With roughly 50 public courses in the county, Angelenos could play a different one every week. Few, though, offer the tantalizing combination of affordability and mood-elevating scenery. Any round punctuated by athletic feats—the 30-foot putt, the chip-in for birdie, the 200-yard fairway iron—is memorable, but these courses promise that no matter how you score, you’ll relish being there. We recommend going on weekdays, when fees are lower and crowds lighter.
It looks like a desert resort course and plays like one, but getting to Angeles National Golf Club won’t take three hours on Interstate 10. The Jack Nicklaus design features his signature left-to-right play and confidence-building fairways: You might score your lowest round yet. The carts have GPS, and a Mediterranean-style clubhouse welcomes you home at the photogenic 18th. The back nine rolls gently around mini arroyos where roadrunners roam. Bring extra balls; if your shot goes out of bounds, you’re not allowed to scramble into the protected wilderness to retrieve it. The greens fee Monday through Thursday recently jumped to $118 (sign up for the loyalty program and save $20). » 9401 Foothill Blvd., Sunland, 818-951-8771
Don’t let the name fool you: Malibu Country Club is open to the public. The course swoops in roller-coaster fashion through terrain cloaked in chaparral and topped by red rock formations. Balls seem to soar like rockets from the elevated tees, and you’ll have plenty of fairway to aim for. As for those two holes guarded by moats, fear not: Even rookies can reach the greens. No other public course in the county is so abundant in nature, from wildflowers to birds to butterflies. Management decided to forgo aerating this spring, so the greens don’t grab. The weekday $75 fee (with GPS-equipped cart) is understandable; there is no more complete escape from the madding crowd. » 901 Encinal Canyon Rd., Malibu, 818-889-6680
Just to secure a tee time at Los Verdes Golf Course means rising before dawn to dial into the county reservation system. This is the only inexpensive coastal course in L.A. County ($25 to walk, $37.50 with cart). Though it doesn’t have the feet-in-the-sand beauty of Sandpiper or the majesty of Torrey Pines, the views are worth braving the crush. Heavy summer fogs can also steal away the solace of the azure sea, so drink in the landscape often, including at the signature 15th hole, where the Pacific hangs like a painting. You’ll be especially grateful for the visual relief on the crazy 13th, when your drive has to hug the left side or risk rolling for miles, and at the severe dogleg on the 16th. This is a perfect course for those who crave the ocean, have the patience of Buddha, and are inclined to pretend they’re Tiger at Pebble Beach. » 7000 W. Los Verdes Dr., Rancho Palos Verdes, 310-377-7888
The most challenging and picturesque of the three Griffith Park venues, Roosevelt Golf Course meanders for nine holes through the hills by the Greek Theatre. The sixth hole has a panoramic vista of downtown, the eighth an unforgettable view of Griffith Observatory, and the ninth a glimpse of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House. The condition is almost lush, and several gazebo-like seating areas offer chances to rest your weary feet. The 2007 fire came right up to the second hole, and the nearby hillsides are still recovering, but otherwise the course ($14.50 with resident card) is one of L.A.’s undisturbed urban oases. It also has an appreciable wild animal population: Signs in two spots warn of snakes. Fewer people have been showing up since last year’s fee hike, which is affecting all ten city courses, so play moves at a good pace during the week. » 2650 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, 323-665-2011
At Brookside Golf Club, the mature oaks are as lovely as those on the Central Coast, and when the wind sings through the pines, you might think you’re in the Pacific Northwest. The better of the two courses is No. 1, a parklike setting with tight fairways (watch out for those trees) and a deep culvert that channels the Arroyo Seco to its meeting with the Los Angeles River. Even at nearly twice the cost of L.A. city courses (on weekdays, $38 to walk and $53 to ride), No. 1 gets heavy traffic—plenty of time to contemplate the woods and birds. The design by William P. Bell (whose son, William F., was the architect of Malibu, Los Verdes, and several other courses) brings bunkers into play often, but at least the fine-grained sand is not the coarse stuff at L.A. city facilities. Avoid during football season, when the fairways are used for Rose Bowl parking, and lay up at the tenth or lose your ball to the concrete channel. » 1133 Rosemont Ave., Pasadena, 626-585-3595