Escape from L.A.: Mountain golf in Santa Barbara

By Matt Paulson, Contributor

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Los Angeles is beautiful -- if you have a penchant for throat-searing smog and anxiety-attack-inducing traffic. But just in case you are one of the few that likes to breath fresh air and travel more than 5 mph on the freeway, leaving the city for a day may be what your L.A. lifestyle -- or your lungs, or patience -- needs.

Located just a few hours up the 101 from downtown Los Angeles and about 12 miles outside Santa Barbara is one of the best courses on the central coast called Rancho San Marcos, a par-71, 18-hole track that meanders through the Santa Ynez Mountains off the 154.

Built on the San Marcos Ranch that was established in 1804, Rancho is steeped in history, donning 19th-century adobe structures and preserved areas of the Rancho San Marcos Stagecoach trail. One finds that the course is not the only thing traditional about this semi-private club. The service has a touch of that old-school cordiality, with exceptional treatment from the staff at the pro shop. The staff was not only friendly but charismatic while informing myself and my playing partner that the range on which we were about to hit balls is the same one Freddy Couples visits every once in a while. It felt as if I was playing at a friend's course, even though it was my first time even near Santa Barbara.

Like any mountain course, there is ample elevation change, which provides for eye-satiating scenery. On the back nine - Rancho's signature side - there are four elevated tees, and in some situations, players are surrounded by dramatic dropoffs on all sides. How about that for an interesting tee shot? Any miscue could lead to a double or one of those dreaded "others."

The clientele at Rancho is predominantly local. Between 70 and 80 percent of Rancho's players are from the tri-county area (Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties).

To get there

Simply take the 101 to San Marcos Pass North, also known as the 154. The entrance will be just after Paradise Road on the right. Keep an eye peeled. It is possible to miss.

Where to eat

To anyone who has visited Santa Barbara, this section is rather obvious: Freebirds World Burrito at 879 Embarcadero Del Norte in Isla Vista and (805) 968-0123. One burrito is enough to simultaneously feed William "The Fridge" Perry and the late Andre the Giant when he was in prime dining condition.

Where to stay

For those from L.A., it is possible to make this a day trip. Leave in the morning, drive a few hours, make about a noon tee time, eat some dinner, and be back before midnight. However, to take the entire weekend away, check out the Four Seasons, the Bacara Resort & Spa or Fess Parker's DoubleTree. According to the pro shop at Rancho, they are pretty much the top three in the area and all provide for an oceanfront getaway.

Matt PaulsonMatt Paulson, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Mattgyver

    Scotty Doo wrote on: Dec 17, 2004

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  • I want to be a part of your golf caddy team!

    Jennifer Nelezen wrote on: Oct 3, 2004

    Please consider me to be a part of your staff. I am interested in spending time in this part of the country. With this job I would be able to afford living in such a beautiful part of this country. Please feel free to contact me after 4 p.m. anytime at this number: