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Golfers float above a course in a hot air balloon in the shape of a giant golfball
(James Yang / For The Times)

Looking for a tee time? Here are 9 pleasant public golf courses in L.A.

Los Angeles is an ideal place to golf. Not only does our perpetually sunny weather and proximity to nature make it pleasant to play outside but — thanks to golf course architects like William P. Bell, George C. Thomas Jr. and, more recently, Gil Hanse — the city is also home to some of the most aesthetically pleasing fairways and greens ever made. Prestigious tournaments and iconic pro players like Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer have graced these fairways for more than a century. The same with Hollywood icons like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

Unfortunately, many of those storied courses are private and can cost you upward of $250,000 for an initiation fee alone. I’m certainly not in the tax bracket for that, but I am an avid golfer who makes it to a course at least once or twice a week. (Don’t show this to my boss.)

As someone who was swept up in the wave of new golfers that arrived in summer 2020, I’ve spent the last four years playing all over this city and have golfed a round at every public course that Los Angeles has to offer. I’ve also had the privilege to play at a few of the famed country clubs in the city. (Just in case you’d like to peep my bona fides, my handicap is at a 13, and you can find me on the Golf Handicap Information Network.)

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Needless to say, I’m a bit obsessed. I also have strong opinions about where the best spots in the city are to hit the links.

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I’ve compiled a guide that looks beyond those elitist and at times discriminatory luxe golf courses and that turns the spotlight on L.A.’s great public courses. Given the recent public uproar over the booming black market of tee times, these spaces are more valuable to our community than ever.

These courses showcase the variety of options L.A. has to offer. In making my choices, I took into account course conditions, location, price, accessibility, staff, services, difficulty and — most important — vibes. However immeasurable, real golf heads can just feel a good spot when they get to the first tee.

There are certainly courses I’ve left off this list, some because they’re simply too far away for the average working Angeleno. But if you do venture outside the city, some of my personal nearby favorites are Rustic Canyon in Moorpark, Soule Park in Ojai and Rams Hill if you’re willing to make the trek to Borrego Springs. And within L.A. County, honorable mention goes to South L.A.’s Maggie Hathaway Golf Course and Chester Washington Golf Course for their efforts to expand the community with their underserved youth programs.

Officials with the city of Los Angeles approved a new measure to crack down on brokers selling reservations at public golf courses: a non-refundable deposit.

April 5, 2024

One last note: Even the most idyllic golf course can feel like the worst one when you’re hacking away in a bunker or waiting for the green to clear but my hope is that with each of these spots, even your worst-played game will at the very least be a welcome respite from the chaos of city life. And above all else, let’s all bring a level of respect to these courses and the people who play on them. If you’re bad, just play bad fast and be kind to everyone on the course so that we can continue to enjoy the best this city has to offer.

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A view of the Roosevelt public golf course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Roosevelt Municipal Golf Course

Griffith Park Golf Course
This is arguably my favorite golf course in Los Angeles, and it holds a very special place in my heart. Like many Angelenos first starting to golf, this is where I took my training wheels off.

Nestled across the street from the Greek Theatre, this nine-hole course was first opened in Griffith Park in 1927 but eventually moved to its current location in the 1960s. After a series of small renovations, the course underwent its biggest remodel in 2019, cementing it as one of the most enjoyable 9-hole courses in the city.

Between the affordable price ($18 on weekdays, $23 weekends), tee time availability and outstanding views of downtown and the Griffith Observatory, you couldn’t find a better deal in Los Angeles for a round of golf. The course is walking only, challenging enough for all skill levels, and it forces you to hit a variety of shots. I’ve probably played it more than 100 times and its charm has yet to fade.

