By Scott Kramer
These days, in our always-connected world, there are rarely true getaways from everyday stress. And when you find one, it can be a genuine epiphany. Such is the case at Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, an unplugged luxury resort in Solvang, Calif — 30 miles north of Santa Barbara less than 10 miles inland.
Alisal offers 36 outstanding holes of golf, a first-class spa, horseback riding, tennis, five-star food and outstanding service. Its rooms are actually cabins. None have televisions, and few have house phones. This has been a Hollywood getaway since 1946, for the likes of Clark Gable in yesteryear to Josh Duhamel these days. One of Gable’s weddings was even on the premises. In other words, the resort’s history is rich.
I recently arrived at Alisal mid-day, just in time to get in 18 holes at the resort’s 6,500-yard Ranch Course. This is a 1956 design by the legendary Billy Bell, Jr. — the same architect who sculpted several of Southern California’s finest, including both of the Torrey Pines courses in San Diego. The Ranch Course is exclusively for Alisal’s guests and club members, and gets only about 17,000 rounds played per year. So it can play rather fast, as I experienced. It’s kind of surprising to see the front nine consist of three par-5, three par-3 and three par-4 holes. Yet it’s a truly fun layout and in amazing condition. The greens are lightning fast, yet roll very fairly. You can clearly see all the twists, turns and undulations. Timing them is the tough part. This particular day was extra windy — with gusts up to 30 miles per hour. That wreaked havoc on the direction and length of many of my shots, but I also felt that some of the putts were being overtaken by the wind. Regardless, this is a beautiful course that weaves in and out of many trees, with well-defined fairways and blemish-free greens. The bunkers are relatively easy to negotiate, as well, with the sand being neither too fluffy nor packed. Just the way I like them. Overall, the course is lots of fun to play.
After a sub-three-hour round, it was back to the hotel — which borders the Ranch course — where I check into my cabin. The memory foam bed is just what the doctor ordered, for a quick rest. As is the hot overhead shower. I’m feeling refreshed for dinner with my group — made up of golf media. Tonight, we are treated to a meal inside the resort’s private dining room. The lamb chops are outstanding and succulent, as is the blueberry cobbler topped with cinnamon ice cream. The entire dinner is paired with local wines, thanks to the super-nice and knowledgable folks at nearby O’Connell Wines. Remember, this area is part of the Santa Ynez wine region that was made famous in the 2004 movie Sideways. So there’s no shortage of wines to choose from, with nearly 100 local wineries.
The next morning after a terrific breakfast burrito in the resort’s only dining room, I head to Alisal’s River Course. Open since 1992, this 6,800-yard layout along the Santa Ynez River has a grand patio with views of the local mountains. I find the River to be significantly more open than the Ranch, with far fewer trees and trouble. But it’s every bit as fun. The greens are a touch slower, too, making putts more sinkable. And like the Ranch, it’s extremely well manicured. At one point, the course borders a local vineyard. I’m mesmerized. And many times throughout the round, I couldn’t help but take pause and soak in the beautiful scenery. My score was a few shots better on the River, for what it’s worth. And I really thought that was attributable to the green speed. When I think about it, these two sibling courses perfectly complement one another. And resort guests getting to play both during their stay will find the collective experience to be sheer pleasure. After golf, our group has lunch on the patio at the course’s Alisal River Grill. The restaurant is packed, and many of its patrons are not golfers. It’s just that the food is that good.
That night, our group convenes at the Creekside Deck outside the dining room, for a private barbecue and beer tasting from the local sensation Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I am pretty impressed with the dark brew. On the other hand, I am a barbecue fanatic and can honestly say Alisal’s version ranks in my top five all time. Amazing chicken, ribs and steaks.
I get up to depart at 4 a.m., in order to beat L.A. traffic. It’s an abrupt reminder that Alisal has helped me de-stress for a couple of days. I may need to come back more often.