Coastal Trip, Day 1: A Really, Really Busy Birthday

I hit the road again last weekend. I had taken Thursday off from work because it was my birthday and decided I might as well take Friday off, too, for an extended weekend golf trip. Originally, my plan was to head up toward South Lake Tahoe, but the weather forecast looked terrible all weekend. Fortunately, I had a back-up plan already in mind to head up the coast.

I was at it early on Thursday morning…

Soule Park Golf Course • Ojai, CA • 8/7/14

Cancelling the Tahoe plans allowed me to work in some free birthday golf. Fittingly, I visited the town where I was born to play this local gem. I got there early as a walk-on, but there were only a few regulars out and ready to play. They do make you pay the cart fee ($15), but otherwise the round is free up to a week before or a week after your birthday (weekdays only). Such a great deal!

I ended up going off first by myself on a foggy morning, with the exact same conditions as my only other time playing here (back in 2011, also near my birthday). Someday I want to play this course on a nice sunny afternoon because I know it will present much nicer.

Soule Park is a great municipal course and even when it’s not your birthday, presents one of the best values in all of Southern California. It’s always been known as a quality course with nice daily rates.

It was renovated in 2005 by the Gil Hanse design team (Rustic Canyon) and offers some unique links style touches, especially on and around the greens. Most of the layout is relatively flat and wide open, but the bunkers and greens are where the course shows its teeth.

Personally, I find Soule Park to be one of the most visually deceptive layouts I’ve played. Because the overall landscape is pretty flat, the contours on and around the greens and the odd positioning of bunkers really messes with your depth perception. Oftentimes, what appears to be a greenside bunker is 50 yards in front of the green itself.

Also, there is an intermediate cut of fringe that’s often quite large (tighter than the already tight fairways, but obviously longer than the greens). From a distance, it’s hard to tell what is actually part of the actual green versus what’s the intermediate cut. I think the foggy, wet conditions didn’t help because there was less definition visually to help. Even though I knew to expect these deceptions coming in this time (after getting thoroughly fooled last time), it was still tricky. This really is a course you have to play a lot to know all the intricacies and tricks to some of these greens.

A few of the greens at Soule Park are massive, like on the par-5 5th. This one gives me flashbacks of Old Macdonald in Bandon.

To add a little extra challenge for me, they didn’t have the flags up on the back nine yet. The new holes had been cut and the white/blue/red pattern stayed the same as the front nine, but maintenance hadn’t cut/dried the greens yet on the back and the flags were all laying down off the edges of the greens. Even when I knew it would be back/middle/front, it only narrowed things down so much on these big greens.

The course was in solid overall condition. The fairways and rough had their fair share of thin spots, with everything playing firm and fast as you’d expect here. The greens were mostly good, but I did notice a few bad spots here and there. The tee boxes were very good. I was in one bunker and the sand was plentiful and soft, just super heavy and damp in the early morning.

I’d definitely recommend Soule Park. It’s a fun course that I already want another rematch with. Someday I’ll figure out where to hit my approach shots here for good results. Though right down the street from Ojai Valley Inn, it’s a very different style course at a much more affordable price.

Some pictures from Soule Park Golf Course (8/7/14):

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I had another round set for noon at Montecito Country Club. After my change in plans, I decided to sign up for the SCGA member outing there.

However, my round at Soule Park went so quickly, I had several hours to kill in between rounds. A normal person might relax and go grab a nice long breakfast. For me, that just meant more golf! The only trick was finding some new courses to play in this area…

Hidden Oaks Golf Course • Santa Barbara, CA • 8/7/14

I headed up to Hidden Oaks for a very quick nine. The price was $13 for 9 holes, which is more than it probably should be. There was really nobody here on a Thursday (just one other threesome and a couple of workers), so it only took me about a half-hour to play.

This is a sleepy little 9-hole par-3 course in a residential area, so the name “hidden” definitely applies. It’s a decent little pitch and putt with a few mid-length holes mixed in. It is set in some hills, so it offers some fun shots up and down to the tiny greens.

If I lived in the community, I’m sure I’d go out here every so often to knock a few balls around, but it does not have much appeal to outside players. The course was in mediocre shape, but you can tell they try to make the most of it. The greens were pretty terrible, but they were out there mowing and trying to get them as good as they could. The tee boxes were beat up as you’d expect. Other areas actually had pretty good, green grass coverage and are decently maintained, but don’t come into play that much on a par-3 course.

There isn’t too much else to note about Hidden Oaks other than it’s there if you want a quick and easy pitch and putt experience in Santa Barbara.

Some pictures from Hidden Oaks Golf Course (8/7/14):

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Well, that didn’t kill nearly enough time. So, what next? That’s right, more golf!

Twin Lakes Golf Course • Goleta, CA • 8/7/14

I went over to Twin Lakes to see what it looked like. It was actually quite busy out here for a Thursday morning, but I still walked right out and finished in about an hour. The price here was also $13 for 9 holes, but that felt slightly more reasonable than Hidden Oaks.

Twin Lakes features one short par-4, but otherwise is a decent mix of par-3s of varying lengths. It is very flat and is a pretty basic layout, so it’s a good place for beginners or to just to work on your short game.

