MONTEREY, Calif. -- If you're an avid golfer, playing Pebble Beach Golf Links is probably at the top of your bucket list, but it's hardly the only option on the Monterey Peninsula, which is located just a couple of hours south of San Francisco on the Northern California coast.
What may surprise you is that not only are there are other great options around Pebble Beach, but many of them are fairly affordable. In fact, I was recently talking to a flight attendant who told me he looks for shifts to nearby San Jose (as well as Monterey) just so he can play the courses on and around the Peninsula, and he books all of his tee times online, playing many of these courses for well under $100. That's far less than what you would pay to play Pebble Beach ($495 green fee), even without the mandatory two-night hotel stay.
One of my favorites is the 36-hole combination of Black Horse & Bayonet, which underwent a mass renovation by one of my favorite architects, Gene Bates, a couple of years ago. These two former military courses, located in Seaside, rank among the best in the country with their challenging bunkers, greens, rolling terrain and cleared out views of the Pacific. Bayonet, by the way, hosts the 2012 PGA Professional National Championship and has staged several U.S. qualifiers. You could get a tee time there early this week for under $60 online.
If you're looking to experience one of the courses that used to be in the AT&T Pebble Beach rotation, you might want to consider Poppy Hills, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. While there aren't ocean views, conditioning and scenery are top-notch and you can book a tee time right at $100. Or you check out Del Monte Golf Course, perhaps the least known course at Pebble Beach resort and the most affordable. This Charles Maud design dates back to 1897, making it the oldest continual operating course. It's also one of the host courses for the Nature Valley First Tee Open on the Champions Tour.
The best deal in golf anywhere, though, might be Pacific Grove Golf Links. It's designed by Jack Neville, the same guy who did Pebble Beach, but it costs a fraction of the price. Dubbed the 'Poor Man's Pebble Beach,' there are no cliffs or incredible ocean crossings, but pretty much the entire back nine is on the Pacific, and you can play it for far less than $100, especially during twilight.
Another one I love is Laguna Seca Golf Ranch, which is in the heart of Monterey-Salinas corridor. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the course is only 6,200 yards, but I promise you won't get bored with its rolling hills, elevated tees and bargain tee times online.
And finally, the Carmel Valley also has some nice choices. Up at the Carmel Valley Ranch Resort is a terrific Pete Dye design, bordered by vineyards, hills and some interesting water hazards. And Rancho Canada has 36 holes on the Carmel River. Both also tend to offer warmer and sunnier weather than the courses on the coast, which means you might be able to trade the slacks and sweaters for shorts and shirt sleeves, and you won't break the bank doing it.