So you want to play golf, but you don’t think you can afford it—at least not on anything more elaborate than a creaky old municipal course where golfers outnumber trees?
You’re probably right: Who in this crazy world can afford anywhere from $75 to $150 to play one of Orange County’s premiere public courses? Not anyone we associate with.
But that doesn’t mean that even the most exorbitantly priced public courses can’t be played relatively cheaply.
Your first step in finding cheap golf at a great course is to visit an online tee-time service, such as www.click4teetimes.com. When courses look at their reservation sheets and see open times, they contact this website, which posts them—at substantial savings for you. If you’re flexible with the time when you want to tee off and where you want to play, you can find next-day times at greatly reduced prices at a lot of very good, pricey courses.
The next step in finding cheap golf is to play later in the day. Every course realizes demand is lower after noon, and all offer some kind of reduced rates in the afternoon. Twilight rates usually kick in around noon or 2 p.m., with super-twilight starting at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. And some even offer beat-the-sun specials, which drastically reduce the strain on your pocketbook.
Here’s an example of how much you can save: Coyote Hills Golf Course (www.coyotehillsgc.com) in Fullerton is what those in the industry call a high-end daily-fee golf course. Back in the late 1980s, Orange County developers pioneered this concept, basically creating public courses that were far better maintained and laid-out than impacted municipal courses, but with the kinds of amenities—like well-appointed clubhouses, great service and occasional caddy service—that were the purview of elite country clubs. But with this “country club for a day” experience came outrageous green fees.
On Saturday and Sunday, the pleasure of playing Coyote Hills (a track PGA Tour star Payne Stewart helped design shortly before his shocking death in 1999) sets you back $125. Tee it up after 3 p.m., and it’s a far-more-reasonable $49. The same with another gorgeous track: Strawberry Farms Golf Club (www.strawberryfarmsgolf.com) in Irvine. During the week, rates are $110, but super-twilight at 4:30 p.m. chops it down to $50. You may not get in a full 18, but at least you’ll have enough spare cabbage for a couple of pops at the 19th hole.
The back nine at Tijeras Creek Golf Club (www.tijerascreek.com) in Rancho Santa Margarita might be the most scenic nine holes in the county not located by the ocean, as it winds through groves of old-growth sycamore and oak trees. Green fees are $80 before noon during the week but drop to $60 after noon and $45 after 4 p.m.
And what’ll it cost at Orange County’s most prestigious golf track, the Resort at Pelican Hill (www.pelicanhill.com), the 36-hole Tom Fazio-designed gem overlooking the Pacific Ocean? Well, normal green fees are an astounding $250 to $270, and even if you wait until 3:30 p.m., it’s still ridiculously expensive at $140. But a sunset rate of $50 kicks in at 5:30 p.m. You’ll be lucky to get in 12 holes, but you’re playing one of the most beautiful courses in the state at the most beautiful time of the day.
If you do want a prime tee time in the morning but can’t shell out the ducats, consider these quite-affordable, well-maintained public tracks: San Juan Hills Golf Club (www.sanjuanhillsgolf.com) might be the best bargain in Orange County, as it’s an excellent course in the foothills of San Juan Capistrano. Green fees max out at $75 on weekends, including cart, but are as low as $15 on weekdays if you choose to walk.
Anaheim Hills Golf Course (www.playanaheimgolf.com) isn’t the county’s most challenging or scenic municipal-owned course (check out Black Gold in Yorba Linda for that), but it’s definitely second in both departments. Green fees are $48 Monday through Thursday at peak times.
Los Serranos Country Club (www.losserranoscountryclub.com) is like taking a 30-year step back in time. It’s a family-run course (tennis legend Jack Kramer built the course, and his sons still run it) that features two great layouts for the price: $49 and $52 during the week, and $69 and $72 on weekends. After 3 p.m., rates plummet to $38, and after 5 p.m. you can race the sun for $19.
If you don’t mind a short drive, check out these out-of-county experiences: Goose Creek Golf Club (www.golfgoosecreek.com) in Mira Loma is a beautifully laid-out, links-style track that would easily cost double if located a few miles to the west. Green fees are $37 during the week, $47 on Friday and $63 on weekends (carts are $12 extra).
Los Verdes Golf Course (just type the name in your search engine; it’s managed by American Golf and doesn’t have its own site) in Rancho Palos Verdes offers ocean views on half of its holes, and it’s ridiculously affordable: $25 on weekdays and $33 on weekends (carts are $25 extra). But getting one is tough, since this is one of the most heavily played courses in the country. Reservations are taken only seven days in advance, so you want to get up before dawn and call for the next week (the course is also known for people who actually sleep in their cars overnight in order to be first to land a prime tee time seven days later).
This article appeared in print as “The Best Fore Less: Here are your links to great cheap tee times in OC and beyond.”