Goat Hill Park has a vibe more courses should strive to create

A look at Goat Hill Park from above.

Courtesy Goat Hill Park

At GOLF.com, our hobby is also our job. That means, just like you, we spend much of the year teeing it up high, swinging hard and trying to avoid double bogeys. But some courses we stumble upon are simply more memorable than others. Here, in a breakdown of our favorite public courses our staff played over the past 12 months, are those spots.

I was fortunate enough to play a lot of great public courses for the first time this year. From Pinehurst No. 2 to Harbour Town to every course at Bandon Dunes, I checked quite a few boxes off the Top 100 Courses list. Sorry for the humblebrag, but you don’t need me to explain how great any of those courses are. But when I look back on a public course that left a different kind of first impression on me, Goat Hill Park, in Oceanside, Calif., comes to mind.

I’ve seen plenty of Goat Hill on social media over the years. Frankly, it left me skeptical because of it. Is this manufactured hype or real hype? That’s a tough question to answer these days.

While in California for GOLF colleague Dylan Dethier’s wedding, I decided to extend my stay on the west coast with my fiancee. We made the joint decision, and yes it was joint, to play a round of golf. She’s just getting into the game so I wasn’t looking to book a tee time on anything she wouldn’t enjoy. I reached out to AJ Voelpel, of Goodboy Originals, who lives in the Southern California area and whom I knew played in a regular game at Goat Hill. After getting his trusted reassurance that it was well worth the visit, it was added to our itinerary as a pitstop on our drive from Laguna Beach to San Diego.

The moment we pulled in I knew we made the right decision. There’s a vibe that hits you the moment you open the car door. It feels like you’re rolling up to hang out with friends at a backyard party — not a golf course.

A handful of guys who look like they just came off a boardwalk were commiserating over beers in the parking lot, a dog was following around his owner using a push-cart, a local women’s college team was working the range, a father and son were practicing in a designated children’s facility, and a dozen others who looked like they had been there for hours were posted up on the back patio (none of them appeared to be playing golf that day). The pro shop feels more like a surf shop. Goat Hill is different. In more ways than just the vibe.

The 18-hole loop is a par 65 and plays just 4,600 yards from the tips. But don’t let the yardage fool you. It’s no easy task. The holes are narrow, greens are small, and it features shaggy grass maintenance, in the best way, to live up to its “goat hill” name. I only touched my driver a handful of times and it’s not a necessity here. It’s even common for regulars to play with persimmons. “Mandatory Golf Friday” is a way of life at Goat Hill. For just $35, you can enter a group 9-hole skins game.

You’ll be shocked at how much trouble you can find on a course this short. I know I was. At the same time, it’s very inviting for beginners. The “baby goat” tee boxes for young golfers were getting quite a bit of use. Every time I looked over at a different hole I saw someone of a different age, cultural background or skillset. Goat Hill had one of the most diverse backgrounds of golfers in one place I’d seen.

You won’t find a dress code here. Wear a T-shirt. Bring your dog. Turn on your speaker. All are welcome at Goat Hill. Play Goat Hill. Hang out at Goat Hill. And push to create a Goal Hill-like course near you. I know I will.

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Tim Reilly headshot

Golf.com Editor

As Director of Social Media and Commerce, Reilly manages two departments at GOLF. He spends his days with one eye scrolling through social feeds and the other on Shopify. Charles Barkley’s old golf swing is prettier than Reilly’s weekly screen time. When the Long Island native checks out for a few hours, he can be found taking a twilight stroll with his push-cart. Contact: