Orange County's Best Golf Courses

June 14, 2019

There are few places in the world nicer than Orange County, California. The Pacific lined stretch from Huntington Beach down through Dana Point is scenic. Filled with world-class restaurants and shopping, it’s bordered by wide, soft-sand Southern California Beaches. When people say they’re traveling to Newport, they typically mean this heavenly belt of Orange County, the geographic center of which is Newport Beach.

Not only is the area gorgeous and brimming with culture and activity, but the golf here is simply impeccable. While courses are sprawled throughout the vast 791-square-mile county, it’s the links in the southern region that everyone raves about. There are courses along the water with ocean-resort ambience and inland courses with a tranquil, rural farm feeling just miles from the coast. There are enough world-class courses in the area to fill your next golf vacation—or two.

Through the 1980s and early 1990s, the area experienced a boom of upscale, daily-fee courses. Twenty years later, many of these courses have matured nicely into beautiful and challenging layouts for all skill levels. Plus, they’ve been well-maintained all along: The golf facilities do everything they can to keep golfers coming back. And the draw is difficult to resist. Add in the fact that the average Newport Beach temperature is 68 degrees year-round and you quickly realize you have the perfect golf climate, no matter when you want to play.

Pelican Hill is the area’s crown jewel, but there are other outstanding courses in the area, too. Here, we detail three of the finest courses in Orange County to entice you toward your next golf getaway. We’ll give you the lay of the land, but if you want to know which way the greens break, you just have to find out for yourself.

Monarch Beach Golf Links: This 6,601-yard, par-70 gem in Dana Point—just south of Newport and Laguna beaches—is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design modeled after a typical Scottish links-style course. Its quick, small, rolling greens and tight fairways are challenging, no doubt, and the sloping rough gets thick, which can balloon some scores.

That said, the course is a destination of sheer beauty. Two holes play right down to the ocean, but all 18 have some view of the Pacific. And there’s a perpetual breeze that somehow brings alive the entire experience. Back in 2001 and 2002, Monarch Beach hosted the Hyundai Team Matches with top players from the PGA, LPGA, and Senior PGA tours. That’s when Tom Watson compared the greens to Augusta National’s. Yep, they’re that good.

Pace of play is emphasized here, so you will likely see marshals driving about during the course of a round to keep this moving. If the course and its jaw-dropping, sweeping ocean views aren’t enough of an attraction, then consider that the 1,200-square-foot pro shop has been named among America’s Top 100. The grand clubhouse is also a perfect place to watch a post-round sunset while enjoying a drink. Best of all, the course’s friendly staffers treat everyone like they’re members for a day.

Strawberry Farms Golf Club: While the entire Newport Beach area can sometimes feel like a bustling big city, there are several nearby escapes for golfers. Locals love this par-71, 6,700-yard, Jim Lipe design in Irvine, just inland over the hills from Newport Coast. Located in peaceful farm country—complete with big red barn—this course truly feels like another part of the country. Set amid canyons and wetlands, the rural-style course affords golfers picturesque views across a 35-acre reservoir on the back nine, plus massive undulating greens throughout that are enveloped by wildlife and natural vegetation.

Surrounding hillsides are replete with large boulders and natural waterfalls. The course itself is player-friendly, with no overbearing hills or drastic doglegs to combat. Five holes on the back nine play alongside the lake. Chances are you’ll score well as the course plays with a tendency of forgiveness. And it’s perpetually in good shape.

The facility was developed by Doug DeCinces, a former California Angels infielder. When opening the venue in 1997, he insisted that it house a good restaurant. And in this case, he hit a home run. The Farmhouse Grill serves some of the best breakfast burritos and burgers in town and is frequented by non-golfers for breakfast and lunch.

Oak Creek Golf Club: Tom Fazio-designed courses have a reputation for being forgiving to golfers of all skill levels. Balls hitting the edge of the fairway seem to roll back toward the center. Those straying into the rough never become completely buried. And putts tend to roll truly, without surprise breaks.

All of that is encompassed in this par-71, 6,834-yard Irvine course that meanders around a former orange grove with rolling, well-manicured fairways, bull nosed bunkers, guarded greens, and serene lakes. Since the venue opened in 1996, the dynamic trees and flora have matured with such grace that the course feels like it has been around for decades. It’s a true sanctuary that was built with environmental sensitivity and preserves a trace of the past— exhibited by the fact that you never see a house nor a road from any hole. You may, however, catch an owl, hawk, egret or heron, thanks to Oak Creek’s participation in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses.

The first few holes can deceive you into thinking you’re bound for a personal best, but hang on as the layout gets increasingly more difficult throughout the round. The state-of-the-art practice facility–which has been rated by local publications as the finest in the county–features 65 natural turf tees, a nine-acre all terrain landing area, two practice greens, and a large practice bunker. There’s also a club-fitting company permanently housed at one end of the range. Truly … what more do you need?