For most of us, Pebble Beach Golf Links is a round of golf that comes once in a lifetime -- if we're lucky. But beyond Pebble and its infamous $495 green fee, California's Monterey Peninsula offers plenty of other suitable golf experiences with a fraction of the green fee.
So in that spirit, we've gone to GolfNow.com's user ratings, launched last fall, to select the Bay Area's top five golf courses as rated by golfers themselves.
While the major publications have panelists with a set criteria on how to rate a golf course, the GolfNow ratings put the regular golfer in control of what's important to their experience. Some may value conditions more than design, while others may highlight a facility's service. Also, the vastmajority of these reviews come from verified GolfNow purchasers who are rating the experience based on the exact dollar amount they paid for the round.
So here they are, the Top 5 golf courses in Monterey and the greater San Francisco Bay Area as rated by GolfNow users*:
1. Bayonet & Black Horse (4.6/5.0): 36-hole Bayonet & Black Horse makes for the GolfNow's top-rated facility between San Francisco and Monterey. The word on this gem minutes from Pebble Beach is certainly out, because it's also the most frequently rated facility as well. Reading the many reviews, the common theme is that both Bayonet and Blackhorse are challenging yet magnificently conditioned, especially considering green fees are a fraction of the Pebble Beach resort courses nearby.
'The revisions and upgrades that have been done in recent years make these courses a must play when visiting the Monterey area,' wrote Bob Anderson, a 12.2 handicap from El Dorado Hills. 'They are always immaculately groomed...You are treated as if you are playing a private country club.'
2. The Chardonnay Golf Club (4.46/5.0): In Napa, golfers are toasting Chardonnay for its peaceful setting surrounded by lush hillsides and vineyards. Stellar course conditions and the fact this course is usually not too crowded are also lauded frequently by GolfNow raters. With tee times currently available under $50, it's a big-time steal northeast of the Bay Area.
T-3. Cinnabar Hills Golf Club (4.42/5.0): Raters love how close this scenic and quiet course is from the San Jose area in the South Bay. Opened in 1998, 27-hole Cinnabar Hills has become a local favorite for scenic mountain views and fast, bent grass greens to go with the John Harbottle III design. Raters also call it one of the area's best values (Tee times: $40-70).
T-3. Salinas Golf & Country Club (4.42/5.0): Historic Salinas, which opened in 1925, recently opened up some tee times for outside play, and the gesture has certainly been appreciated amongst the public. The course has shot into the 4th slot in the region. Golfers appear to love the old country club charm to go along with supremely friendly, member-worthy service a few minutes north of the Monterey Peninsula.
5. The Ranch Golf Club (4.35/5.0): GolfNow raters warn this San Jose-area course is no slouch (with a slope of 150 off the back tees), but that doesn't mean you can't have a good time here, especially with mountain scenery this good. Just be sure to practice your sidehill lies...
*Ratings based on results 9/20/2012-1/31/2013. Facilities in this market need a minimum of 12 ratings to qualify. 69 Bay Area were eligible for the rankings on the cutoff date.