Barona Creek Golf Club
The green you play: Several years ago a wildfire threatened the Barona Resort & Casino in Lakeside, burning the margins of the golf course. It was a harbinger. The course is indeed hot, and Barona may be the best public-play course in Southern California — and it's not even at the beach. Inland San Diego County is a tumble of granite outcroppings, native oaks, meadows, cleared and natural, and springs — in other words, a place for some magic. The course that doesn't apologize for brawn, letting players air it out with their microwave-size drivers — and then hoping they can channel Ben Crenshaw on the massive greens. Don't sweat a three-putt; it's possible to four-putt at Barona and not necessarily be a bad putter. What, you think the odds are better in the casino?
The green you pay: $80-$160, depending on the time and day of the week.
Barona Creek Golf Club, Barona Resort & Casino, Lakeside; (619) 387-7018, http://www.barona.com
Journey at Pechanga
The green you play: Journey at the Pechanga Resort & Casino has no pretense about being a walking-friendly course. It sprawls across the hills of southern Temecula as freely as houses crawl across the valley. And if the golf cart climbs some of the inclines at a stuck-in-traffic pace, it's worth the wait. In Indian lore, Coyote was the trickster, and in the world of golf-course designing, eightysomething Arthur Hills plays the role with relish. Sinkholes in greens. A really long or a really short par four that's perfect for a driver — or perhaps not. Room to hit to left, center or right, even if you can't control the direction to the exclusion of the others. Journey makes you think, which isn't good for some of us. Journey also makes you grin.
The green you pay: $75-$200
Journey at Pechanga Resort & Casino, Temecula; (866) 991-7277, http://www.journeyatpechanga.com
The green you play: A links course cannot, by definition, exist where the Central Valley is about to give way to the Cascades and Siskiyous; the Scottish coast this is not. Sevillano rocks and absent haggis, sheep-made bunkers, centuries of history, men in skirts and an adjoining tidal flat, there's a lot of the old game up here in Northern California next to Interstate 5. There are tons of shortcuts, many delightfully foolhardy, and the whole track is lay-of-the-land as it rolls on and on. Just to be certain this is still the U.S. and not Alba (Scotland's Gaelic name), the middle tees run to 6,800-plus yards. (The designer of record is John Daly — "Mr. Grip It and Rip It" — for years the longest hitter in golf.) There's now more to that drive to Oregon than the obligatory stop at the Olive Pit.
The green you pay: $45-$79, depending on the time and day of the week.
Sevillano Links, Rolling Hills Casino, Corning; (530) 528-4600, http://www.sevillanolinks.com
Yocha Dehe Golf Club
The green you play: Getting to Brooks is some of the fun, the drive from the Sacramento airport quintessentially California, with the city giving way to miles of gold and green farmland in turn ceding to crumpled foothills of oak and a meandering valley of stream and sycamore. The balance of the reward is Yocha itself, which occupies one of those perfect creases in the land. There are several measures of a course done right: the uniqueness of the par threes, fours and fives, and the ability to remember every hole and every shot during the post-round debriefing among the most telltale. Yocha scores, with quintessential golf.
The green you pay: $55-$105, depending on the time and day of the week
Yocha Dehe Golf Club, Cache Creek Casino Resort, Brooks; (530) 796-4653; http://www.yocha-de-hegolfclub.com