San Diego's climate—generally sunny, without a lot of wind—is perfect for golf, and there are some 90 courses in the area, appealing to every level of expertise. Experienced golfers can play the same greens as PGA-tournament participants, and beginners or rusty players can book a week at a golf resort and benefit from expert instruction. You'd also be hard-pressed to find a locale that has more scenic courses—everything from sweeping views of the ocean to verdant hills inland.
During busy vacation seasons it can be difficult to get a good tee time. Call in advance to see if it's possible to make a reservation. You don't necessarily have to stay at a resort to play its course; check if the one you're interested in is open to nonguests. Most public courses in the area provide a list of fees for all San Diego courses.
The adult public's green fees for an 18-hole game are included for each course, as well as the courses' championship (blue) yardage; carts (in some cases mandatory), instruction, and other costs are additional. Rates go down during twilight hours, and San Diego residents may be able to get a better deal. Prices change regularly, so check with courses for up-to-date green fees and deals.
Arrowood Golf Course. This Ted Robinson Jr.–designed course in Oceanside remains under the radar, but many San Diegans cite it as their favorite due to its challenging holes and tournament-style feel with year-round contests and prizes. The course, which opened in 2005, is quite scenic thanks to its location next to protected habitat and the signature 16th hole requires a challenging shot into an island green. 5201 A Village Dr., Oceanside, CA, 92057. 760/967–8400. www.arrowoodgolf.com. $87 Mon.–Thurs., $92 Fri., $110 weekends. 18 holes, 6721 yards, par 71.
Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course. San Diego's oldest public course is five minutes from downtown in the heart of Balboa Park and offers impressive views of the city and the bay. The course includes a 9-hole executive course and a challenging 18-hole course that weaves among the park’s canyons with some tricky drop-offs. Finish off your round with biscuits and gravy and a mimosa at Tobey’s 19th Hole Cafe, a greasy spoon that's also Balboa Park's best-kept secret. 2600 Golf Course Dr., Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, 92102. 619/235–1184. www.balboagc.com. 9 holes: $18 weekdays, $23 weekends. 18 holes: $40 weekdays, $50 weekends. 27 holes, 6281 yards, par 72.
Coronado Municipal Golf Course. Spectacular views of downtown San Diego and the Coronado Bridge as well as affordable prices make this public course one of the busiest in the world. Bordered by the bay, the trick is to keep your ball out of the water. Wind can add some difficulty, but otherwise this is a leisurely course and a good one to walk. It's difficult to get on unless you reserve a tee time 3 to 14 days in advance. The course's Bayside Grill restaurant is well-known for its Thursday and Sunday night prime rib dinner. Reservations are recommended. 2000 Visalia Row, Coronado, San Diego, CA, 92118. 619/435–3121. www.golfcoronado.com. $18 for 9 holes, $35 for 18 holes weekdays, $40 weekends. 18 holes, 6590 yards, par 72.
Cottonwood at Rancho San Diego Golf Club. This peaceful public golf club 20 minutes from downtown San Diego is set among rolling hills and offers two 18-hole courses—the Lakes, aptly name for the eight lakes that dot the course, and the not-too-challenging Ivanhoe course. Both are good walking courses with nice practice putting greens. On weekend mornings tee times include mandatory cart rental. If it's your birthday, you can play for free. 3121 Willow Glen Rd., El Cajon, CA, 92019. 619/442–9891 or 800/455–1902. www.cottonwoodgolf.com. Ivanhoe: $16–$24 weekdays, $38–$42 weekends. Lakes: $18 weekdays, $16–$24 weekends. Cart is extra. Ivanhoe: 18 holes, 6831 yards, par 72. Lakes: 18 holes, 6610 yards, par 71.
Eastlake Country Club. Ted Robinson designed this fun public course a few miles from the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Eastlake offers great views of Mount Miguel, and despite the water hazards and sandtraps, it's good for players of all skill levels. It's also a pretty course with waterfalls, six lakes, and hundreds of trees. Reservations can be made up to seven days in advance and you can save quite a bit by taking advange of the club's Twilight rates. 2375 Clubhouse Dr., Chula Vista, San Diego, CA, 91915. 619/482–5757. www.eastlakecountryclub.com. $69 Mon.–Thurs., $79 Fri., $89 weekends. 18 holes, 6606 yards, par 72.
