On the road in California: Serene Santa Barbara strikes sensational pose

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- For thousands of years people have been attracted to this area, with its rugged Santa Ynez Mountains providing an rocky backdrop and the sunset view of the Pacific Ocean fronting a bountiful land, full of natural resources.

Film makers came here even before settling in Hollywood. From 1910 to 1920 the American Film Company, situated at the corner of Mission and State Streets, made hundreds of movies in the area, the majority of them Westerns.

Today, Santa Barbara is a gateway to the wine country of the Central Coast, it's a year-around vacation spot for travelers from all over the world and home to countless Los Angeles-created celebrities, who wanted to escape the madness and traffic jams of the smoggy city.

Tourists find uncrowded beaches, surfing, whale watching, world-class deep-sea fishing, historic mission attractions, mountain hiking, trails in the Los Padres National Forest, gourmet dining, museums, scenic parks and opportunities to visit and explore the nearby Channel Islands.

The travel golfer finds fewer daily-fee opportunities that in the Greater LA basin, naturally, but much more opportunity to get lost in the beauty of rural California at layouts such as Rancho San Marcos, 30 minutes northeast of Santa Barbara, and Solvang's Alisal Courses. Sandpiper Golf Club nestled against the scalloped coastline, and mountainside Glen Annie Golf Club in Goleta are other choices.

Rancho San Marcos Golf Course

The rugged beauty of California is found here, along the Santa Ynez River high above Santa Barbara, near Lake Cachuma and amongst century-old oaks on land where cattle once grazed the historic San Marcos Ranch.

One by one the travel golfer comes to this Robert Trent Jones, Jr., award-winner and says something like this:

"I have played Kingsmill, Spyglass, Pebble Beach -- this is the most picturesque, beautiful, fun and fair golf course. And man-o-man, the service is friendly! Can't wait to return."

Recognized by Golf Magazine as one of the "Top 10 Courses You Can Play," the routing tests you with water hazards, rolling fairways lined by sagebrush boundaries, fast greens, hard pars, easy bogeys -- 6,800 yards long at par 71. Golf Digest named it a "Top 30 course in California."

Just try to reach the No. 1-handicap 629-yard No. 6 when the wind starts blowing in the afternoon. Named "Long View" you will want to get this one in your rear view quickly.

Hole names reflect the history of the ranch -- Davy Stables, Twin Oaks, Hot Springs, Old Headquarters, Santa Ynez, Los Padres, Mesa, Eagle's Nest, Bear's Back, San Fernando and Stagecoach.

Rancho San Marcos launched an exclusive membership program last July called "The Golf Club". Also, Dr. Joseph Parent, author of the best seller "Zen Golf - Mastering the Mental Game," and PGA Tour coach to talent such as Vijay Singh calls Rancho his home. Dr. Parent holds several schools here teaching his PAR approach to golfers of all levels.

The Alisal River and Ranch Courses

Not far from Rancho San Marcos and just 45 miles north of Santa Barbara on U.S. 101 is Solvang, a quaint town founded by a group of midwest Danish educators in 1911. For great access to the town be sure and stay at the Royal Scandinavian Inn.

Here you will also find The Alisal, a historic dude ranch, that has two golf courses -- the River and Ranch Courses. Don't be surprised if you bump into Bo Derek in the Ranch Grill or see Cheryl Ladd on the links. Michael Jackson's freaky "Never Land" homestead is nearby, too.

The Ranch Course was built in 1945 as a nine-hole course (designed by Billy Bell). It measures 6,551, a par 72, but its tight fairways, huge trees, many with branches overhanging the fairways, makes it a tough test. Undulating and fast greens also will challenge you. Look for the 300-year-old sycamores and live oaks -- amazing sights.

The Ranch Course is only open only to resort guests and members, but the River Course, a par 72, 6,830 yards long, built in 1992, is open to anyone. Both courses offer spectacular views of the Santa Ynez River and nearby Santa Ynez Mountains.

The River Course is not as tight as the Ranch, but it is beautifully manicured and a fun course. The par 3s are memorable. No. 9 is 172 yards downhill over a barranca and the 17th is only 123, but the green is almost entirely surrounded by sand and miss-hit it just a little right and you will be wet.

Glen Annie Golf Club

Robert Muir Graves and Damian Pascuzzo designed Glen Annie which rises above the Pacific on rolling mountainside terrain at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains in 1996. Several times during your 18-hole journey expansive views of the Pacific appear.

The Glen Annie Creek snakes through the undulating 6,424-yard course, where you could draw some challenging lies on some narrow target-style, side-hill fairways. No. 11 is the signature hole, a 183-yard, par 3, which is located at the highest elevation on the course and features a Pacific view. The elevated green funnels down to the cup and has produced many holes-in-one.

Watch out for the thick rough and just try to keep it in the fairways. After your round relax in the Frog Bar and Grill and enjoy the view of the Pacific.

Sandpiper Golf Course

Cool, moist breezes might greet you at Sandpiper Golf Club, where this William F. Bell 7,068-yard beauty has a slope of 134 and has been nicknamed the "poor man's Pebble Beach." It will still cost you $55 to $110 as compared to Pebble's $350-plus.

