There are more than 90 golf courses in San Diego County, but a particular quartet has set themselves apart in terms of course quality, service and other amenities. They comprise the truly elite golf courses in the sun-splashed mecca for the sport. Whether you are travelling to this sunny corner of the world for business or pleasure, a round of golf on one (or all?) of these legendary links will make for a memorable trip.

So let’s take a closer look at San Diego’s Big Four, see what makes them special and then give you a taste of the challenge at each with a video profile of their toughest hole, complete with tips from the course pro for how to play it.

 

The Grand Del Mar

The Grand is elite resort golf at its best in San Diego and goes from good to great to grand as the course and challenge progresses. The back nine in particular features a pleasant progression with elevated tees and scenic views before you come to the spectacular 17/18 closing combo. After 17, which is the toughest par 3 in San Diego, you face an uphill par 4 with a creek carry to a green with a gorgeous waterfall backdrop. Caddies can show you the way at The Grand, but your golf game needs to deliver the rest to complete the experience.

 

Featured Course Facts

242 – The yardage from the back tees of the par 3 17th.

195 – Average distance of the two par 3s on the back.

6 – Number of sets of tees used.

1 – The resort’s ranking by Trip Advisor among luxury hotels in California.

 

Surviving the Toughest Hole

Course head professional Shawn Cox likens the long par 3 17th to the PGA’s Tour famed No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass – and it’s easy to see why. Water looms on the left and with a right-to-left wind, it makes going for the green a bold play. But you can play it somewhat safe and still score.

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Aviara Golf Club

The only Arnold Palmer design in San Diego, this Carlsbad course is a botanical beauty where lush landscape, spectacular water features and a lagoon-side location provide an unforgettable setting for one-of-a-kind golf in San Diego. As the host of the LPGA’s Kia Classic, you’ll face the same challenges as the pros, including oversized greens that put an even higher premium on putting than usual. The playing highlights include the best set of par 3s in San Diego and a finishing hole that has been rated as the toughest in the county.

 

Featured Course Facts

1 – Miles from the Pacific Ocean to the course. You can’t see the ocean, but you certainly feel the ocean breezes, particularly on holes No. 1 and No. 18, both played directly toward it.

3 – The number of the signature hole, a stunning short par 3 surrounded by two streams and a pond. Three is also the number of par 3s at Aviara played over water.

100 feet – The length of the immense 16th green from front to back.

585/568 – The distance from back and blues of No. 17, the course’s longest par 5.

443/413 – The distance No. 18 plays from the back and blue tees, not factoring in wind.

 

Surviving the Toughest Hole

The long par 4 18th provides a tough closing test. With water looming along the right side, finding the fairway near the bunker on the left is the first priority. Then likely comes a mid-iron approach where the wind likes to push your ball right, bringing the water into play again. Favor the left side on this demanding shot and you’ll hopefully have a putt for birdie or a short recovery to play for par.

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Torrey Pines (South Course)

Tiger Woods’ epic playoff victory at the 2008 U.S. Open made Torrey Pines hallowed golf ground. Golfers play the legendary course to walk in the footsteps of history and bask in the breathtaking ocean-side views. There are two courses at Torrey, but the South is the host of the annual PGA event and the 2021 U.S. Open. It also ranks routinely as among the toughest courses in the U.S. Enjoy the experience but don’t get too attached to your scorecard your first time playing Torrey Pines.

 

Featured Course Facts

3 – Hole number of “The Postcard,” likely the most famous hole in San Diego. This downhill par 3 faces La Jolla beyond the ocean and its scenic backdrop is among the best views in golf anywhere.

12 – Hole number of the Pacific Ocean-facing par 4 chosen for the book, “The World’s 100 Greatest Golf Holes.”

15 – Distance in feet of the iconic birdie putt Tiger made in 2008 on No. 18 to force the playoff.

17 – Most recent ranking for Torrey in Golf Digest among the toughest courses in the U.S.

11/12/13 – Corresponding hole numbers for a long par 3, demanding par 4 and an uphill par 5 that comprise possibly the toughest stretch of holes in San Diego.

300 – Roughly the number of days paragliders are aloft, providing yet another defining view at Torrey Pines.

 

Surviving the Toughest Hole

The par 4 4th is really a par 5 in disguise. Playing nearly 500 yards to a narrow fairway that feels like trying to land on a bowling lane from the tee, finding the fairway is tough but greatly preferred to the bunker on the right or the rough. You’re likely looking at hitting 3 wood or hybrid to get home in two, but be happy with a short chip and putt for par if you can get it.

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Maderas Golf Club

Maderas and Torrey Pines are the two courses in San Diego rated top 100 by Golf Digest – yet they are two very different golf experiences. Set in a mountain/desert scape, Maderas features rolling terrain and dramatic elevation changes that challenge you from tee to green. Maderas boasts the best set of par 5s in San Diego, including two – Nos. 14 and 18 – on the back nine that compete for signature hole status. Waterfalls, ponds, streams and wildflowers provide a serene setting for a unique San Diego golf experience.

 

Featured Course Facts

2013 – The year Maderas was first awarded Golf Digest Top 100 status.

20 – Maderas’ rating by Golf Advisor among top U.S. courses.

4 – Number of GolfBoards available for rent which provide a unique way to experience the course, called “surfing the Earth.”

14/15/16 – Hole number combination comprising a par 5, par 3 and par 4 that provide the peak challenge.

50 – Roughly the number of bird species that make a home at Maderas, which is under consideration for Audubon Society status.

 

Surviving the Toughest Hole

While long from the tee at 526 yards from the member and blue tees, the challenge of the par 5 14th only increases as you get closer to the green. A canyon carry on your third shot is the most nervous shot on the entire course as elevation and wind make judging distance difficult. As a rule take one more club and sometimes two as you’ll possibly catch a break going long that you’ll never get by coming up short.