In a word: location. Alister MacKenzie’s organic use of the Monterey Peninsula’s coastal dunes has three jaw-dropping oceanside holes. The par-three 16th is one of golf’s most fearsome holes, 233 yards over crashing waves to a smallish green. Lesser mortals lay up, a crime against the game.
A mile from Cypress sits the nation’s most celebrated public course. Between nine holes on the oceanside bluffs and the un-humble homes adjacent to its broad fairways, Pebble is a visual stunner. History? Five U.S. Opens including Tiger’s record-setting 15-stroke win in 2000.
Tom Doak’s restoration of A.W. Tillinghast’s original design achieved the impossible: making a classic course seem even more timeless. No bells and whistles, just generous, pine-bordered fairways, gentle elevation changes, and strategic bunkering.
Sitting on a billion bucks of Beverly Hills real estate, this George Thomas/Billy Bell parkland layout is Southern California’s finest. Recipient of a faithful restoration effort by Gil Hanse, LA North will play host to this year’s Walker Cup and the 2023 U.S. Open. The rolling terrain feels like the middle of nowhere, but skyscraper views remind you that you’re a long way from Kansas.
Riviera is the twin sister of George Thomas’s LACC, and a testimony to clever strategic design and originality. The ubiquitous kikuyu grass will wreak havoc with your short game, and beware the donut bunker in the middle of the green on the 199-yard 6th hole. Site of this year’s U.S. Amateur.
A venerable 1924 Willie Watson design, it too was retooled—and lengthened by 400 yards—in 2009 with an eye on the 2012 Open. Pacific Ocean and city views distract from the task at hand: mastering the tight, sloping fairways and nearly unreadable greens.
Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s design unfolds with the concision and suspense of a well-made play. The twist is that the oceanside holes initiate the round, while the rest wend through shadowy Del Monte Forest, where twisty doglegs and arboreal hazards abound.
Alister MacKenzie favored this course over his other lovely “children” (Augusta National and Cypress Point) and even lived off the sixth fairway. Tom Doak has recently restored the bunkering to the Good Doctor’s standards. Don’t be fooled by the 6,500-yard length: exacting approach shots and speedy greens will keep you on your toes.
Tom Fazio’s design sits in the midst of the 20,000-acre Santa Lucia Preserve, home to wild turkeys, bobcats, and boar. Deep bunkers and impossibly thick wild grasses can make for a long day, but one easily offset by the unrivaled natural beauty of the terrain.
Nobody outside of SoCal has heard of this William P. Bell parkland design, except for USGA qualifiers who rarely break par at this ultra-demanding course. Greens are notoriously speedy and undulating, and the scalloped bunkers are as deep and dark as your worst nightmare.