Encinitas Ranch. See the Pacific Ocean from virtually every vantage point at this course on bluffs in North County. Local golfers love it because low scores aren't that hard to come by. It's a forgiving course with wide-open fairways. Encinitas Ranch also has a 6,000-square-foot clubhouse with a bar and café. The adjoining patio has a stone fireplace and great ocean views. 1275 Quail Gardens Dr., Encinitas, CA, 92024. 760/944–1936. www.jcgolf.com. $81 Mon.–Thurs., $87 Fri., $103 weekends (cart included). 18 holes, 6587 yards, par 72. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, pull carts, rental clubs, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.
Mission Bay Golf Course and Practice Center. Making sure people have fun is the number-one goal at this city-run golf course. San Diego's only nightlighted course, the final tee time is at 7:45 pm for 9 holes, and the executive course with par 3 and 4 holes isn't too challenging. The golf course's scenic and breezy location next to Mission Bay helps keep it comfortably cool. 2702 N. Mission Bay Dr., Mission Bay, San Diego, CA, 92109. 858/581–7880. www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/golf/mbgolf.shtml. $17 for 9 holes weekdays, $22 weekends; $29 for 18 holes weekdays, $36 weekends. 18 holes, 2715 yards, par 58.
Mount Woodson Golf Club. This beautiful, heavily wooded club in a hilly area off Highway 67 is set amid a grove of ancient oak trees and granite boulder-strewn hillsides with spectacular views of the historic Woodson Castle, a private residence built in 1921 that is now one of San Diego's most popular wedding venues. The course features some challenging holes like the par 5 Windinface, a deep, three-tiered green, where accuracy is a must. The course also features wooden bridges and good views, particularly from Hole 17. There is a pro shop and a small café. This is a popular local tournament site. 16422 N. Woodson Dr., Ramona, CA, 92065. 760/788–3555. mtwoodsoncastle.com. Members: $42 weekdays, $52 weekends. Nonmembers: $55 weekdays, $65 weekends. 18 holes, 6004 yards, par 70.
Riverwalk Golf Clubs. With three different 9-hole layouts that can be combined in a variety of ways, this course near the Fashion Valley shopping center is sort of a "choose your own adventure" one. The layouts, designed by Ted Robinson Sr. and Jr., feature natural terrain and oak and eucalyptus trees throughout. There are also a variety of water features including four lakes and the San Dieguito river. This course is challenging but suitable for players of all skill levels with multiple tees on each hole. 1150 Fashion Valley Rd., Fashion Valley, San Diego, CA, 92108. 619/296–4653. www.riverwalkgc.com. 9 holes: $27–$30 Mon.–Thurs., $35 Fri.–Sun. 18 holes: $89 Mon.–Thurs., $99 Fri.–Sun. Presidio: 9 holes, 3397 yards, par 72. Mission: 9 holes, 3153 yards, par 72. Friars: 9 holes, 3230 yards, par 72.
Torrey Pines Golf Course. Due to its clifftop location overlooking the Pacific and its classic championship holes, Torrey Pines is one of the best public golf courses in the United States. The course was the site of the 2008 U.S. Open and has been the home of the Farmers Insurance Open since 1968. The par-72 South Course, redesigned by Rees Jones in 2001, receives rave reviews from touring pros; it is longer, more challenging, and more expensive than the North Course. Tee times may be booked from 8 to 90 days in advance (877/581–7171) and are subject to an advance booking fee ($43). 11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd., La Jolla, San Diego, CA, 92037. 858/452–3226 or 800/985–4653. www.torreypinesgolfcourse.com. South: $183 weekdays, $229 weekends. North: $100 weekdays, $125 weekends; $40 for golf cart. South: 18 holes, 7227 yards, par 72. North: 18 holes, 6874 yards, par 72.
