Like the Spanish missions of its early history, golf courses are strung across the Central Coast of California. From Santa Barbara to Monterey, modern-day travellers might not be Franciscans traversing the wilds, but those on a golf pilgrimage can still trace their own 400-kilometre path of discovery.
Begin your golf road trip near Santa Barbara, which, with its Spanish Revival architecture and seriously perfect weather, easily plays the part of Golden State exemplar. Arrive a day early and enjoy one of the beaches or grab an afternoon pint at The Brewhouse and dine at Olio Pizzeria Enoteca & Bar.
Sandpiper Golf Club is a parkland play just west in Goleta, where the track briefly kisses the shore on the outward nine and ends with a full-on embrace through the back. Just be ready for a plummeting par-3 visit to the beach itself, a blind dogleg-right climb back up to the par-4 12th and a double-barranca-jumping par 5 tracing the continent’s edge.
Forty kilometres north of Sandpiper lies Lompoc—a small city known for rocket launches, flowers, artichokes and one of California’s finest missions. Of more recent vintage, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto houses 16 vintners from the Santa Rita Hills AVA.
La Purisima Golf Course—two minutes beyond town—is a core course refreshing in its lack of urban intrusions. Locals call it “The Piranha,” for the teeth that appear if the afternoon wind kicks up, greens that ripple like a Sharpei, blind shots, fairway kinks and sidehill lies.
The Central Coast is also home to one of America’s indigenous wood-cooking traditions. This isn’t Texas brisket, Carolina whole hog or St. Louis ribs. Santa Maria-barbecue style dates back to the Spanish-Mexican rancho days, and features tri-tip grilled open over red oak, served with pico de gallo (salsa) and local pinquito beans. When driving through, just look for smiling faces and a big waft of smoke; someone is likely doing Santa Maria “cue” for a fundraiser.
Jocko’s, in Nipomo, 45 minutes from Lompoc, fits the bill because you get bueno cow, and it’s just a handful of longish par 5s from Monarch Dunes Golf Club. Monarch hints at the nearby Pacific for all the blown sand that accumulated over the eons, giving the course a heaving disposition and run-fast conditions.
Not far from the barbecue towns of the inland Central Coast, Highway. 1 again veers seaward, to Big Sur, a nearly 200-km asphalt ribbon decorating the most unspoiled stretch of American shore. The destination is Monterey Bay, where “central” conveniently gives way to “northern,” and where non-golf attractions range from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to auto racing at one of the Great Republic’s finest road courses, Laguna Seca.
Monterey Bay has golf wired, with Santa Cruz’s classic-era stunner, Pasatiempo Golf Club, on the north side to the ridiculously famous brood of courses clustered near Carmel—Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills. As with Highway. 1, the road less travelled often leads to Pacific Grove Golf Links.
This municipal golf course’s original opening nine turns inland, a short sporty parkland play with glimpses of the bay. Ecologically-restored seaside dunes frame the inward half of the course, a windswept nod to golf as it was originally played and of the few actually worthy of the “links” designation. Enjoy the golf. Make sure to marvel at the spectacle.
The padres quit building missions not far from here; their chain of outposts marking a path of discovery along the California shore. As golfers, who are we to mess with history?