At Monarch Dunes Golf Club, the links-style golf of coastal Britannia stretches out in the hills of California wine country. Amid windswept dunes and eucalyptus trees sweep coastal views speckled with amber hillsides and big blue skies. And this is just how architects Damian Pascuzzo and PGA Tour Pro Steve Pate wanted it. But they also wanted something beyond beautiful vistas. They wanted a unique 30-hole arena that tested the mettle of golfers.
On the 6,810-yard, par-71 Old Course, players unleash the full potential of their swings on the open expanses of the longer front nine before dialing back for close control on the back nine—a shorter tract made formidable by water hazards on all but two holes. Though the two halves have their own distinct flavors, both begin with mid-length par-4s. These are the course's two most difficult holes, so savvy golfers should spend extra time before the round and at the turn to give their driver an encouraging massage.
While the Old Course is a grassy homage to golf's most sacred traditions, Monarch Dunes' Challenge Course charts a much more unorthodox path—and not just in its unconventional 12-hole layout. While some par-3 courses are known as "pitch-and-putts" for their short holes, The Challenge—named among the Top 10 Par-3 Courses by Golf.com—will have some reaching for a driver or three-wood on holes 5 and 12, which measure 242 and 202 yards respectively. Golfers can expect to finish the round in two hours or less, freeing up plenty of time to relax at the Butterfly Grille or shop for flame decals to glue onto their golf bag.
Course at a Glance: The Old Course
Course at a Glance: The Challenge
At Blacklake Golf Resort, players can choose any combination of challenges from three distinct nine-hole courses, each representing a unique feature of playing golf within the varied landscape of the Central Coast. Sea breezes drift up from the valley to the Canyons course's elevated tee boxes. The Oaks course ventures away from the clubhouse to wind through a forest of towering oak trees, its undulating grass and smooth walkways shaded by the abundant branches of those mighty oaks. To begin the Lakes course, a short, 143-yard hole heralds the inviting nature of the compact layout and wide fairways, all before a monstrous 573-yard par 5 finishes the round.
Open from dawn to dusk, Blacklake Golf Resort also features practice facilities, including a 275-yard driving range and two putting, chipping, and pitching greens on which to improve your techniques. During lessons, the staff (http://blacklake.com/staff/) of PGA professionals works to improve players' fundamentals without sacrificing the fun, relaxing nature of the sport.
Course at a Glance:
Three nine-hole courses (par 36, 36, and 35)
Total yardages from the back tees: 3,276, 3,125, and 2,909
Three sets of tees per hole
Officially opened in July 1962, Village Country Club incorporates the natural beauty of Northern Santa Barbara County’s wine country as its backdrop. Towering oaks and pine trees play a starring role throughout the course, especially on the 10th hole. There, a stately oak stands right in the middle of the fairway, marking the course's signature challenge and the location of its treasure chest of golden golf balls. At the 16th hole, meanwhile, an elevated tee tempts players to let it fly, all while avoiding a lake and brook running the length of the hole’s left side.
Next to the course, club visitors can practice on the driving range or at a practice green outfitted with a sand bunker. Or, they can step away from golf altogether by taking a dip in the pool and hitting the tennis courts—each of which remains open year-round.
Course at a Glance:
Since it opened in 1986, La Purisima Golf Course has collected nearly as many accolades as it has wayward golf balls. Known as "La Piranha" to regulars, the course has appeared in numerous publications, often for its challenging layout. Golf Digest ranked it 33rd on its list of the toughest courses in the country, and Golf Magazine placed it among the top 100 public courses in the country for nine years in a row.
It may seem like architects Kenneth Hume Hunter, Jr. and Robert Muir Graves teamed up to punish the Santa Barbara golfing community, but that's not the case at all. Instead, they shared a vision for the 309-acre plot as a pure version of golf unencumbered by real estate developments and novelties such as manmade waterfalls or hydraulic-equipped carts. The result is a long, enjoyable, and, yes, difficult test of the game that rewards bold shot selection and precise play across a naturally undulating landscape in the heart of wine country.
Course at a Glance:
Amid views of coastal dunes, the Morro Bay Estuary, and Morro Rock, golfers drive, pitch, and putt their way through the nine-hole executive course at Sea Pines Golf Resort. As native wildlife such as waterfowl dwell among the fairways, guests tee off for the afternoon or warm up on the driving range, two putting greens, or dedicated chipping area. Those who prefer to ride a well-trained horse rather than break a bucking golf cart can board their own equine friend at Sea Pines' stables and roam the 8,000-acre Montaña de Oro State Park. In addition, Sea Pines Golf Resort offers overnight stays for humans at The Lodge, whose spacious rooms overlook Morro Bay and the golf course's manicured landscape.
Twin Lakes Golf Course is much more than the sum of its parts. With a 9-hole, par 28 executive golf course and practice facilities that include a driving range, 8,500-square-foot putting green, and chipping area, it gives players countless ways to better their game. Visiting players can hone short, half-swing approaches and full, walloping drives on holes ranging from as close as 70 yards to as far as 360, much as they would on a full-length course. The driving range also expedites the learning curve with full-flight Pinnacle range balls primed and ready to be pummeled from real grass or synthetic tees. In the short-game area, Titleist Pro V1 golf balls simplify the act of chipping onto the green or into target nets, even as players line up shots from nearby bunkers, slopes, and grasses akin to the rough and fairway. And when players are left with nothing else to do but admire themselves in the reflection of the nearest water hazard, Twin Lakes’ resident instructors—Don Parsons, Buff Platt, and PGA head professional Jim Ley—are there to take the reins and help clients shave off a few more strokes.
Hidden Oaks Golf Course, a leisurely nine-hole, par 27 course designed by 51-time PGA Tour winner Billy Casper and owned by PGA pro Dave De Heras, bursts with foliage and boasts magnificent views of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Amateurs and pros alike can chip and putt their way across the scenic 107 yards of the second hole, and use mind control to wrangle rogue golf balls roaming the grassy 152-yard ninth hole. Throughout, club-swinging duos are accompanied by the sultry breezes of the Pacific Ocean, swaying trees, and hungry sand traps scheming to swallow any golf balls or circus-grade swords that should fall into their grips.