Pebble and beyond: The top 10 public golf courses in northern California



It's a good thing ink never dries on the internet.

While ranking the 10 best public courses in northern California, I waffled. I wavered. I went back and forth like an accordion. And I'm still not sure I got it write -- err, right. I might pull off a future switcheroo if another round down the road gives me a new impression about a place.

The competition to narrow this list is just so tough and the roster of potential candidates too deep. I left out a PGA Tour venue (the North Course at Silverado Golf Resort and Spa in Napa), two former Tour stops (Poppy Hills Golf Club in Monterey and TPC Harding Park in San Francisco) and five former PGA Tour Champions sites (the South Course at Silverado, the Bayonet Course at Bayonet/Blackhorse in Seaside, Sonoma Golf Club in Sonoma, Del Monte Golf Course in Monterey and the Tournament Course at Coyote Creek Golf Club in San Jose).

Members of my top 10 public courses in NoCal are spread throughout the region from the rocky coast of the Monterey Peninsula to the wine country south of Silicon Valley and the mountains near Lake Tahoe. Here goes:

10. Old Greenwood, Truckee

Pros: Jack Nicklaus built a beauty in the High Sierras. Water intrudes on six holes, but it's mostly the lovely setting of pines that will keep your attention. If you want 36 holes, just head across the street to its sister course, The Golf Club at Gray's Crossing.

Cons: It's pricey at peak times ($200).

9. Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links, Half Moon Bay

Pros: The views on the wide-open Ocean Course are superior to the Old Course on the other side of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. The unique routing by Arthur Hills features five par 3s and five par 5s, and a number of holes with thrilling elevated tee shots.

Con: A colder, foggy and damp micro-climate plagues Half Moon Bay.

8. Yocha Dehe Golf Club, Brooks

Pros: I'm recommending this hidden gem by Brad Bell because it's so much fun to play and it's kept in such great shape by Troon Golf. The hills surrounding the course -- and the vineyard along the back nine -- add a heavy dose of scenery and serenity. The water hazards down the stretch will make or break your match.

Con: It's in the middle of nowhere, 90 miles north of San Francisco, and can get quite hot in the summer. Stay-and-play packages at the popular Cache Creek Casino Resort can be tough to secure.

7. Coyote Moon Golf Course, Truckee

Pros: With no homes in sight, Coyote Moon, another Bell design, showcases a pristine mountainous environment in the High Sierras. The par-3 13th hole parachutes from an elevated tee to a green tucked beyond a creek. Golfers gasp waiting for their ball to land safe -- or sorry.

Con: Golf Advisor reviewers complain about the price ($160 peak rate) and that there is no driving range.

6. Old Course at Half Moon Bay, Half Moon Bay

Pros: A spectacular finish rivals anything on the West Coast. The par-3 17th and par-4 18th holes overlook the cliffs along the Pacific. Golfers who hit a good approach shot to the last green might receive a golf clap or two from Ritz-Carlton guests lounging on their balconies and near the outdoor fire pits. At dusk, a bagpiper wearing a kilt serenades the last groups of the day.

Cons: Much of the routing winds through a neighborhood, and the aforementioned weather woes.

5. The Links at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach

Pros: Spanish Bay was created by multiple contributing architects, including Tom Watson, to honor links golf overseas. The scenery along the water and the wind certainly follow that theme, although the constant barrage of forced carries over wetlands and gorges doesn't. It's still wildly scenic and worth playing. Sticks is a great spot for drinks and dinner at the Inn at Spanish Bay after golf. If you snag a seat near an outdoor fire pit, a bagpiper will liven things up at dusk.

Con: The wind can howl, making the forced carries seem impossible. Bring plenty of balls. The $250 green fee remains an obstacle for many players.

Wind, water, waves, wow. #whyilovethisgame #LivingTheGreen #montereypeninsula

A photo posted by Jason Scott Deegan (@jasondeegangolfadvisor) on

4. Cordevalle, San Martin

Pros: Cordevalle is a proven tournament site, having hosted the 2016 U.S. Women's Open and the Frys.com Open on the PGA Tour for several years. Robert Trent Jones, Jr. made good use of the natural hills, streams and trees to build such a gorgeous and interesting test of golf.

Con: You must stay at the luxurious Rosewood ($400 a night and up) to get a tee time.

3. Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz

Pros: The premier Dr. Alister MacKenzie-designed golf course open to the public sends architecture buffs into a tizzy. Each bunker, restored by Tom Doak, is its own work of art, as are the tiny greens. Dinner at the Hollins House restaurant just a short walk up the hill from the clubhouse comes highly recommended.

Con: The netted, mat-only driving range doesn't really prepare you for the monster challenge of the first three holes.

2. Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Pebble Beach

Pros: My one round on Spyglass Hill was a certifiable disaster on the scorecard. My camera loved it, though, and you will, too. The first five holes in the dunes near the shore introduce pure golf magic.

Cons: The price tag is still steep ($375). Also, leaving the ocean on the fifth hole can be a downer.

1. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach

Pros: I'm a big fan of the scenery, playability, tournament history and exclusive feeling of Pebble Beach. I included playing Pebble Beach among the 25 things that should be on every golfer's "career bucket list."

Cons: The $495 price tag and the inability to book reserved tee times in advance without an overnight stay keep the experience too exclusive for most of the general public. Some critics bash the inland holes as mundane, but that's only in reference to how good the coastal holes are.

Sep 08, 2016



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Jason Scott Deegan

Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.


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