Local view: Golf in Southern Cal

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By Madison Bellante

Of the 20 years I’ve played golf, 18 have been on Southern California grass—in Los Angeles, to be precise. I played a lot of unforgettable courses as a Division 1 athlete in the Midwest, golfing in South Carolina, all over Florida and elsewhere.

But there’s something special about California—and no, it’s not the celebrity sightings. Those are regular but they don’t make the West Coast game great. Nor is it the “star” layouts. It’s something else, and the best way to “get it” is to play here. Of course, if you get a member invite to play Riviera or Bel-Air Country Club, drop everything and go. But if you’re planning a vacation in the Golden State I would give the overpriced likes of Pebble Beach Resort a complete miss. You genuinely don’t need hundreds of dollars to play stunning, quality golf out West—unless you really want to, and then go for it. We’re “live and let live” out here.

Otherwise, let me take a trip down memory lane and show you 10 of my favorite SoCal tracks, all of which challenge your game, only one of which will hurt your wallet. Get your sunglasses on and lets go…

Torrey Pines, South Course (as pictured above)

This is where I spent my first 72 hours as a married woman. My husband and I put all our eggs in this basket by staying at the lodge and playing the famous South Course, and it was well worth it. Its about two hours away from Los Angeles, and a little pricier than everything else on this list (unless you’re a San Diego resident,) but it really is a treat. I got to play a “bucket list course,” but not only that, it’s the home to a major (2008 US Open.) Side note: Even if you can’t stay at the lodge, be sure to make a reservation at A.R. Valentien—the most contemporary and delicious restaurant I’ve ever been to.
Greens fees average: $200

Olivas Links Golf Course

Is it 100˚F in LA? Cruise down the 101 to the city of Ventura where you’ll find a cool 75˚ on this links-style course. It’s called Olivas Links for a reason: plenty of sand dunes, flat and almost no trees—just a whole lot of brush and fox-tails. A majority of my time in junior college was spent practicing and playing tournaments here. You best have your putter under control—I was on in regulation all the time… and made three putts all the time. When it’s time to celebrate (or forget) your round, the Ventura Harbor is just down the street for you to enjoy some marina life.
Greens fees average: $50

Sterling Hills Golf Course

I have only played here once, but I cannot wait to play it again. You know it’s a good course when you play terribly but still have an amazing day of golf—which definitely happened to me. I left very impressed by architects Robert Muir Graves and Damian Pascuzzo, because the course design was so memorable and every hole was a joy in its own unique way. It makes sense: Graves and Pascuzzo have a combined total of over 80 course designs under their belts.
Greens fees average: $41

Wilson/Harding Golf Course

When I got my driver’s license and spent summers selling programs at the Hollywood Bowl, I would come here and play before work. This course is perfect for one of those “tourist trap” days. Grab coffee at Alfred Coffee for a true “Hollywood” aesthetic, play Wilson or Harding, then head next door to the Griffith Observatory (or see a show at the Bowl). It’s a smooth track, always in great condition, and, as it was established in 1915, full of history. Fun Fact: The architect also developed well known high-end courses such as Los Angeles CC, Riviera, Bel-Air, and Ojai Valley Inn.
Greens fees average: $35

Los Verdes Golf Club

This is your ultimate ocean-view LA golf experience on a budget. For a better understanding of its A+ location, Los Verdes is directly next door to Trump National. A tasty $120 difference. This is where I play when I have an itch to visit Redondo Beach—my hometown. A perfect beach day: wake up early, play Los Verdes and eat crab legs on the strand while watching the sunset.
Greens fees average: $30

De Bell Golf Course

Here’s another central LA course, tucked in the mountains of Burbank. I almost got lost the first time I played here, as it’s hidden in the windy roads of a residential neighborhood. De Bell is a classic tight layout that’s tree-lined and filled with deer. No need for long hitting as accuracy is your friend on this short 5,608-yard course (from the tips). De Bell is the place to go for a fun, quick round and time away from that city life. Not to mention it’s one of the best values in the area, with a twilight fee of $15 including a cart.
Greens fees average: $45

The Conejo Valley contains cities in both LA county and Ventura county—and it’s flush with golf. If you’re a real golf enthusiast, you have to make it out here for at least a few rounds. Here are just a few options I recommend:

Moorpark Country Club

This is a special place to me: I broke 80 here for the first time on my 17th birthday. I played golf here the day before my wedding, with my entire family. I got married here. You can tell I’m a big fan. It’s a blast, but you do have to be strategic at times in order to even stay in play. Wind is a regular here, and makes it an entirely different course—so be careful. In short, it’s a stunning facility with a fantastic 27-hole layout that’s in perfect condition all year round.
Greens fees average: $80

Tierra Rejada Golf Club (pictured above)

Talk about an underrated spot! I have played this course too many times to not break 80, but I never get that upset because it’s such a fun, gorgeous course to play. On every hole, Tierra offers stunning views of the Conejo Valley. It’s full of wildlife—my husband used to put his fishing pole in his bag and cast a few in-between shots (but shh… don’t tell!). This is where I learned to account uphill and downhill into my yardages, because you’ll have one or the other on almost every shot.
Greens fees average: $50

Rustic Canyon Golf Course

I have a very strong love/hate relationship with this course. I had my second hole-in-one and my first eagle here in one round, but I also had a 10 in that same round. This links course is tricky, but you are rewarded for excellent play. Rustic’s short game facility is one of the best in the area—my sand skills are all thanks to that practice bunker.
Greens fees average: $40

Simi Hills Golf Course (pictured above)

At first glance you may not think much, but I urge you to take a chance on this little public course in the heart of Simi Valley. I have been going to this course since I was two years old, when my dad worked in the pro shop. As I have played countless rounds of Twilight with my dad over the years, for me it has grown into so much more than a local club in a small town. The grounds crew keep it stunning year round—especially in June for the Simi City Championship, when the greens are smooth like butter. The layout is clean, with the ability to play safe, or take the risk for that reward. All I can say is that I’ve played here for 20 years, and I still keep coming back for more. Side Note: They have a BBQ set up on the weekends and the Tri-Tip sandwich is to die for.
Greens fees average: $49

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