The best golf vibes in LA are at this Santa Monica muni

penmar golf

Penmar By The Sea is a fitting name for this golf course hang.

Darren Riehl

The tee signs at Penmar Golf Course, Los Angeles’ beloved neighborhood muni, offer intrigue more than anything else. Instead of “Penmar” or “Penmar GC,” there’s a different inscription: Penmar by the Sea.

For a first-timer, this feels odd. This residential course is nothing like Manchester-by-the-sea in Massachusetts or Carmel-by-the-Sea in Monterey. But after an evening on-site, Penmar-by-the-sea begins to make sense. It’s not really about the golf, or about the sea — it’s about the environment. The chillness of hanging out on a golf course in a beach town, often with strangers, almost every one of whom has shared this experience with some other group of strangers before.

Except us. We stumbled onto Penmar a month ago in the middle of a torrid rip around the city. Our plan was simple: max out 48 hours in LA. We played four courses, attended a Clippers game, saw the sights and ate everything in sight (even at the kind of restaurants featured on TV shows). But when we got to Penmar, life slowed down. The pace of play is slow enough to enrage any city golfer, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The people you meet at Penmar are people who want to meet people.

Our group played up into Ben Miller’s trio on the first hole and managed to see them on every single tee box thereafter. Miller had arrived on his own and jumped into a group with Robert James. They didn’t know each other when they woke up that morning but had become fast friends, clubbing off each other. By the end of the night they were trading intel on what the Lakers should do with Russell Westbrook at the trade deadline. About 50 yards from them, a four-ball putting competition played out under the lights. Losers bought drinks. 

As for the golf course, Penmar does little to impress. It’s simple. 2,500 yards from the tips. Three par-3s, no par-5s, airplanes constantly buzzing overhead. Penmar hosts the local high school teams every week, it seems. There isn’t a day that goes by when it’s not being used. 

Tiffani Lynch

“Wednesdays in the summertime have dramatically changed in the past few years,” Miller told us of the concert series that is now something of local legend. “If you’re in your 20s and 30s, and even if you’re older and have a family. And a dog. There are a lot of dogs here on Wednesdays.

“Some incredible live music, it’s one of the most popular spots in Venice on Wednesdays in the summer. It’s an awesome, awesome place.”

When Miller says “incredible music” he means appearances by the likes of Chris Shiflett, the lead guitarist for Foo Fighters. And when he says “most popular,” he means as many as 2,000 people. That’s the record tally The Penmar cafe has proudly hosted, spilling out off the patio and onto the 1st tee and putting green. This ain’t your standard golf hang. Officially, The Penmar (the privately-owned cafe on-site) calls it Wednesday Sunset Sessions, but unofficially Miller calls it the best place for singles in their 20s and 30s to meet each other. That can’t be far off.

It all feeds into the sense that golf courses might not have to be strictly golf spaces. This course brings in the golfers and the cafe brings in the others. Those groups mesh underneath TVs and heated lamps and on the putting green sipping $5.50 Modelos at the daily happy hour.

Penmar is a golfy YMCA, and you don’t even have to pay for a membership.

You can see more of our trip to Penmar and other golfy LA spots in the video below.

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