Carlton Oaks Lodge and Country Club. Many prestigious qualifying events—including the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur qualifiers—have been held at this difficult course that was built in 1958 and designed by Pete Dye. The historic course is considered a local landmark and has a picturesque setting, with Sycamore and Eucalyptus trees, several lakes, and a creek. The newly renovated Oaks Bar and Grill serves sandwiches and wraps and offers good Happy Hour specials between 4 and 7. 9200 Inwood Dr., Santee, CA, 92071. 619/448–4242. www.carltonoaksgolf.com. For members: $35 Mon.–Thurs., $45 Fri., $60 Sat., $50 Sun. For nonmembers: $55 Mon.–Thurs., $65 Fri., $85 weekends. 18 holes, 6700 yards, par 72.
Omni La Costa Resort and Spa. One of the premier golf resorts in Southern California, La Costa over the years has hosted many of the best professional golfers in the world as well as prominent politicians and Hollywood celebrities. The resort recently remodeled both its courses. The Dick Wilson–designed Champions course has new bent grass greens, Bermuda fairways, and bunkers. The more spacious Legends Course received a complete makeover including a redesign of all 18 greens, as well as new bunkers and turfgrass plantings. After a day on the links you can wind down with a massage, steam bath, and dinner at the resort. 2100 Costa del Mar Rd., Carlsbad, CA, 92009. 800/854–5000. www.lacosta.com. $210 Mon.–Thurs., $230 Fri.–Sun. Champions: 18 holes, 6608 yards, par 72. Legends: 18 holes, 6524 yards, par 72.
Park Hyatt Aviara Golf Club. This golf course consistently ranks as one of the best in California and is the only course in San Diego designed by Arnold Palmer. The course features gently rolling hills dotted with native wildflowers and views of the protected adjacent Batiquitos Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. There are plenty of bunkers and water features for those looking for a challenge, and the golf carts, included in the cost, come fitted with GPS systems that tell you the distance to the pin. The two-story Spanish colonial clubhouse has full-size lockers, lounge areas, a bar, and a steak house. 7447 Batiquitos Dr., Carlsbad, CA, 92011. 760/603–6900. www.golfaviara.com. Members: $130 Mon.–Thurs., $150 Fri.–Sun. Nonmembers: $225 Mon.–Thurs., $245 Fri.–Sun. 18 holes, 7007 yards, par 72.
Rancho Bernardo Inn and Country Club. Designed by William Francis Bell in 1962, this 18-hole course has a traditional layout, but renovations in 2009 and 2010 have kept it feeling fresh and new. New bunkers were even added in 2013. The course has hosted both PGA and LPGA events and offers an oasis in Rancho Bernardo, with its tree-lined fairways and various water features. A challenging 18th hole requires an approach shot over a creek. Located at the esteemed Rancho Bernardo Inn, the property offers great amenities like a spa and several restaurants, including AVANT, where gourmet mustards are served on tap. 17550 Bernardo Oaks Dr., Rancho Bernardo, CA, 92128. 858/675–8470. www.ranchobernardoinn.com/golf. Members: $55 Mon.–Thurs., $59 Fri., $85 weekends. Nonmembers: $100 Mon.–Thurs., $115 Fri., $135 weekends. 18 holes, 6631 yards, par 72. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.
Sycuan Resort & Casino. With its three courses orginally designed by Cecil Holingsworth, this resort offers something for every golfer. Due to flooding in the late 1970s, the courses had to be redesigned by golf course architect Ted Robinson Sr., who added elevation changes and lakes to increase the difficulty. Hackers will love the executive par-3 course, while seasoned golfers can play the championship courses. Sycuan Golf Resort hosts a variety of tournaments, including the Junior World Golf Championships, U.S. Public Links Qualifying site, and the San Diego Junior Amateur. 3007 Dehesa Rd., El Cajon, CA, 92019. 619/219–6028 or 800/457–5568. www.sycuanresort.com. Willow Glen and Oak Glen: $55 for members Mon.–Thurs., $56 Fri., $66 weekends; $91 for nonmembers Mon.–Thurs., $96 Fri., $111 weekends. Pine Glen: $25 for members and nonmembers. Willow Glen: 18 holes, 6687 yards, par 72. Oak Glen: 18 holes, 6682 yards, par 72. Pine Glen: 18 holes, 2508 yards, par 54. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, pitching area, golf carts, pull carts, rental clubs, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.