With their contrasting scenery and ambiance, Sandpiper Golf Club and Rancho San Marcos are a pair of Santa Barbara beauties
By Eric Marson
For avid golfers, any trip to the Santa Barbara area would not be complete without teeing it up at Sandpiper Golf Club and Rancho San Marcos.
And while the two layouts couldn’t be any more different in terms of their ambience and scenery, one thing that can be said for both is that whether you play well or not so well, it doesn’t much matter. They’re just so beautiful.
By any measure, Sandpiper Golf Club belongs on any list of California’s top public golf facilities. From the moment you step on property you’re engulfed by ocean views and embraced by cool ocean breezes.
The William F. Bell-designed course opened in 1972 and each of its 18 holes is a captivating combination of beauty and challenge. At 7,068 yards from the tips with a course rating of 74.7, the layout’s well-defined fairways lined with eucalyptus and pine trees pack considerable bite – especially when the breezes pick up – which is one reason the course has hosted the finals of PGA Tour Qualifying School in the past. Subtle elevations to many of the greens make the course play longer.
A word to the wise: spend a little time on the practice putting green outside the clubhouse before you tee off; it’s a good indication of what you’ll find on the course – slippery greens that demand your attention on every putt.
Something else you’ll need to know: the greens at Sandpiper all slope back to front and you’d be well advised to keep the ball below the hole at all times – you’re better off chipping from 5 yards short of the green rather than facing a downhill 30-footer.
Not to be outdone is Rancho San Marcos, a rustic throwback that boasts a ranch-style vibe from the moment you enter the property that is both peaceful and serene.
Located about 15 miles inland from Sandpiper, the course is nestled in the Los Padres National Forest. And while you don’t get the ocean, you are treated to ancient oak trees and stellar views of the Santa Ynez River and Lake Cachuma, in addition to an abundance of wildlife, including deer, squirrels and wild turkeys. A variety of birds and eagles soar overhead.
The Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed course opened in 1998. It’s a 6,939-yard, par-71 track that still retains the essence of the pastoral Rancho San Marcos, which occupied the 300 acres for more than 100 years. While the front nine is quite walkable, the back nine features steep elevation changes where accuracy is at a premium.
If you’re planning on making a trip out to Santa Barbara’s world-class golf courses, there’s an equally impressive resort nearby: Bacara Resort & Spa. In 2011, the resort’s hotel, spa and signature restaurant all received four-star awards in Forbes Travel Guide.
The beachfront hotel is located on 78 acres stretching across two miles of the California coastline. Located just a few minutes down the street from Sandpiper, the hotel features 305 guestrooms and 49 specialty suites, all of which are outfitted with balconies or patios with ocean, garden or mountain views.
A 42,000-square-foot, full-service spa and sleekly modern fitness facility, along with three zero-edge saline pools, a kids club and access to the wealth of recreational opportunities in the area – including hiking, biking and shopping – will keep you entertained out of your lavishly appointed room.
A can’t-miss feature of the resort is its signature restaurant, Miro. Named after Spanish artist Joan Miro, it offers New-Basque-Catalonian cuisine along with an expansive wine list of more than 12,000 bottles.
Just south of this immaculate resort is another world-class spot offering opulent accommodations and amenities: Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Featuring 207 oceanfront guestrooms and suites, and 12 single-story cottages of three to five bedrooms each, the resort is large enough to accommodate families, and intimate enough for a romantic getaway.
Striking Spanish-style architecture, a beach and cabana club, a full-service spa with 11 private treatment rooms, and dining options that include the signature Bella Vista, which offers organic, Italian-inspired coastal California cuisine, are four reasons this resort ranks among the most highly rated in the United States.
Year-round stay-and-play packages are available at these and half a dozen other hotels, resorts and inns throughout the area.
Sandpiper Golf Club
(805) 968-1541 • sandpipergolf.com
Rancho San Marcos
(805) 683-6334 • rsm1804.com
Bacara Resort & Spa
(805) 968-0100 • bacararesort.com
Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore
(805) 969-2261 • fourseasons.com/santabarbara