MALIBU, Calif. -- Intrepid golfers in southern California may want to drive on the unofficial PCH Tour.
That is, teeing off early in the mountains above the world famous beaches of Malibu, heading down the curvy roads to Pacific Coast Highway and hugging the shoreline past Carbon Beach, Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach (convertible optional) for a second round that will afford amazing coastal views for sunset.
The scenery is great both on course and along the 55-mile trip between tracks, the golf is challenging and fun across a variety of terrains, and, surprisingly, on weekdays you can play a round at Malibu Golf Club and then one at Los Verdes Golf Course for less than $100 total.
In summer you could even save a few more bucks with a twilight rate and still finish your 18, while seniors could tee it up at both for an apropos $63 total (the numerical retirement age for many of them).
Clearly pulling off this doubleheader will take some planning and a good GPS. Traffic is tricky in L.A. no matter what time of day, so leave yourself plenty of time to make your early tee time as you wind your way up into the hills just around the bend from stunning ocean views to Malibu.
Golfers wanting to tee it up in the hills and close out the 36 holes by the sea better make plans soon. Malibu is closing this fall for a two-year renovation.
Malibu Golf Club: A rugged challenge
While Malibu Golf Club's first tee sends you uphill, hopefully your round won't play out that way all day. The William Francis Bell course is very much a product of its surroundings -- a rugged challenge for many golfers navigating narrow fairways, sometimes in concert with large elevation changes and forced carries that make club selection more important than low-lying courses to the north.
The twisting road up from PCH is good preparation for some approaches to the green. Be sure to head left off the tee at no. 3 to avoid trouble on the right side and reap rewards from clearing the rising fairway with a nice roll toward the green on the downhill side. The fourth hole works just the opposite as you wind your way around the mountainous terrain.
The par-3 fifth hole plays 235 yards and features a forced carry with a small landing pad. If you don't stick the green you'll soon find out why it plays the hardest of the 18. And the greens are nothing if not fast; some downhill ran 16 on the Stimpmeter during a recent visit.
No. 7 is a signature hole for this serene course about 45 minutes from Los Angeles. Drives must carry a pond, a bunker protects the pin and near misses slip downhill away from the green. The 13th hole is affectionately known as the Poor Man's Riviera. No. 18 offers a big finale that big hitters love. It's a downhill drive, with more room for error than many other fairways, and can put you in good shape to finish with a birdie. Just be sure your approach stays left and doesn't run right into the deep bunker carved into the underside of the green. That's not the Malibu beach you want to visit.
Malibu Golf Club's modest clubhouse features an outdoor wine bar, Malibu & Vine, but you may want to rehydrate, get some caffeine and crank up some tunes as you motor back down the mountain and join midday PCH traffic heading south.
The drive to Rancho Palos Verdes will take at least 90 minutes to two hours, but it could take much longer depending on when you leave. Traffic aside, the drive past miles of beaches is spectacular; hug the coastline if you have time and avoid the ubiquitous strip malls.
Los Verdes Golf Course lives up to its name
Los Verdes is a county golf course with views like no other since it is laid out on a prominent peninsula you'll spot from miles away. Its more upscale neighbors include Donald Trump's highly rated Trump National Golf Club and the top-tier par-3 course at Terranea Resort.
The Billy Bell-designed Los Verdes lives up to its name in Spanish -- the greens are smooth and the grounds are lush. As you might imagine in drought-stricken southern California, "The water bill is pretty crazy," muses General Manager Bob Lockhart. He credits superintendent Scott Young with keeping it verdant considering the amount of play on the course. Lockhart says it's one of the busiest tracks in the nation, carding 113,500 rounds in 2013. That's actually down from the peak of 115,000 in 2008 before the recession took its toll.
The draw, of course, is golf by the sea. "It's a poor man's Pebble Beach," Lockhart jokes, adding, "million-dollar views with county golf rates. This is one of the most accessible ocean-view courses."
But it's not that easy to walk on. Golfers can book seven days in advance and begin calling at 5 a.m. for the following week. Lockhart says many locals sleep in their cars to get on the tee sheet. He reckons there are two walkups for every phone call.
Sixty percent of players are locals, but there are plenty of visitors coming in from all over to play the 2013 L.A. County Course of the Year and soak in the sights. Golfers may also notice the fluffy bunkers, some newly installed in fairways to increase the challenge. They were part of a recent $2 million renovation.
The first tee at Los Verdes Golf Course faces the ocean and often features a stiff breeze that must be factored into this par 5 that doglegs left. The payoff is on the elevated green with the first of many picturesque views.
Keep in mind Lockhart's advice: "The greens break towards the ocean, no matter what."
As with most ocean-facing courses, wind will be an issue, but it can also provide a tailwind as it does on the uphill par-3 third hole.
The course is fairly open with not too much trouble for straight shooters. On no. 6, be sure to aim over the trap and stay left to set up for a nice approach and birdie putt. That same setup, aiming left off the tee on the 10th hole may get you headed back in with a birdie.
Whip out the camera or cellphone on the tee box at no. 11 as you drive right toward the big blue ocean. Big hitters beware the wind and a sharply sloping fairway. It also features a difficult green to stick given its steep undulations on the front and backside.
Los Verdes' 15th hole is quite literally the money shot, whether it's a picture or your downhill approach to the green that sits on the point. Even the course tip sheet, a must for first-timers, states, "Don't stare at Catalina Island too long." The tree behind the putting area serves as a setting for obligatory photos of foursomes and wedding parties alike.
This is also a good place to gaze seaward for whales, depending on the time of year. You can scan for a pod while strolling to the adjacent 16th tee, which plays into a narrow fairway bordered on the left by a cliff. Stay right as the fairway and green will be level, but second shots missed left leave quite the uphill climb for the pitch and the player.
The conditions brought more than one comparison to another area known for stunning island views and tropical golf from a twosome recently playing their first 18 at Los Verdes. The scenery was "spectacular" and the round was "fabulous, a little taste of Hawaii golf," gushed the vacationing couple who play together weekly in their inland California home city.
After your PCH Tour, what's next?
After completing your PCH Tour, enjoy sunset over the Pacific and plan your next 36-hole adventure. If you can get the tee times, try reversing the trek or move on to a neighboring course after an early round at Los Verdes. Lockhart says they get foggy mornings each day, but he gets groups off the tee at 6 a.m. daily -- using glow balls for pre-sunrise tee shots in winter.
Sunrise or no, it's a perfect start to another day chasing birdies in an endless golf season.