Marine Memorial Golf Course
Golfers must secure on-base access like any military course open to the public. This was a bit of an arduous process. I would recommend it for serious golfers only because Marine Memorial is one of the most hidden and least talked about golf courses in the area.
You do not need a sponsor to play golf here. First-time golfers need to secure a pass at the main gate at Camp Pendleton off the I-5 Freeway in Oceanside. It can be quite busy, so pretty areas, most hidden and least talked about golf courses, need to sit in a DMV-like setting to secure your 60-day pass. After 30 days, you can ask to reapply for one-year access. If your golf the same day you receive the yearly pass, the round is free, so there’s an incentive to keep coming back. Once the access is secured, the course is nearly a 30-minute drive away at another entrance. Are you confused yet?
Once you enter the gate, which, if you are a civilian likely will be your first time, it’s your first chance to see the magnitude of Camp Pendleton. This is the most significant open coastal space between Mexico and Santa Barbara. At 200 square miles, it is larger than San Jose. They could fit some fantastic golf courses in here if they wanted to.
Once you get on base, it’s still a few miles away to get to the course tucked in a secluded canyon. Marine Memorial was known as Windmill Canyon Golf Course when it opened 75 years ago. This course was highly recommended, so I expected it to be pretty good. People compared it to Tecolote Canyon. Although the course is located entirely within the canyon, it does not come into play very often.
The front nine was wide open and almost felt like playing at an old private course. A very old-school traditional layout was designed by William P Bell, who also did Torrey Pines, Balboa Park, San Diego Country Club, and La Jolla Country Club, among many others. The course was in pretty good shape. The greens were excellent; the bunkers were not so much. At $60, it was probably in the upper range of what should charge here.
The first hole is excellent, a straightaway par five that is wide open, pretty much a perfect opening hole. The front nine is straightforward and dead quiet for a while. Nothing too tricky, although this course is known to be deceivingly windy; many iron shots just fell out of the sky, Almost nothing played its accurate yardage, and most greens are slightly elevated. The first 9 were solid but nothing too impressive. It felt very similar to Admiral Baker North Course.
This is where the course gets a lot more interesting. Hole 10 is an uphill par five that plays significantly longer than the 527 yards listed. You climb to the 11th tee box to this short par 4 with panoramic views. There aren’t too many long par 4s here, but the par 3s are lengthy, and the par 5s require two good shots to get close. Number 13 is likely the signature hole, pictured on the scorecard, a downhill par three surrounded by palm trees, but my favorite hole was the par five 14th.
This 540-yarder feels like a hole you would see at La Costa. The 17th tee from the Blue tees is shared with the 12th hole, and both tees were a few yards away, which was an exciting look with two par 3s essentially starting at the same spot and shooting off into different directions, definitely an old-school feature.
At first glance, the finishing hole feels like Riviera’s 18th hole. At first, that felt like highly wishful thinking, but then I learned William P. Bell also helped design this legendary course. The hole is a dogleg with a multi-leveled green that can see tricky pin placements. Overall, the course was pretty much what I expected. I thought it was worth seeing a historic golf course and a unique part of San Diego, one that you probably wouldn’t have access to otherwise.