IN THE PUBLIC EYE: San Juan Oaks Golf Club in San Juan Bautista, Calif., not far from the fabled courses on the Monterey Peninsula.
THE LAYOUT: Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, designed this course, which opened in 1996, along with architect Gene Bates. The immaculate fairways and large bentgrass greens are set in a rustic environment with many streams, waterfalls and stone bridges providing a dramatic golf experience.
The par-72 layout is a real test from the back tees, measuring 7,133 yards with a rating of 75.6, but is very playable for golfers of any skill level because there are five sets of tees.
This was the first Fred Couples Signature Course in California and his trophy for winning the 1992 Los Angeles Open is on display in the 19,000-square-foot hacienda-style clubhouse.
GENERAL MANAGER: Scott Fuller.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: San Juan Oaks, which hopes to add another 18 holes and a hotel on the property, is another of those courses that is almost like two different layouts.
The front nine plays through a rolling meadow, and the longer, and more difficult back side winds through the foothills among large oak trees, with water coming into play on six holes on the course.
Among the best holes on the front, which plays through what once was rancher Everett Nutting's pasture, is the par-5, 578-yard second. Your drive must clear a large lake, and the green is protected from long hitters by a creek where Nutting's cattle watered.
Couples hits a power fade, so it should come as no surprise that nine of the holes on the course are doglegs to the right. Among the best is No. 3, a 359-yard par 4, which is called "Fade Away." If your fade turns into a slice, your tee shot is in the weeds.
The 397-yard, par-4 14th is one of the more unusual holes on the course, with two fairways divided by a seasonal creek. The left side is narrower and requires the more difficult tee shot, but leaves a relatively short and open shot to the green. The right fairway is wide open but plays uphill, is longer and leaves a more difficult approach, with a large oak fronting the right side of the green.
The signature hole, No. 17, is a downhill par 4 that would fit right in at a major championship. It measures 487 yards from the back tee and the drive must be threaded into a fairway surrounded by mature oak trees, with a creek coming into play in several places.
Couples gave a driving demonstration on the hole soon after the course opened, and his longest shot still was 140 yards from the green. The tee sits 150 feet above the green.
Completing the strong finish is the dogleg right par-4, 461-yard 18th hole. Best route to the green is a big drive over native grass to the left-center of the fairway, leaving an approach that must carry a ravine to a huge stadium-style green that has trouble on both sides of a narrow entrance.
OTHERS COURSES IN THE AREA: In neighboring Hollister is Ridgemark Golf and Country Club Resort, with two fine courses, the Diablo and the Gabilan.
Of course, not far away are some of the best courses California has to offer -- Pebble Beach, Pasatiempo, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay, Old Del Monte, Poppy Hills, Bayonet and Black Horse and Half Moon Bay Golf Links.
WHERE TO STAY: Even though it's only a short drive to the Monterey Peninsula, you might want to stay in the Hollister-San Juan Bautista area and explore 200-year-old Mission San Juan Bautista and the fascinating old California town, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed parts of "Vertigo" in 1958.
Right in San Juan Bautista are the Pasada de San Juan and the San Juan Inn. Among the best places to stay in Hollister are the Best Western San Benito Inn, Casa de Fruta Peacock Inn, Cinderella Motel, the Hollister Inn and the Wiebe Motel.
ON THE WEB: www.sanjuanoaks.com.
THE LAST RESORT: The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: When the Pebble Beach Co. was planning to build a links course to complement Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of the greatest courses in the world, it assembled the perfect design team.
Along with the renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Sandy Tatum, former president of the United States Golf Assn., Pebble Beach enlisted Tom Watson, who knows his way around a links course as well as any American -- having won the British Open five times.
Watson said of the property: "Spanish Bay is so much like Scotland, you can almost hear the bagpipes."
Well, actually you can, because a kilted Scotsman walks the across the links at sunset to signal the end of the day with his bagpipes.
The classic links course, which wraps around the Inn at Spanish Bay, meanders through the sand dunes and into the Del Monte Forest on the famed 17-mile drive, plays to a par of 72 and measures 6,821 yards.
Spanish Bay is rated at 74.1 with a slope of 146 by the Northern California Golf Association but is resort-friendly with five sets of tees.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Rich Cosand.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Spanish Bay is a delight to the golfer right from the start, the 500-yard par 5 first hole, which plays downhill to a green perched above the breakers on the Pacific Ocean. The green is guarded by two traps on the left and a marsh to the right, and shots that go long might land on the beach.