The best times to play are weekdays early in the morning, so as to appreciate the serenity of Griffith Park, or late afternoon toward the end of the week, when you might get lucky and hear that night’s headliner at the Greek doing a sound check. Roosevelt — or Rosey, as I like to call it — does have the occasional Par 3 wait or inevitable Hole 6 tee box backup, but the whole round never feels too long. That being said, like many other courses, it’s inevitably slow on weekends. When you visit, tell my pal Charles at the pro shop I said hi.
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A view of the Wilson Harding public golf course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Wilson/Harding Golf Courses

Griffith Park Golf Course
Named after two former American presidents, Wilson and Harding Golf Courses have proved their rightful place in the pantheon of Los Angeles public golf for more than a century. This 36-hole track makes the most of its picturesque Griffith Park setting. I’ll take these two over any other public 18-hole golf course in L.A. County. Pressed to choose a favorite between the two, I’d pick Wilson for its perfect five-hole finishing stretch. The course is fun to play, and the conditions of fairways and greens are always solid. But it’s not without its challenges: The narrow fairways on certain holes require accurate tee shots, and if you miss the fairway you’ll be forced to make smart decisions. Still, you can rack up pars and birdies if you’re able to properly manage the course.

If you’re a real one (and able), you’ll walk the course with a push cart and experience all the wildlife it has to offer. I have an album on my iPhone solely dedicated to the coyotes I’ve encountered at both Wilson and Harding. The practice facilities are above average with a two-floor driving range that is excellent for spotting local L.A. celebrities. And with a renovated clubhouse bar/restaurant, you’ll be able to enjoy a cold beer and a surprisingly good brunch menu after your round.

But beware: Tee times aren’t the easiest to come by, especially on weekends.
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A view from the Los Feliz public gold course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Los Feliz 3-Par Golf Course

Atwater Village Golf Course
If the movie “Swingers” is considered a cult classic, you might as well throw the Los Feliz 3-Par in the same category. First, because this goofy course has a cameo in said movie. And second, because its simplistic charm and dive bar vibe have earned it a place in the hearts of Eastside golfers.

At the Los Feliz 3-Par, you need only three clubs: a putter, a wedge and an iron that maybe needs to go 140 yards max. (Most people I’ve seen on this course are usually carrying more tall boys than clubs.) On top of that, it costs a mere $9 to play the nine-hole round. The Los Feliz Par 3 is perfectly suited for beginners who want to build some confidence or players who want to golf a casual round and get away from the world for an hour or two. To quote Rick Paulas’ 2012 piece about the course, “it’s where people in the city whose main export is escapism come to escape.”

If you work up an appetite while doing so, you can grab a bite to eat at EAT, the aptly named cafe next door. Or check out the Morrison for a happy hour beer and burger. At the end of the day, you come to the Los Feliz Par 3 because there’s comfort in a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously — especially in a sport as traditionally snobby as golf.
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A view from the Encino Balboa public golf course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Encino/Balboa Golf Course

Sepulveda Basin Golf Course
A common question you’ll get about these two courses is… “which is better, Encino or Balboa?” And the answer is neither. This course could be considered the San Fernando Valley’s answer to Wilson/Harding because both of its 18-hole courses are par 72s, but they’re different in their own ways. Balboa is narrow and full of pesky trees, while Encino is slightly wider but oddly too long for the mid- to high-handicapper. Fairways and greens conditions are not the best, and it seems like the course is always either in disrepair or being aerated. And the pro shop and restaurant are all below average.

All that said, I played rounds here early on in my golf journey solely because there wasn’t anywhere else to book a tee time. Even though the Valley has many other options, this could be your best bet to get some precious practice hours in — the range and chipping area are especially good for that. At the beginning of one’s golf journey, sometimes there’s nothing better than an open tee time and a place where you can embarrass yourself in peace.
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A view of the Woodly Lakes public golf course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Woodley Lakes Golf Course

Sepulveda Basin Golf Course
Woodley Lakes is the city’s youngest golf course, and it definitely has a long way to go before leaving the kids table. Though it’s wide enough for beginners and long enough for more experienced golfers, it’s also relatively simple and flat. Outside of the giant flag stick on the Par 3 at 12, there aren’t many notable sights.

