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Friday, July 22, 2005 | One of the best-kept secrets in San Diego golf is “The Farms,” a private golf club nestled in the southern hills of Rancho Santa Fe.

The Farms is one of the most striking golf courses in the area. It trades on its reputation as a shotmaker’s course which is always in beautiful condition. Head pro Don Sandberg suggests that the 13th hole is probably the signature hole, with a risky second shot over water to a tough green. However, the prettiest is possibly the 14th, a fairly innocuous looking 153-yard (from the blue tees) par-3 onto a green defined by cascading waterfalls. The eye-catching waterfalls seem to have an unfortunate allure for balls, too. When you have survived all 18 holes with the same ball, the feeling is heavenly.

How many other hidden treasures are there in San Diego golf?

My first option was to consult the “Zagat Survey of 2004”. The guide ranked Maderas and Torrey Pines South jointly as the top two courses with a high rating of 27 points out of 30, closely followed by Aviara with 26 points. However, Zagat does not include private courses in its rankings. Thus, I opened the recent issue of Golf Digest to see where they ranked our top 30 private and public courses in the state of California. The results were a little surprising: our highest ranked course was The Bridges at 24th, followed by Rancho Sante Fe at 26th, with Torrey Pines South as the 28th best course in California.

Chatting with various friends, I received numerous opinions. Many whiskeys later, we were closer to finishing the bottle rather than the discussion. To settle the arguments, I resorted to asking the four golf pros from The Farms for their choices.

The consensus is that the top four golf courses are all private: Pauma Valley, Rancho Sante Fe, The Farms and San Diego Country Club. The ability to use all your clubs on a great layout in excellent condition seemed to be the common factor on all these courses.

Torrey Pines, Barona Creek and the Grand Del Mar (formerly known as The Meadows Del Mar) were ranked as the top public courses by our esteemed panel of club pros. Interestingly, Torrey Pines South made both Golf Digest‘s and Golf magazine’s list of the top 100 greatest public courses at numbers 89 and 17 respectively, but it didn’t even make the top 10 on one pro’s list. Personally, like many San Diego residents, I would rather play the more scenic Torrey Pines North course on any given day than the brutal south course. Clearly, my friends and I will need to open another whiskey bottle to finish this discussion.

So how should one apply this knowledge?

First, get back to the driving range. Most of these courses are very challenging so you want to be up for the challenge. Next, network like crazy. I am frequently inviting guests to play The Farms for the first time. Like most members of private courses, I love showing off my club. By the way, I haven’t played Rancho Sante Fe, Pauma Valley or San Diego Country Club – so if you are a member there, let’s get together. Rolodex, please. And of course, keep swinging!

Dave Wyman is the executive director of the Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs (LIFE) at the University of San Diego and has a passion for golf and entrepreneurship. Please contact him at

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