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Top California golf resorts: Pebble Beach rocks, but La Quinta's no. 1

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

The best golf resorts in California? Our top pick, La Quinta Resort & Club, may surprise Pebble Beach fans. But La Quinta is a classic that has aged well, and golfers here can take on Pete Dye's epic Mountain and PGA West TPC Stadium golf courses. Don't fret, Pebble devotees, it's No. 2.

La Quinta Resort & Club - Palm Springs golf resort
La Quinta's 41 pools give guests a sense of having a special private spot.
La Quinta Resort & Club - Palm Springs golf resortCoyote Moon golf courseBarona Creek golf courseRitz Carlton Half Moon Bay Golf Resort - San FranciscoLa Quinta Resort & Club - Pool

LOS ANGELES -- Paris Hilton knows partying.

The Golden State practiced relaxation as a religion long before the rest of the country caught on. Plush accommodations, on-call masseuses, fine wines in the cellar and knockout golf courses outside your door became high-life staples here. That Michigan golf resort you loved? It probably picked up many of its tricks from California.

"Resorts just fit in with the California lifestyle," said Tim Hurja, a PGA Professional who worked at his share of resorts before starting Palm Springs Golf Central, a hotel and golf packaging company. "Taking care of yourself and getting that well-deserved break is part of the healthy lifestyle."

The pampering revolution began with movie stars retreating to sun-drenched hideaways in 1920s. Today's resorts aren't so hidden, and they aren't just for stars. California boasts some of the most renowned golf resorts in the world, places that take advantage of spectacular natural scenery as varied as the desert and the sea.

TravelGolf.com set out to rank the best of the best in California golf resorts -- the places with the plasma TVs, high-thread-count sheets and unforgettable par 5s -- and found plenty of surprises. Starting with maybe the biggest of all at No. 1.

It's Pebble Beach, right? It has to be Pebble Beach. Of course, it's Pebble Beach.

Nope, it's ...

No. 1: La Quinta Resort & Club

Yes, Pebble Beach Resort is wonderful -- just not as wonderful as La Quinta. This Palm Springs-area golf paradise used to be a getaway for Bette Davis, and it's only gotten better since.

There are 41 pools spread around grounds you could get lost in. The top restaurant is an offspring of Le Bernardin, which is only considered the best seafood restaurant in the world.

And La Quinta doesn't have one or two great golf courses -- it has five, including Pete Dye's stunning Mountain Course (No. 1 on TravelGolf.com's SoCal top 10 golf courses in 2006) and his even more famously wicked PGA West TPC Stadium Course.

Plus, the weather's never a factor. That dream trip can't be rained on or fogged out, like at Pebble Beach. Here it's sunshine and more sunshine.

No. 2: Pebble Beach Resorts

Sure, the room prices are crazy, but sometimes crazy is worth it. Having access to Pebble and Spyglass -- so often called "maybe better than Pebble" that maybe that should be its name -- makes any trip unforgettable.

No. 3: Old Greenwood

The big golf magazines haven't made it here yet, and that's their loss. This spot in the charming High Sierra town of Truckee has a very playable Jack Nicklaus golf course on-site and an even better Brad Bell design, Coyote Moon Golf Course, down the road.

And you don't just get a room. You stay in your own private mountain lodge, big enough to host a family of 13, with its own game room upstairs and ceilings so high you'll be expecting Paul Bunyan. How often do you go on vacation and get handed a garage-door opener at check-in?

No. 4: Carmel Valley Ranch

Welcome to the Monterey Peninsula at its secluded finest. Located in the town that made Clint Eastwood mayor, Carmel Valley Ranch is almost swallowed up by the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The on-site Pete Dye Course isn't one of his you're-freaking-kidding-me tracks, but it is one of his prettiest. Better still, compared to the rest of this list, the room rates are often surprisingly reasonable.

No. 5: Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

The Half Moon Bay Ritz offers something the other Northern California resorts atop this list lack: proximity to a great city. It's only 45 minutes from San Francisco.

Along with the opportunities for great urban experiences, you get the Ocean Course, which truly lives up to its name. All 18 holes on this Arthur Hills design offer views of the Pacific. The wine-tasting you get at check-in doesn't hurt either.

No. 6: La Costa Resort & Spa

Some consider the two courses here a bit overrated, and maybe they are. But this place in San Diego's shadow knows its relaxation. After you've played La Costa South, get a massage and sleep the sleep of the blissed.

No. 7: Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa

Want different? How about a gondola ride through the lobby to your room? Yes, part of the lobby is a waterway.

The two Ted Robinson courses are nice. Desert Springs being bachelorette-party central is priceless.

No. 8: Barona Valley Resort & Casino

It's crazy to expect a resort on a reservation way outside San Diego to compete with the major luxury players. Barona does.

Its golf course, Barona Creek, is good enough to lure celebrities like Mark McGwire onto the back roads, but it's a rare under-priced SoCal find. Service at the resort is top-notch and never stuffy.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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