San Diego is a golfer's paradise, and its great weather much of the year means golfers have the chance to sample from the abundance of public course choices year-round. From the high-end and scenic Maderas Golf Club to the scruffy but uniquely night-lighted Mission Bay Golf Course and Practice Center, San Diego County has a plethora of choices that suit any skill level. But golf can be an expensive hobby, so if you are looking to play on a quality and challenging course, San Diego public golf courses provide a great value.
This is the San Diego public golf course everyone wants to play—a famous PGA Tour stop for the Farmers Insurance Open, it hosted the 2008 U.S. Open, and it's one of Tiger Woods' favorite courses. Torrey Pines Golf Course is San Diego's version of Pebble Beach (the famous golf course in Big Sur, California).
Torrey Pines Golf Course actually consists of two courses, the North and South (a brute). Torrey Pines offers a good value if you have a San Diego city resident card. If not, expect to pay a premium for green fees. But the views are priceless, if you can get a tee time.
11480 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA 92037
The Sycuan Golf Resort is nestled in the hills in East County in El Cajon. Sycuan is actually three courses: Willow Glen, Oak Glen, and the par-three Pine Glen. Willow Glen and Oak Glen are challenging but playable and immaculate, and Pine Glen offers up a quick 18 holes. The tree-lined fairways and rolling hills provide a serene experience.
Sycuan's practice areas (practice greens, driving range, and short game areas) are some of the best open to the public anywhere. Green fees vary depending on the day of the week and if you're walking or riding, and twilight rates are considerably lower.
3007 Dehesa Road
El Cajon, CA 92019
If there's one golf course that offers affordability, scenery, challenge, and fun, it's Coronado Golf Course, hands down. With a layout along the shores of San Diego Bay featuring panoramic views of the downtown skyline and the Coronado Bay Bridge, this course is perfect for the recreational golfer. It might be "municipal" but this course is immaculate, with stellar greens.
The course is challenging but not tricked up and a lot of fun, with reasonable green fees, which go up on weekends and holidays. The trade-off is a tee time for playing 18 holes is really difficult to get.
Coronado Municipal Golf Course
2000 Visalia Row
Coronado, CA 92118
It might not have the appeal of Torrey Pines, but Balboa Park is a fine course. Though it may look short on the scorecard and the grounds get less love than some of the other golf courses in San Diego, canyons and elevation changes make Balboa a surprisingly challenging layout, and some holes offer some great city views.
Besides, if you have a city resident card, you can't beat the green fees, which do go up on weekends.
2600 Golf Course Drive
San Diego, CA 92102
It may be an executive length course, but Oaks North plays like a full-length golf course. This 27-hole layout boasts stellar greens and plenty of challenge. It's one of the great courses in San Diego, and even better when you don't want to spend five hours on the course on a weekend.
But this short course is no pushover; the par 3s have plenty of length, and the par 4s demand good drives and precise approaches. Unless you're a bomber, you can use every club in your bag here—and it's a good value.
12602 Oaks North Drive
San Diego, CA 92128
Cottonwood Golf Club has always lived in the shadows of its flashier neighbors Sycuan and Steele Canyon, but it's a much better value than either. Consisting of two courses, Ivanhoe and the Lakes, Cottonwood plays more difficult than its mostly flat layout presents.
Ivanhoe has always been a lengthy bear and the Lakes course has eight water features. Rates are very affordable on weekdays without a cart (though they go up on weekends with a cart)—and they serve great hot dogs.
3121 Willow Glen Dr
El Cajon, CA 92019
Bonita Golf Course is another San Diego public course situated in a river valley. It's often overlooked by local golfers but has a straightforward, classic William Bell design (Torrey, Balboa); it demands good shot-making, but doesn't punish you.
Weekends get pretty busy, but the course is usually in pretty decent condition. Bonita is a really nice value for the quality of golf you get.
5540 Sweetwater Road
Bonita, CA 91902
The Vineyard is Escondido's municipal golf course. It's a typical modern layout, though a bit gimmicky and more challenging than sometimes expected.
However, it has a nice location and is usually in good condition and is a relative bargain if you live in North County and want to play a course close to home.
925 San Pasqual Road
Escondido, CA 92025
Chula Vista Golf Course is yet another layout in a river valley. It's a solid, old school course designed by golf legend Billy Casper—flat and with many trees, but not a lot of variation. Sometimes its condition is on the rough side, but for the price, you get a solid experience.
With the onshore wind blowing through the river valley in the afternoon, the back nine can seem a lot longer than expected. Rates for 18 holes are not bad and are even cheaper for Chula Vista residents.
4475 Bonita Road
Mission Trails is neither the best nor the worst golf course around, but makes the list because of its value, which includes some drawbacks. Some of the holes are just strange with how they're laid out and the front nine are some of the quirkiest around. The back nine stretch out in a bit more traditional way.
7380 Golfcrest Place
San Diego, CA 92119
Keep in mind that rates change, and tee times during normal hours may differ from off-hours. If you're willing to get up early for a twilight tee time, you can save even more.
This article was edited by Gina Tarnacki.