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 that 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 short of 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, Pacific Grove Muni 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: Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
THE LAYOUT: Located at Sea Pines Plantation, Harbour Town has stood the test of time, as what is now the Heritage has been a fixture on the PGA Tour since 1969.
The pros played the par-71 layout, designed by legends Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, at 6,657 yards that first year and it has been lengthened only to 6,973 over the years.
Boo Weekley won the tournament in 2007 and 2008, and last year, Carl Pettersson of Sweden, who now lives in North Carolina, won by five strokes over Zach Johnson.
Reminiscent of a Scottish seaside course, Harbour Town plays along the Calibogue Sound and has an idyllic quality with the candy-striped, hexagonal Harbour Town lighthouse standing sentinel behind the 18th green.
Harbour Town, which carries a slope of 146 from the back tees, still is ranked as the No. 1 course in South Carolina by Golf magazine.
HEAD PRO: John Farrell.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Although Harbour Town is very playable for golfers of all abilities because it is not long, accuracy is required in order to post a good score.
Position off the tee is a must, as even some drives that find the fairway do not leave the golfer with a clear approach shot to the flag or even the green.
The par-3 holes are considered perhaps the best set of any course in the United States, with the 192-yard 17th probably the most famous because it gets plenty of television exposure during the Heritage. A large waste bunker runs down the left side of the hole, but if your tee shot wanders that way you want the ball to stop in the sand -- and not in the Calibogue Sound.
The ninth hole is considered one of the best short par-4 holes in the world, only 337 yards from the back tees. But it plays through a narrow chute of trees to a V-shaped green guarded by several bunkers and a tree at the left edge of the fairway.
Although Harbour Town is relatively short, No. 15 is a true three-shot par 5 at 571 yards, with two stands of trees and a pond guarding the green to dissuade anyone tempted to go for the green in two. Keep your first two shots to the right side of the fairway to have a chance to go for the flag.
The par-4, 452-yard 18th, one of the most photographed golf holes in the world, also is one of the most challenging. The approach shot, often into the breeze, must carry natural vegetation on the edge of the Calibogue Sound.
Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland was trying to claim his first official PGA Tour victory in the 2004 Heritage when he lost his ball in the hazard, allowing Peter Lonard of Australia to win.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Unless you are planning to stay several weeks, you won't have nearly enough time to play all the courses on Hilton Head.
Guests of the Sea Pines Resort also can play the Ocean Course, the Sea Marsh Course and Heron Point Golf Club, designed by Pete Dye. The Ocean is the oldest course on Hilton Head, opened in 1962, and PGA Tour pro Mark McCumber reworked the course in 1995. The Sea Marsh Course, a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, was designed by George Cobb and retooled by Clyde Johnston in 1990.
Among the best of the rest are the Golden Bear Course at Indigo Run, designed by Jack Nicklaus; three masterful layouts at Palmetto Dunes Golf Course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio and Arthur Hills; the Country Club of Hilton Head, designed by Reese Jones; Hilton Head National Golf Club, designed by Gary Player; Planter's Row at Port Royal Golf Club designed by Willard Byrd; Robber's Row at Port Royal Golf Club, designed by Pete Dye; Clipper/Galleon at Shipyard Golf Club designed by George Cobb, and Eagles Point Golf Club, designed by Davis Love III.
WHERE TO STAY: The Sea Pines Resort features the Inn at Harbour Town, an AAA Four Diamond resort, in addition to rental homes, villas and condos. Guests have access to five miles of pristine beach.
Hilton Head offers larger resorts such as the Hilton Oceanfront Resort, the Crowne Plaza Resort, the Hilton Head Grand Hotel, the Marriott Grande Ocean Resort and the Westin Hilton Head Resort; or boutique hotels such as the Main Street Inn, the Daufuskie Island Resort and Breathe Spa, the Carolina Club at Shipyard and the Inn at Harbour Town.
ON THE WEB: www.seapines.com.