By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor
PACIFIC GROVE GOLF LINKS, Pacific Grove, Calif.
Locals call this 82-year-old muni the "poor man's Pebble Beach" for good reason. Instead of Pebble's $500 green fees, hoofing it weekdays at the walkable layout is $46, $52 on weekends and $25 for twilight. You get two distinct nines: a passable parklander to open, followed by a stirring seaside loop, complete with huge sand dunes, ocean views, coastal breezes and a lighthouse. My favorite is the 513-yard, par-5 12th, which boomerangs to the right around dunes. It's reachable in two, but a rumpled fairway, stern crosswinds and the ocean to the left complicate matters.
WAILUA MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE, Kauai, Hawaii
Three times the host venue for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, this busy muni doesn't boast the most sophisticated design, yet it proved a worthy test on each occasion. Gusts from the adjacent Pacific, trees that bracket many fairways, and a healthy 6,991 yards from the tips all add up to a serious scoring challenge for any level. What truly elevates Wailua are its wondrous ocean vistas and affordable price tag. It's just $48 for nonresidents to walk during the week, and half that for twilight play. Local seniors and juniors pay less than 10 bucks, all to tackle holes such as the 456-yard, par-4 second, the Pacific churning along the left side; and a pair of into-the-wind, well-bunkered par 3s, the 14th and 17th, both of which face the ocean.
HIGHLAND LINKS GOLF COURSE, Truro, Mass.
This funky 2,753-yard nine-holer on Cape Cod has so many delightful quirks it makes Prestwick look tame. Summer rates will set you back only $35, another $9 to ride. It's a small price to pay for fescue-framed holes that dip into beach canyons. Unforgettable attractions abound. The par-5 second sports a medieval granite tower honoring nineteenth-century singer Jenny Lind. And the par-3 ninth is backdropped by Cape Cod Lighthouse; dating to 1767, it's the oldest lighthouse on the Cape.
LOS VERDES GOLF COURSE, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
A few years back I lambasted this superbly situated muni for my nearly four-hour round -- on the front nine! Since then, the pace remains leisurely but not as glacial. No wonder it's packed; green fees are under $50 every day, even if you're in a cart, with prime-time walkers during the week paying $27 for a course that's a half-hour from LAX. Los Verdes' 6,617 breezy yards prove a sufficient challenge, especially the bluff-top, 441-yard, par-4 fourth. That hole, along with many others, offers sensational views of the Pacific Ocean. Hey, everyone deserves a second chance, right?
PALM BEACH PAR-3 GOLF COURSE, Palm Beach, Fla.
In 2009, Raymond Floyd supersized this 1961 Dick Wilson/Joe Lee 18-hole par-3 charmer, making it tougher and more dramatic. As for sheer drama, nature had already taken care of that. Long a popular LPGA Pro-Am venue, nearly half of Palm Beach's holes hug the Atlantic Ocean, while the other half wind along the Intracoastal Waterway. It's a blur of sand, water and wind, but with seasonal prices as low as $20 -- and with Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers Kellie Stenzel and Scott Munroe on-site -- Palm Beach Par-3 belongs on your must-play list.