By the end of the round, I caught up to an old ladies club with several groups who were all playing at a snail’s pace, but you could tell how much fun they were having and it was nice to see. As the perfect contrast, behind me there was a big group of First Tee kids who were playing and having a blast. It reminded me of my old little course back home that I grew up playing as a kid right alongside all the old folks.

The course was in fine shape for what it is. The key parts (greens and tee boxes) were well-maintained. The fairway and rough areas were pretty inconsistent, but decent enough. This course is better left to the old ladies and little kids, but it’s kind of a fun little place for a cheap, relaxed round. It serves its purpose well.

Some pictures from Twin Lakes Golf Course (8/7/14):

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The time had finally come for the day’s main event…

Montecito Country Club • Santa Barbara, CA • 8/7/14

This is a private course I’ve always wanted to play. I always see it there alongside the 101 freeway, with a majestic old mission-style clubhouse and a course running up, down and along the steep hillside.

My expectations might have been a bit too high, but it was still a fun experience to finally play the course. The price was $95 for the outing, which did include a grilled hamburger/hot dog lunch. Probably a bit too steep, but it’s the nature of these usually private courses to charge a lot for guest events.

This is an old course, with the club being established in 1922. As you can expect with a lot of old courses, it has its quirks and also a pretty simple design approach. Plus, nature has played its part with the course being built on the hillside. The worker that was welcoming everyone and getting us set to go out for our shotgun mentioned earthquakes and erosion as just a few natural factors that have affected the shape of the course over its many years.

Note: This course has undergone some renovations since I played it (to what extent, I’m not completely sure). Either way, there may be some out-of-date comments in this review.

There isn’t that much detail to go into about the layout other than the simple fact that it is very hilly. There are severe uphill shots, severe downhill shots and some side-hill lies to contend with. There aren’t too many flat parts on the course, so you always have to factor in how the hills will affect your distances, aiming points, etc.

That said, I found Montecito to be a fairly forgiving and basic layout from tee to green. There isn’t a ton of trouble to get into. There are no water hazards and only some OB areas on the outer edge of the course that can come into play with a really stray shot. There are a lot of parallel fairways that give you bail-out room on most holes.

Once you get on the greens is where the fun really begins. These greens are slick and there’s a severe ocean break in play. Most greens are built to counter somewhat against that natural break, so it forms some optical illusions. No matter what you think you see, you always have to consider where the ocean is and expect your ball to want to break in that direction.

At points, Montecito reminded me of San Diego Country Club (speaking of tricky fast greens), but not quite as nice or interesting, if you ask me.

The course was in good overall condition, considering the water conservation they are trying to do amidst the drought that has really hit this area hard (just ask Rancho San Marcos). Their focus is obviously on keeping the key parts of the course (tee boxes, fairways and greens) in really good shape. The fairways did have some thin/brown spots scattered throughout, but most of the time the lies were perfect on well-kept kikuyu turf. The rough was a bit more inconsistent. Sometimes it was relatively short and the ball would sit up like on a tee, while other times it was a bit deeper and the ball would sink down. Other spots were pretty dry and bare, especially the more you venture off of the fairway. I wasn’t in a bunker, but they looked pretty good.

The greens were in exceptional shape. They were receptive, but smooth and pure on top. They were pretty quick and anything on the high side of the hole was hard to stop within five feet. Anything on the low side was a lot slower than it looked going against the slope.

If you get a chance to play Montecito for a reasonable rate, it’s worth a visit. It’s not a course that will “wow” you in the way newer courses are designed with such dramatic features, but it has a rich history, great greens and fun old design overlooking Santa Barbara.

Some pictures from Montecito Country Club (8/7/14):

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After 54 holes, you’d think I was done, but there was still plenty of daylight left and one more Santa Barbara County short course I’ve always considered playing…

Zaca Creek Golf Course • Buellton, CA • 8/7/14

Perhaps you can call it a pre-midlife crisis as I wanted to defy my realization I was another year older. Or, it’s just an incurable obsession to play as many golf courses as I can, both good and bad.

Either way, after a quick and decent taco dinner at Taco Roco just up the street from Zaca Creek, I headed over to check out the course. There were people out there, but it didn’t seem super busy and I knew I could get around reasonably quickly. Plus, it was a beautiful evening during that “magic hour” right before sunset.

It was pretty windy at Zaca Creek to add a little bit of challenge to an otherwise easy course. This short par-30 course features two short par-4s amidst a decent mix of par-3 holes. The setting is in a beautiful valley that definitely outshines the course itself, which is kind of a mini version of the Alisal River Course just a few miles east.

The course was in fine shape for what it is. The greens and tee boxes were good, which is all that really matters. They have some of the cutest, tiniest sand traps here it was hard not to chuckle when looking at them. I wasn’t in one, but they looked to have okay sand.

Zaca Creek is not a bad way to spend an hour and it seemed there were friendly folks all around. It’s actually one of the better low-end short courses around, and it’s set right in a location where it’s nice to get out and stretch your legs while on a Central Coast trip.

Some pictures from Zaca Creek Golf Course (8/7/14):

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Thursday was just the beginning to what was a really insane, golf-filled trip. The rest of the weekend was spent up on the Monterey Peninsula, so expect a barrage of reviews and photos over the coming days!

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