San Diego is muni golf gold

When people think about muni golf in San Diego, Torrey Pines is the first thing that comes to mind. Rightfully so, because Torrey is golfing grandeur. It hosts the PGA Tour annually, it will be a majestic backdrop for the 2021 U.S. Open, and it’s where Tiger Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open in legendary fashion.

It carries the prestige of a Riviera or Cypress Point with one major difference: Everyone can play it.

Torrey is perhaps the most accessible course on the PGA Tour, both during the Farmers Insurance Open and otherwise. The lit driving range is open to the public seven days a week (with Monday afternoon maintenance being the only exception). At virtually any time, golfers can walk up, purchase balls from an automatic dispenser and get to work.

“Torrey Pines is one of the most attractive golf destinations not just in California, but the entire country,” says Joe DeBock, the course’s head professional. “We have golfers travel from all over to play our course, but local golfers appreciate the true municipality of Torrey Pines. They can walk up with their family or friends, spend time on the driving range, practice greens or even just enjoy the natural beauty.”

The legendary South

Torrey offers 36 holes of vibrant and challenging golf. The South Course, the longer and more difficult of the two, recently underwent a renovation done by the “Open Doctor” himself, Rees Jones. Alterations were made in preparation for the 2021 playing of our nation’s championship.

Torrey South annually ranks among toughest courses on Tour, but it still required a few tweaks to keep up with the power of the modern game. Two of the most noticeable recent changes came at the par-5 9th and the short par-4 10th. Jones added a cross bunker short of the ninth green to give players deciding to go for the green in two another obstacle to think about.

The 10th has historically been a driver-wedge endeavor – offering a nice break from the demands of distance on the other holes. This is no longer the case. Jones added a back tee in order to lengthen the hole and give golfers more seaside land to navigate off the tee.

The course can play maddeningly long, especially if you’re teeing it around tournament time when the rough is as luscious as it is penalizing. This writer recommends walking, not only to better take in the views, but you’ll have better luck finding your ball if you happen to wander into the deep stuff.

Don’t forget the North

You’ll want to take in the North Course, as well. It’s not as long or challenging as it more famous big brother, but the scenery is equally as breathtaking. The signature 15th is one of the best par-3s on the planet. Be sure to take photos, your Instagram followers will thank you.

San Diego offers a number of accommodation offerings, from the Gaslamp District in Downtown to quaint lodging in the elegant beach town of La Jolla. If you want to stay close, the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines runs parallel to the 18th hole on the South Course and delivers spectacular sunset views.  Another great option is the nearby Lodge at Torrey Pines, a beautiful boutique hotel that is known for impeccable service.  The beauty of these locations is that they offer traveling golfers the ability to secure a tee time at Torrey Pines prior to their trip as the tee shot is often quite full due to the course’s municipal status giving local golfers great rates on an iconic venue.

A pair of beautiful munis

If you’re in town for Torrey, be sure to do the full San Diego muni golf tour. Head south to Balboa Park Golf Course, also operated by the city municipality. The course celebrated its 100th birthday in 2019 and offers a fascinating history – including a course record of 63 held by Sam Snead. It’s a challenging and sometimes quirky layout, defined by small greens and some heavy elevation changes. It offers eyepopping views of the San Diego skyline and sits adjacent to the world-famous Balboa Park.

When you’re done there, pop north to Oceanside to take in the Goat Hill experience. Formerly operated by the municipality, it’s now under the watchful eye of golf industry icon John Ashworth – co-founder of the cult apparel brand Linksoul who is famously known for the creation of his iconic namesake brand Ashworth.

Presenting The Goat

Like the brand, which focuses on golf’s ability to bring people together in an inspiring space and quite literally link souls, The Goat, as it is affectionately known, is a departure from the norm. The pro shop and 19th hole are one-in-the-same. You can always find locals enjoying a craft beer in the chill outdoor seating area. Golfers can play in flip-flops and board shorts if they so choose – or no shoes at all. Walking is encouraged and everyone is welcome, including dogs.

The unique 18-hole layout lives up to its name, as there are plenty of hills to navigate across the 4,454 yards. There’s a three-hole golf park that’s free for kids and a downhill range that’s never empty. It’s a come as you are golf adventure that embraces ideals found at the root of the game. Togetherness and a shared experience revolving around our journey with golf.

While the conditions don’t quite match the manicured presentation of Torrey, Balboa Park and Goat Hill are each special in their own way. They make nice (and affordable) complements to a San Diego golf trip, and they’re courses you’ll want to check off your list.

A mesmerizing walk

If you’re looking for activities beyond the golf course, hiking trails just to the north of Torrey Pines Golf Course lead to secluded and beautiful beaches. The famous glider port is adjacent to the 12th hole on the South Course and offers an airborne adventure you won’t soon forget.