Normally I wait till May to start planning golf outings farther up the coast, but this is not a normal year. Almost every day seems unusually warm, more like September than March or April. This makes for pleasant outings to golf courses like Monarch Dunes, Marshallia Ranch, and Rancho Maria. For the way home, I have an excellent dinner suggestion in Santa Maria.
This maybe my favorite golf course on the Central Coast. It is tough to find, but the effort is worthwhile. Marshallia is set on a remote hill covered with eucalyptus trees just a mile or so from the ocean at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The only structure you will see anywhere nearby is the clubhouse and private military quarters. All nature, including frequent deer sightings, roam throughout the layout. The clubhouse was redone several years ago in a classic Spanish Colonial style that fits very well into the landscape. One could easily spend a couple of hours here gazing out the picture windows across the 1st tee toward the driving range with mountains framing the background.
On our recent visit, the greens were in excellent shape with the fairways good also. This is hit or miss at Marshallia, and it would be good to ask a friend or call the pro shop ahead of time. Marshallia is walkable and a fairly stern test of golf. There are many doglegs, and a miss in the trees here will be severely penalized. Straight hitters have the edge. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get to Marshallia Ranch, but plan on a bit longer the first time. The best way to go is to take 101 north all the way to Highway 135 at Los Alamos. From here head west, and study the route closely on your GPS.
Nature lovers will also enjoy Rancho Maria Golf Course, which also has no homes in sight as you make your way up and down the gently rolling landscape overlooking the Santa Maria Valley. The course can be walked with about the same effort as Marshallia Ranch. This layout is a bit shorter and tighter, with cypress and eucalyptus trees lining the fairways. Make sure you save your best for last as there are three par-fives in the last five holes. Both nines run up into the hills, allowing for some great vistas on a clear day. Both Marshallia and Rancho Maria are very good values for the money.
Rancho Maria is located just a couple of miles southwest of Santa Maria in a rural zone. They have an excellent driving range. Again, plan on about an hour and 15 minutes to get there.
A few short miles north of Santa Maria sits the upscale Monarch Dunes Golf Course on the Nipomo mesa with views of the nearby dunes and ocean. This is always a good choice for a road trip, and the conditions are excellent. In addition to the Old Course, Monarch also has the Challenge Course, which is a 12-hole Par-Three Course. While the Old Course is a match for any player, the Challenge is good for beginners or to sharpen your scoring clubs. They actually have two cups on each green, one easy and one tougher.
Santa Maria Inn
After a long day of golf nearby, perhaps the best choice for fine dining would be the Garden Room restaurant at the Santa Maria Inn. Executive Chef Anthony Minniti has decades of fine dining experience in the Central Coast area and has created a menu with something for everyone. The Santa Maria area is known for steak, and the Garden Room has several excellent choices with a New York, filet mignon, and bone-in rib eye. They go to great lengths to procure the best beef, and Chef Anthony provides mouthwatering masterpieces. Lamb is also a regular entrée here. Fish eaters have two excellent choices with horseradish-crusted salmon and a prosciutto-wrapped black sea bass. We tried all of these on a special taster presentation, and each entrée was expertly prepared.
The Garden Room is a small intimate restaurant that has been voted “Most Romantic” by the Santa Maria Sun. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with Sunday brunch filling out the offerings. If you had a larger party, the restaurant opens up to a beautiful Spanish-style courtyard area with fountains and lush landscaping. Visit SantaMariaInn.com for complete details.