But what it lacks in personality, it makes up for in amenities. First, Woodley Lakes has the only public grass driving range in the area. That alone is cause for celebration. Second, its brand new sports bar, Best Ball, is truly one of one. It has a great selection of draft beers and shockingly good food (get the wings). This is one of the rare courses where you may be better off spending one hour practicing and the next three hours drinking and eating.
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A view of the Rancho Park public gold course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Rancho Park Golf Course

Cheviot Hills Golf Course
Rancho Park Golf Course is perpetually busy, which means it’s also one of the hardest to get a tee time at in L.A. That’s due in part to the prestige flowing through its greens and fairways. Built and designed by William P. Bell and William Johnson, Rancho opened on July 3, 1949, with an opening round played by Bob Hope. Since then it has hosted the L.A. Open 18 times, as well as golf legend Jack Nicklaus’ professional debut in 1962.

Its 18th tee box features a giant plaque honoring the legendary Arnold Palmer for one of the most unique, and little-known moments in his career: On this specific Par 5, Palmer shot a 12… Yes, THE Arnold Palmer scored a 12 after a solid tee shot! The 18th hole narrows toward the green and it’s flanked by a street on the left and the driving range on the right, and Palmer famously hit twice into the street and twice into the range. Pros, they’re just like us!

If you’re able to get a tee time here, you’ll be met with a challenging course featuring fast greens with lots of varying slopes, a plethora of odd lies on weird and tough angles and, at times, shots that make you reconsider why you golf. But it’s undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind course infused with rich L.A. history. I should mention that its driving range is especially packed, given that it’s one of the few places where you can practice your swing on the Westside. If you can ever get a tee time and have an extra spot, I’ll never say no to an invite.
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A view of the Penmar public gold course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Penmar Golf Course

Venice Golf Course
Penmar Golf Course may not be the most exciting track in town but it’s relatively easy and playable for all skill levels, and a haven for Westsiders who can’t secure an invite to the country clubs. Situated just blocks from Venice Beach, the nine-hole course is quaint and enjoyable. You won’t be troubled by tough tee shots or challenging greens, and the locals who frequent these courses will make sure the vibes are high.

Staying true to Venice’s brand, it is also home to an excellent outdoor pop-up called Sunset Sessions, which often features live rock music on the practice greens themselves.
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A view of the Scholl canyon pubic golf course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Scholl Canyon Golf

Glendale Golf Course
Here lies another course designed by William P. Bell, in the mountains of Glendale and teeming with panoramic views of Los Angeles. Scholl Canyon is a mid-range course that features an abnormal number of Par 3s and a special kind of chaos you just have to experience for yourself.

The first couple holes are relatively normal, but Bell must’ve been feeling a bit diabolical when he designed the back nine. After you climb a steep, almost-90-degree hill to get to the backside of the course, all hell breaks loose. From an odd 80-yard Par 3 that forces you to hit your ball over a barranca to a weird Par 4 that requires a 140-yard tee shot followed by a 100-yard approach shot over another barranca, there’s something about this course that breaks my brain a little.

Even so, the views are great, and it costs anywhere from $25 to $35, depending on the day. Plus, the driving range just installed new trackmans for your practice sessions.
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A view of the Brookside public golf course.
(Sean Yoo/For the Times)

Brookside Golf Course

Pasadena Golf Course
Situated next to the iconic Pasadena Rose Bowl, Brookside is a 36-hole golf complex with a history as rich and long as the Arroyo Seco.

Both of its courses were designed by famed architect William P. Bell, and they’re challenging enough to have been the backdrop for the Los Angeles Open in the 1960s. Brookside has narrow fairways and small greens and forces you to play smart golf. Though it can occasionally be in poor condition because it sometimes moonlights as a concert venue and parking lot for Rose Bowl events, like festivals and big soccer matches.

For maybe two months out of the year, you will hear someone say, “Brookside is in the best conditions right now.” That’s usually in February and March, before the start of warm weather concerts. Though playing here can occasionally be a crapshoot, it’s undeniably beautiful. It’s got charm, it’s got history and it’s going to keep you on your toes and require all your focus. Apparently, the course will be getting a much needed renovation later this year, so here’s hoping the new features will solve some of its issues.
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