As we head into spring, the weather is starting to get more predictable for a dedicated golf outing. Paso Robles should provide warmer days at Hunter Ranch Golf Club, one of the best tracks along the Central Coast. Monarch Dunes in Nipomo is a bit closer but much cooler. The Santa Maria Inn would be an excellent stop on the way back from either venue.
Within a two hours’ drive of Santa Barbara, we have some of the finest daily fee golf courses in the country. I would strongly urge all golfers to spend a day at each one of these courses. Have a nice lunch at the course when done or stop for dinner on the way back. The scenery from the car is worth the trip alone. While I might head north on 154, I always make it a point to come back along the coast.
Hunter Ranch has always been one of my favorite layouts and is usually in great condition. Designed by Ken Hunter Sr., this tree-lined layout is a perfect balance of tough but fair. From the tips, it will give even the best players a real work-out, yet it is a fair layout from the middle tees for all.
The key to a good score at Hunter Ranch is to avoid a big number on its five toughest holes: #2, #7, #11, #12, and #14. This is especially true for the stretch early on the back nine. Number 11 requires an accurate drive to set up the approach to the peninsula green surrounded by water. The tee shot on the long par-four 12th will strike fear into all golfers with its uphill climb guarded by lateral hazard to the left and OB on the right.
Hunter Ranch has a good bit of elevation change, and Hunter used this to his advantage in protecting the greens. I really believe that someday this layout will be considered a classic with all the proper recognition that it deserves. See hunterranchgolf.com.
Monarch Dunes is also a good choice for a trip like this with its semi-links style layout. This course will benefit those with accurate tee shots as you navigate the rolling terrain guarded by huge eucalyptus trees. See monarchdunes.com.
If you can wiggle your way on, the Santa Maria Country Club is a fun layout with tight tree-lined fairways. The club is a traditional layout with small greens rewarding accuracy over length, and it is easy to walk. It is a shame that golf architecture has gone so far away from this style of course. See santamariacc.com.
Hunter Ranch will normally provide warmer temperatures until late November while Monarch Dunes and Santa Maria Country Club will require a sweater sometimes even on warmer days.
Since 1917, the Santa Maria Inn has been one of the most sought-after stops along the Central Coast. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, it was made famous by Hollywood celebrities on the way to or home from a stay at Hearst Castle.
It had been 30 years since my last visit, so I was eager to see what had changed. The historic feel of the hotel with its English country inn style remains along with the necessary upgrades for the modern traveler. Santa Maria itself has grown a lot through the years, but the inn has kept its charm.
The hotel’s Garden Room Restaurant offers signature dishes such a lamb shank and pan-seared Alaskan salmon. The food and service were excellent as was the atmosphere. The night we dined, there was a large motorcycle tour group in house from Montreal, and we all had a great time together.
The Wine Cellar & Martini Bar is an excellent spot to start or finish dinner and was originally a speakeasy during the ‘20s. Make sure to check out all the photos on the wall surrounding both the restaurants and bar areas. Just about everyone from Hollywood’s Golden Age stayed here and even recent stars such as Kiefer Sutherland. See santamariainn.com.
Plan on two hours to get to Hunter Ranch with Monarch Dunes a bit shorter at one-and-a-half hours. While you could easily go up and back in the same day, staying overnight gives you more flexibility on tee times and a shot at both on the same trip.