Course, which is also part of the Pebble Beach Resort, is an RTJ gem that doesn't suffer in the ocean-view department either, although it's not far behind Pebble in price.

But perhaps the best value in seaside golf anywhere on the West Coast is Pacific Grove Golf Links, the back nine of which was designed by Pebble's Neville. While the front nine is pedestrian, most of the back of what many refer to as the "Poor Man's Pebble Beach" is a links layout among the dunes that is reminiscent of Scottish golf courses. Best of all, you can play all 18 holes for less than $50.

A little farther up the coast about a half hour south of San Francisco, you'll find another one of my favorites, although it's certainly more expensive than Pacific Grove. The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay has two courses -- the Arthur Hills-designed Ocean Course and Arnold Palmer's Old Course. Both courses end up perched high above the ocean, but you can see the Pacific from most points on the Ocean Course. Stay at the spectacular Ritz-Carlton, and you've really got a grand golf vacation.

Of course, not many cities have better ocean views than San Francisco, and if you can't get on Olympic Club to play its terrific par 3 that sits above the water, check out historic Lincoln Park Golf Course. The par-3 17th has great vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge, and it's a terrific value as well with green fees less than $50. Nearby, San Francisco muni Sharp Park Golf Course, an Alister Mackenzie design, is west of Highway 1 and juts right up to coastal wetlands and beach.

About 60 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Bodega Bay is The Links at Bodega Harbour, one of Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s earlier designs, set on the Sonoma coastline. Recently renovated, one of the unique aspects of this 6,300-yard test in the wind is that the 16th and 17th, back to back par 3s, are walking-only so players must park their carts, then pick them back up before heading to the 18th.

And if you keep heading north of Bodega Bay about 50 miles up U.S. Highway 1, you'll run into Sea Ranch Golf Links. The first nine holes of this linksy Robert Muir Graves design opened in 1974 with the back nine completed in 1995. It's in the middle of nowhere, but this 6,600-yard test has views that will remind people of Pebble Beach but with green fees a tenth of the price.

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Ocean golf courses in the Pacific Northwest

This year's U.S. Open should be one of the most interesting in recent history because of the venue, another municipal gem that sits on the water. While Chambers Bay near Seattle isn't right on the Pacific, it is on Puget Sound with water views from every hole.

Built on rising sand dunes out of an old rock quarry (there are cool views of the remains as well as trains that run along the course), this Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout is a links-player's delight and walking only. At $165, it's a bargain for a U.S. Open course.

A little farther south, however, on the coast of Oregon, is America's best collection of ocean courses at Bandon Dunes Resort.

Of the four true links courses in the U.S., three of them are at Bandon Dunes. The original course, the David McLay Kidd-designed Bandon Dunes, opened in 1999. Pacific Dunes, which certainly put Tom Doak on the short list of the world's great modern architects, was built shortly thereafter. Both of them are ranked in the top 10 public courses you can play in the United States by Golf Digest (Pacific Dunes is no. 2)

Old Macdonald, the third links course at Bandon Dunes, was designed by Doak and Jim Urbina and answers the question: What would the late architect Charles Blair Macdonald have created had he had the Oregon coast as his canvas? It has far less coastal frontage compared to its neighbors; only the 7th green teeters on the coast's edge, while much of the remainder of the course has ocean views from afar.

And finally, not to be overlooked is Bandon Preserve, a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design that opened in 2012. Bandon Preserve is a 13-hole short course with views of the Pacific Ocean on every hole and a must-play if you make the pilgrimage to Bandon Dunes.

Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Commented on

Mike - I mostly agree with your column but you missed the mark on Torrey Pines.  I played there on 9/13/13 and we were incredibly disappointed. While the course has some great views and it's fun to play where the pros play, everything else was a disappointment. For example:

1) They nickel and dime you with the fees: $225 greens fee, $20 cart fee, $45 non-refundable fee to reserve the tee time, $10 for range balls.

2) Course is mediocre condition, we expected a lot more for $300/person.

3) No service whatsoever. We didn't know where to go or what to do. You have pay for your greens fee and the cart fee in 2 different places. No starter either.

4) The range was matts only - you had to buy balls down there too.

5) Bathrooms hadn't been cleaned in days, maybe weeks!

6) The few people we spoke to there weren't helpful or nice. Before we teed off, we asked one of the guys working in the cart barn if there were any tips he had that would help us on the course. His response was, "yah, don't go to Del Mar Racetrack." and walked away.

7) The beverage cart came by twice during the entire round.

I will never go back, completely overrated and overpriced. Go play Trump or Pelican Hill for the same price.

Commented on

play bandon. I didn't see a cart girl but links golf at its finest as far as US goes.

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Best public golf courses on the west coast you can play with Pacific Ocean scenery