Play these San Diego-area golf courses to get the most bang for your buck

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Most golfers who visit southern California expect to pay higher green fees, and there are certainly plenty of high-dollar options available. But there is affordable golf in the San Diego area; you just have to know where to look.

Encinitas Ranch Golf Course
There's plenty to like about Encinitas Ranch Golf Course, just north of San Diego.
Encinitas Ranch Golf CourseSalt Creek Golf ClubCarmel Mountain Ranch Country Club
If you go

And we're not talking dusty municipals, either. Some of them even have ocean views as well as top-name designers. Here, then, is a look at a half-dozen offerings that afford golfers the best bang for their buck. And although one of them is a pretty good hike from San Diego, most are within 30 minutes of the city.

Encinitas Ranch Golf Course: There aren't many California golf courses with views of the Pacific Ocean that you can play for less than $100, and there are some that cost more that don't approach the experience you get at Encinitas Ranch Golf Course, which is owned by the city of Encinitas.

Located just up the coast from the famed Torrey Pines Golf Course, Encinitas Ranch is just a couple hundred yards from the ocean, and many of the holes overlook ocean bluffs with great views of the Pacific.

Better than that, this Cary Bickler design is well conditioned and fun. Measuring just less than 6,600 yards, the golf course has plenty of elevation changes, dramatic par 3s, and a nice mix of par 4s and par 5s. Not overly difficult, the course features wide fairways (for the most part), five sets of tees, a friendly staff and a magnificent new 6,000-square-foot clubhouse that has a full-service grill, golf shop and fireplace patio with ocean views.

Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club: Great greens at a great price always make for a terrific combination, and Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club, which is located just 25 minutes from downtown San Diego, exceeds on both fronts.

The Ron Fream design, which plays just more than 6,600 yards from the back tees, features terrific bentgrass greens with slopes that will encourage you to stay below the hole. The course meanders through a real estate development, but it features nice mountain views, a good variety of holes and excellent service.

Opened in 1986, Carmel Mountain Ranch has hosted U.S. Open and other local qualifiers over the years. The club also features excellent practice facilities, club rentals, a well-stocked golf shop, restaurant and bar and banquet facilities.

Salt Creek Golf Club: Formerly known as The Auld Course, Salt Creek Golf Club has become a favorite among locals and visitors alike for its value and unique feel.

Designed by Cary Bickler and former PGA Tour player John Cook, the course has a Scottish links feel. Carved out of a protected natural habitat next to a state wildlife preserve, golfers who play this layout -- located about 20 minutes south of downtown San Diego in Chula Vista -- get mountain valley and Pacific Ocean views for double-digit green fees.

There are no homes on the course, which measures 6,889 yards from the tips. Fairways are generous and greens are large, making it a very player-friendly layout.

Rams Hill Golf Club: Borrego Springs isn't exactly easy to get to (about two hours from San Diego), but Rams Hill Golf Club is well worth the winding drive through the mountains. Originally designed as a private club, this terrific 2007 Tom Fazio design is open to the public and can be had for well less than $100.

What you will find is a championship mountain desert layout (measuring more than 7,200 yards) in excellent condition with one dramatic hole after another, including the par-5 finishing hole that winds around a large lake. The fairways and greens are both bentgrass, there are five sets of tees, and there's usually a little bit of wind to make things more interesting.

Carlton Oaks Country Club: Although Carlton Oaks Country Club has been around since 1958, the current Perry Dye design, located just outside of San Diego in Santee, Calif., dates back to 1989. Since then, the course has been improved, including changes in 2003 that lengthened it to 7,225 yards.

With the five sets of tees, there's a yardage for every level of player. Water comes into play on most of the holes with three lakes and two creeks that wind through the property. Like many Dye Design courses, you'll also find railroad ties, but more important, mature trees, rolling hills and plenty of well-designed holes at green fees that won't break the bank.

Oceanside Golf Course: At Oceanside Golf Course -- located on the outer edges of Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif. -- golfers will enjoy views of the hillsides of north county San Diego, feeling the cool breezes of the Pacific Ocean.

Designed by Richard Bickler, this 6,500-yard, par-72 layout is easily walkable and very affordable. Water or natural habitat comes into play on 14 holes, putting a premium on accurate tee shots. The golf course is fairly flat with a couple of notable exceptions, such as the short, narrow par-4 12th that plays to a very elevated green. From there, golfers get a spectacular view of the San Luis Rey Valley as they play the signature 13th hole.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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