Three holes skirt the bluffs high above the Pacific Ocean and the 18th hole is a 523-yard par 5 that compares to Pebble's finale.

The front nine is traditional links-style golf and final nine is awesome because of the ocean views. But many think the greens are the best part of the course, which, despite the scenery is a no-frills, public golf course with a modest clubhouse.

Santa Barbara Golf Club

Standing in front of the pro shop at city municipal Santa Barbara Golf Club will remind you of traditional golf one would experience in 1958. Here you can linger while gazing at the Pacific Ocean views and strands of bougainvillea hanging from the Spanish-styled clubhouse.

This affordable, well-manicured layout designed by Lawrence Hughes is short at 6,019 yards, par-70 but you will enjoy the views of the Santa Ynez foothills and the Pacific Ocean. Locals say it is the longest short course you will ever play.

After your round have lunch at Mulligan's Café, a full bar and restaurant specializing in Mexican food, where you can savor the perfect Santa Barbara weather.

Where to play

Glen Annie Golf Club
405 Glen Annie Road
Goleta, CA 93117
Telephone: (805) 968-6400
Green Fees: $39 to $59
Website: www.glenanniegolf.com

Rancho San Marcos Golf Course
4600 Highway 154
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Telephone: (805) 683-6334 or 888-RSM-1804
Green Fees: $85-$145
Website: www.rsm1804.com

The Alisal River Course
1054 Alisal Rd.
Solvang, CA 93464
Telephone: (805) 688-6042
Green Fees: $45-$55
Website: www.rivercourse.com

The Alisal Ranch Course
1054 Alisal Rd.
Solvang, CA 93464
Telephone: (805) 688-6042
Green Fees: $80
Website: www.alisal.com

Santa Barbara Golf Club
3500 McCaw Avenue at Las Positas
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Telephone: (805) 687-7087
Green Fees: $14 to $38
Website: www.santabarbaragolfclub.com

Sandpiper Golf Course
7925 Hollister Avenue
Santa Barbara, CA 93117
Telephone: (805) 968-1541
Green Fees: $110 m-th, $130 f-sun
Twilight: $55 m-th, $70 f-sun
Website: www.sandpipergolf.com

Where to Stay

The Santa Barbara Inn provides hospitality in a California casual setting. Rooms and suites are over-sized and appointed in sand-colored hues and a seaside décor. Large marble bathrooms in the Ocean View rooms are spacious and there are furnished balconies on the ocean- or city-side rooms. Room amenities include two-line telephones with data ports, voice mail, cable television, refrigerators and coffee makers with supplies. Fluffy robes, hair dryers, irons and ironing boards are available on a complimentary basis, by request, for guests of the Santa Barbara Inn.

Santa Barbara Inn
901 E. Cabrillo Blvd.
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Telephone: (805) 966-2285 or (800) 231-0431
Website: www.santabarbarainn.com

In Solvang, the Royal Scandinavian Inn is right in the heart of the village and its hundreds of shops and bakeries. The River Course at The Alisal is less than 1/4 mile from the Inn. The staff can help you arrange trips into the countryside for wine tasting, horseback riding, boating, and more. There are 133 newly-renovated guest rooms and suites are each appointed with a residential country decor. Many rooms feature sweeping views across the valley, while other rooms with private balconies overlook the landscaped courtyard with its heated pool and spa. Try the Inn's Meadows Restaurant, too.

Royal Scandinavian Inn
400 Alisal Road
Solvang, CA 93464
Telephone: (805) 688-8000 or (800) 624-5572
Website: www.solvangrsi.com

Where to dine

Discover the signature California-French cuisine of Michel Richard at Citronelle Restaurant, the proud recipient of countless accolades and awards. Long considered a favorite among Santa Barbara locals, it was voted "one of six restaurants in the entire U.S. with perfect food," by the Conde Nast Traveler Reader's Poll, as well as "Best Restaurant in Santa Barbara" by the L.A. Times.

Meadows Restaurant
400 Alisal Rd.
Solvang, CA
Telephone: (805) 688-9003

The Vineyard House Restaurant
3631 Sagunto St.
Santa Ynez, CA
Telephone: (805) 688-2886

Things to see

Start with the outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center at 113 Harbor Way, Waterfront Center, 4th floor or call (805) 884-1475. You will find a huge selection of resources for hiking, camping, diving, backpacking, and more -including maps and information on the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary and the Los Padres National Forest. The center also enjoys a great 360-degree view of the harbor, islands, city, and mountains.

In the late 1700's the Spanish came to town and established the Santa Barbara Mission, considered today to be one of the most beautiful missions in California. Stearn's Wharf, the oldest operating wharf on the West Coast, was partly-owned in the 1940's by actor Jimmy Cagney. The landmark wharf offers shops, wine tasting, a seafood market, and several restaurants. Views of the mountains, the ocean and the yacht harbor are spectacular from here.

One of the best ways to experience the city's history is on the Red Tile Walking Tour, where you will visit many of the city's oldest and most fascinating landmarks as well as the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

Santa Barbara County is a world-class wine touring and tasting destination. Today's wine center is in the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys which boast 56 wineries. Acclaimed for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals, the area also produces Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Rhone varietals such as Syrah. For more information, contact the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association at (805) 688-0881.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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