Ask almost any golfer what the ideal climate is for playing golf, and the answer almost always describes the year-round weather in San Diego.
Averaging just 10 inches of rain a year with daytime high temperatures usually in the 60s and 70s, it's like playing in air conditioning. Add that to the fact that there are close to 100 golf courses in San Diego, and it just makes sense to book a tee time and travel to San Diego for a golf vacation.
But like any prime destination, San Diego can be expensive. Many of the premium courses command green fees in the $200 range, and the resorts can run a couple of hundred dollars or more a night as well. But fear not; San Diego can be had on a budget. While there are plenty of premium golf resorts, there are also some hidden gems that may or may not have the conditioning of the high-dollar tracks, but they often make up for it in location and history -- and they are good values.
Look to San Diego's municipal golf courses
When you think municipal golf in San Diego, the first place that comes to mind, of course, is Torrey Pines. The 36-hole venue, which was renovated by Rees Jones, has hosted the U.S. Open (the South Course) as well as a PGA Tour event. These days, if you're an out-of-towner, though, you can expect to pay top dollar to play it, while local residents can still play the North and South courses for a song, relatively speaking.
Torrey Pines, however, isn't the only municipal game in town. And while the system's other two courses can't compare to Torrey Pines, they do have plenty of charm.
For example, the 18-hole Balboa Park Golf Course is less than $50 for nonresidents. And while it isn't exactly long at just less than 6,300 yards, it is a classic William Bell layout in the heart of the city with great views of the downtown skyline. And it's just minutes from the convention center and Gaslamp District. Constructed in 1921, the course, as you might expect, rewards accuracy and patience.
City-operated Mission Bay Golf Course and Practice Center has only an 18-hole executive course, but its claim to fame will draw many visitors. The Ted Robinson design, which opened in the late 1950s, is where Tiger Woods grew up playing golf. The city also owns five other golf courses such as Mission Trails Golf Course and Presidio Hills Golf Course, which are operated by private companies and are fairly affordable.
Perhaps one of the best values in the San Diego area is another municipal golf course, Coronado Golf Course, which sits right on the San Diego Harbor. Owned and operated by the city of Coronado, you can play it at twilight for as little as $15, with regular green fees topping out at $35 on the weekend.
Stay and play at Barona Resort & Casino
While budget golf certainly has its appeal, finding good value is also an attractive option. One golf destination that might hold appeal for travelers is Barona Resort & Casino, located just outside of San Diego. While rack rates at Barona Creek Golf Club can be as high as $160, it can usually be played for considerably less, especially if you're staying at the hotel or if you're a high roller. At more than 7,000 yards, this very well-maintained golf course has more than 100 bunkers.
Salt Creek Golf Club, which used to be known as the Auld Course, is one of the better public values in the area. The only links-style golf course in San Diego, this Cary Bickler/John Cook design has generous fairways, rolling hills, three lakes, 78 bunkers and acres of lush wetlands as well as distant views of the Pacific Ocean. Also located in Chula Vista, Salt Creek's dynamic pricing means there are some real bargains during the week, although the regular green fees peak at $69 for nonresidents. The price does include rental cart.
More San Diego golf options
Another good option is Encinitas Ranch Golf Course, which also overlooks the Pacific Ocean but doesn't charge an arm and a leg for the view. For $45 to $85, Encinitas Ranch Golf Course features excellent conditions with wider fairways on the front and a little tighter layout on the back. It also has plenty of elevated tees and dramatic elevation changes.
Other quality courses with reasonable rates include Arrowood Golf Course in Oceanside, Twin Oaks Golf Course in San Marcos, and Cottonwood Golf Club in El Cajon.
Arrowood Golf Course is a Ted Robinson design that's always in excellent shape and can be played for less than $100. Twin Oaks Golf Course is also a Robinson layout that measures just more than 6,500 yards. And Cottonwood Golf Club has two 18-hole courses that are very reasonably priced and considered among the better bargains in the area. Both courses were designed by O.W. Moorman and A.C. Sears. The Lakes Course is a tight 6,248-yard par 71, while the Ivanhoe Course stretches out to more than 6,800 yards. Green fees peak at $60.