Reader Bill Meggison, who lives in Maine, asked this question: "I'm flying into San Francisco and driving down to San Diego for four or five days. Where should I play?"
First of all, if you take Route 1 all the way down the California coast, there may not be a more scenic drive in the country. And where there's scenery, there's great golf, so you will have no shortage of dramatic venues to choose from on your journey.
Of course, over four or five days, there's a lot of driving, so you're probably only going to be able to get in about a course a day. And then there's the issue of budget, so I'm going to give you some affordable golf to go with the bucket-list choices.
Three munis immediately come to mind.
Harding Park, which just reopened with new greens and has played host to many major events the past few years, would be my first choice if money was no issue. But you may want to look at Presidio Golf Course, a wonderfully restored military course that dates back to 1895. It reminds me a little of Olympic Club, only shorter. If you play during the week, it's pretty reasonable. But if you'd like to save a little money and still play fun golf with some great views, check out historic Lincoln Park Golf Course just a couple of miles away. The par-3 17th has great vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Perhaps the best area for golf in the U.S. is about 90 minutes south of San Francisco, so playing in the Monterey/Pebble Beach/Carmel area is a must. This is where Poppy Hills just reopened after a year-long renovation by its designer, Robert Trent Jones Jr. It's no Pebble Beach, but it's way better than it used to be and it's in flawless condition. And it costs about a third of what Pebble charges. Bayonet-Black Horse in nearby Seaside is even more affordable, and both courses there have a long championship tradition. But the best value in the area is muni Pacific Grove Golf Links, designed by the same guy who did Pebble. The front nine is pedestrian, but the back nine is on the Pacific Ocean and the course can be played for less than $50 during the week.
A little farther down the coast in central California near San Luis Obispo is Monarch Dunes Golf Club. The championship Old Course is an outstanding test, but even if you don't play that, check out the 12-hole Challenge Course, which is unlike any par 3 you'll ever play. Both courses were designed by Damian Pascuzzo and tour player Steve Pate, but the Challenge Course is more affordable, only takes a couple of hours to get around, is in great shape and is super interesting with lots of teeing options.
Your next stop will be the Los Angeles/Orange County area, and as you might expect the options are endless. Again, if money isn't a factor, head over to Newport Beach and Pelican Hill Golf Club, which has 36 spectacular holes on the ocean. But one of my favorite affordable courses in the area is San Juan Hills Golf Club. It has a lot of twists and turns, and challenging greens and elevation changes put a premium on your shot-making and short-game skills.
And finally, when you get to San Diego, again, you're going to run into plenty of great golf. Everybody knows Torrey Pines South, of course, but it's pricey and hard to get a tee time. La Costa, which has played host to numerous LPGA and PGA Tour events over the years, underwent terrific renovations on both courses, but it's expensive as well.
And Maderas Golf Club in Poway, with its elevated tees and mountain backdrops, doesn't take a back seat to any course, including Torrey Pines, when it comes to views.
But if you're looking for affordable golf, you might want to check out a couple of Cary Bickler designs just north of San Diego. Municipal Encinitas Ranch has Pacific views, is in terrific shape and plays to all levels. And in Chula Vista, you'll find Salt Creek Golf Club, which has a links sort of feel. But the most memorable bargain course is closer to downtown 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 -- all things considered.