No. 5 is a 451-yard monster of a par 4, rated as the most difficult hole on the card, with three pot bunkers waiting in the right-center of the fairway. Take the long way around to the left or play risk-reward down the shorter, narrow right side. Second shots, again toward the ocean, that hug the right side will kick toward the green.
The eighth hole is a gorgeous par 3, 158 yards from an elevated tee, across a large seaside lake to a narrow green. Club selection is key with the wind coming off the ocean to the right.
No. 10 is the first of three par 5s on the back nine, a double dogleg that plays uphill through a chute of trees in the forest with a demanding tee shot required over a protruding sand dune. The left side of the fairway is the riskiest for the second shot but will reward the golfer with a shorter approach to the multi-tiered green.
Perhaps the best hole on the hill above the dunes is No. 12, a narrow 432-yard par 4 that requires a long approach or a prudent lay-up shot to avoid a deep gully 30 yards short of the green. Be careful even if you have a wedge shot to the wide, shallow green because you don't want to wind up on the slope above the hole.
The 200-yard 16th is a deceptive par 3 that runs parallel to the beach, where the tee is protected from the offshore breezes that push shots toward three bunkers on the right.
Save something for the big finish, a 547-yard par 5 that plays uphill to a green protected by a large patch of gorse and other native grasses. Try to stay to the right side of the fairway on the first two shots to set up a better angle for the approach to a green guarded by two bunkers on the right.
Try to get a feel for the speed on the practice green because these greens are slick all the way around, and avoid the temptation to feed the deer that share the course with the golfers.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Pebble Beach owns three other championship golf courses, all remarkable in their own right, in addition to the par-3 Peter Hay Course.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, host course of the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (still The Crosby to purists), has been recognized as one of the greatest courses in the world since it opened in 1919.
Spyglass Hill Golf Course, which takes its name from a location in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, Treasure Island, is a unique challenge designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr. that opened in 1966, and also is in the AT&T rotation.
Old Del Monte Golf Course, located on the grounds of the Hyatt Regency Monterey, was designed by Charles Maud and is the oldest continuously-operating course west of the Mississippi River -- having challenged golfers since 1897.
There might be more exceptional golf courses in this region on the Central Coast of California than any similar area in the world.
Also nearby are Poppy Hills Golf Course (Robert Trent Jones Jr.) in Pebble Beach; Pacific Grove Golf Links (Chandler Egan and Jack Neville); Bayonet and Black Horse Golf Courses (Gen. Robert McClure) in Seaside; Laguna Seca Golf Ranch (Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr.) in Monterey; Carmel Valley Ranch Resort (Pete Dye); Quail Lodge Resort (Robert Muir Graves) in Carmel Valley; San Juan Oaks Golf Club in Hollister (Gene Bates and Fred Couples); Pasatiempo Golf Course (Alistair MacKenzie) in Santa Cruz; Half Moon Bay Golf Links (Arnold Palmer and Arthur Hills), and DeLaveaga Golf and Lodge (Bert Stamps) in Santa Cruz.
WHERE TO STAY: The award-winning Inn at Spanish Bay has 253 guest rooms and 17 suites. Guests can enjoy eight plexi-paved tennis courts, a health and fitness center with a swimming pool, a weight room, saunas, steam bath, an aerobic studio and massage rooms.
For dinner, don't miss Roy's, which specializes in Asian-Pacific cuisine, or try Peppoli at Pebble Beach for Tuscan-style seafood, pasta and country-style grilled meats.
The exclusive Lodge at Pebble Beach has been welcoming guests since 1919. There are 161 guest rooms and suites, meeting spaces, four restaurants and lounges, a promenade of shops and boutiques, a post office and a bank.
The Pebble Beach Co. acquired Casa Palmero, a 75-year-old Mediterranean estate, in 1994 and it opened for guests 1999, after an extensive renovation. The 24 exquisitely appointed rooms, adjacent to the first fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links, include fireplaces and outdoor patios with hot tubs.
The 22,000-square-foot Spa at Pebble Beach, nestled in the heart of the Del Monte Forest, can be enjoyed by guests at any of the resorts. It offers an array of massages, body scrubs and wraps, water treatments, skin care, nail care and hair care.
There also are plenty of boutique hotels and charming bed-and-breakfasts in the area, including the Stonehouse Inn in Carmel, the Old Monterey Inn, the Green Gables Inn in Pacific Grove, the Highlands Inn/Park Hyatt a few miles south of Carmel, the Grand View Inn in Pacific Grove, the Jabberwock Inn in Monterey, the Tickle Pink Inn in Carmel, the Pacific Grove Inn, the Pine Inn in Carmel and the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove.
ON THE WEB: www.pebblebeach.com/accommodations/the-inn-at-spanish-bay;