Another Visit to California’s Central Coast

With a three-day President’s Day weekend, I figured it was another good excuse to get out of town for one of my little overnight golf trips. I always enjoy my trips up the Central Coast—just far enough outside of the city to feel like a true getaway, but still close enough it’s not too much of a drive. There are plenty of great golf courses in this region, and over the years I’ve been able work my way down the list.

It seems that almost every time I’ve played in the region, I get paired with local players. There are four courses that always seem to come up along with their question of “Have you played this one yet?” La Purisima and Rancho San Marcos are two of them. I’ve had the pleasure of playing both those great courses in years past. The other two names I kept hearing, though, were Hunter Ranch and Cypress Ridge. In fact, Cypress Ridge always came up and it really seems to be one of the local favorites.

So I hit the road early in the morning and headed to Paso Robles, where Hunter Ranch is located. It’s a little over four hours away from where I live, so I wanted to start there and work my way back down the coast toward home the next day.

Hunter Ranch Golf Course • Paso Robles, CA

I’ve heard nothing but great things about Hunter Ranch over the years. And, as a “sister” course to La Purisima, I had high expectations.

My expectations were met. Kind of a similar layout/design as Purisima, but set in the heart of Paso Robles wine country. Lots of crusty old oak trees and rolling hills make it a beautiful setting for golf. My time was for 11:00, but I got there an hour earlier than anticipated. It was pretty slow on Friday morning, so they let me right out with another single and a twosome. They were all regulars here, so the local knowledge definitely helped. One gripe I would have is GPS or something would help here as some of the holes are pretty tricky. We finished in just over 4 hours, so it was a solid pace of play.

They were starting everyone off the back nine for some reason this day, which is a cruel trick on a first-time player. The back nine is definitely tougher, with a lot of tight fairways, forced carries and challenging “target golf” holes. The front nine is a bit more open and “pastoral,” but plays longer and has plenty of tough holes, as well.

The course was in good winter shape. Mostly green, a little patchy here and there, but fairways, rough and tee boxes were all in nice shape. The greens were in good shape, very firm and VERY FAST. There’s a sign at the clubhouse that says “stay below the hole” and that is good advice if you can control your approaches. Speaking of the clubhouse, it was a very cool, rustic-looking place that fits right in with the ranch/vineyard theme of the area. I really enjoyed this course and would highly recommend it.

Some pictures from Hunter Ranch:

I stayed the night in Santa Maria, which was a good central location. Very close to my next course—Cypress Ridge in Arroyo Grande—but also only a half-hour from one of my other favorite Central Coast attractions, Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez. I visited the casino that night, but didn’t last very long and was back at my motel pretty early. That was fine, though, because I wanted to get up early and head over to Cypress for an early morning round.

Cypress Ridge Golf Club • Arroyo Grande, CA

Cypress Ridge seems to be the most popular course in the region, and now that I’ve played there I can understand why. I really loved this course.

Having recently played Moorpark CC, I have to say I’m now a big fan of Peter Jacobsen’s course design skills. He also crafted this layout that is rich in Central Coast charm. Most every hole is lined with big cypress trees and there are a plenty of eucalyptus trees as well. The front nine is pretty tight and hilly, with a lot more changes in elevation than I expected. The back nine opens up with a little more of a links style design (mounding, fescue-lined tee boxes, wider fairways). That said, the 16th and 17th holes were two of the tightest, most tree-lined holes out here and probably my two favorite holes on the course. Overall, both nines pretty different. Front nine is gorgeous setting for golf, reminiscent of Monterey/SF courses.

I just walked on here in the morning (around 7:30) and they got me out right away with a threesome of regulars (all residents of Cypress Ridge community). $90 is a bit steep for us outsiders, but they do seem to offer a lot of good deals that keep the locals coming back. That seems to be true of a lot of these Central Coast courses. We finished in just about 4 hours on a beautiful day on the coast.

The course was in really nice condition. Fairways were a little firm here and there, and there were some bare/patchy spots in the rough, but overall pretty lush. Greens were in great shape, also very firm and fast. Like Hunter Ranch, stay below the hole here, too! I can definitely understand why this is a local favorite. Look forward to playing here again someday.

Some pictures from Cypress Ridge:

As I drove home that afternoon, I had the urge to play again. I kept driving, but by the time I got to Camarillo I couldn’t stand it any more. You can see the Camarillo Springs Golf Course from the freeway, so I’ve driven past it many times over the years. I knew it was very convenient and not overly priced, so I decided to stop and check it out.

Camarillo Springs Golf Course • Camarillo, CA

It was about 2:30 when I got there, so wasn’t sure if I’d finish. Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded out there and I was able to get in all 18 just before it was too dark. It was only $30 with a cart, so a great deal considering I was able to finish in time.

The good news is this course was more interesting than I had anticipated. I didn’t really know much about beyond what you can see from the Freeway, so I didn’t have great expectations. The best part of this course is holes 2-6, which go back into a cool canyon area. Holes 8-10 also have a nice little setting off from the rest of the course/clubhouse area. The rest of the course was pretty blah. A lot of water comes into play on the back nine, but the holes are pretty forgiving and mostly wide open. Overall, the course is pretty forgiving, except for the par-3’s which all play pretty long. From the blues, I think the shortest one was about 180 yards. I usually like to have at least one shorter hole in the mix where you can fire at the pin.

The bad news is the course is in rough shape right now. The fairways were inconsistent. Some were completely dried out, some were clumpy and patchy and a few were in decent shape. Rough was the same way, some places it is shaved down and other places it was grown out and patchy. On many holes, the only green you could find was the abundance of coot poop! So you never knew quite what to expect until you got to your ball. The greens were in really good shape and sand traps were pretty well maintained.

For the price and convenience, this course was a pleasant surprise. It would be a great deal if it were in really great shape. Don’t know if I’ll be racing to play here again, but OK for what it is.

Some pictures from Camarillo Springs:

After my round, I was feeling hungry and had a craving for some Mexican food (which is often the case when I’m out playing golf). I used the UrbanSpoon app on my phone and found a restaurant that looked like it had some potential. Lupe’s in Thousand Oaks was the choice and I was very glad I stopped. Not only was the hostess one of the best looking girls in the history of food service, but the food was excellent. It was crowded and busy, but very delicious. The perfect end to my overnight adventure along California’s beautiful Central Coast.

Re-ranking the Central Coast:

A few months ago, I had ranked my “Top 11” courses in the Central Coast from Ventura County to San Luis Obispo County. Now that I’ve played a few more courses, I wanted to redo the rankings. I tried to think of these in terms of which courses I’m most looking forward to playing again someday. So with that in mind, along with the new courses in the mix, things got shifted around quite a bit.

1. La Purisima (Lompoc)

2. Rancho San Marcos (Santa Barbara)

3. Cypress Ridge (Arroyo Grande)

4. Sandpiper (Goleta)

5. Hunter Ranch (Paso Robles)

6. Ojai Valley Inn

7. Moorpark Country Club

8. Rustic Canyon (Moorpark)

9. Soule Park (Ojai)

10. Monarch Dunes (Nipomo)

11. Avila Beach

12. Morro Bay

13. River Course at Alisal (Solvang)

14. Camarillo Springs

15. River Ridge (Victoria Lakes) (Oxnard)

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