Following a week of meetings in Los Angeles, I was looking forward to playing the Sandpiper Golf Club just north of Santa Barbara, Calif. Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Santa Ynez Mountains, the course runs along the Pacific Ocean and offers some magnificent vistas — 14 of the 18 holes are along the ocean or have ocean views — during play. The William Bell-designed course (Bell also designed Torrey Pines in San Diego) opened in 1972. It’s a point of pride that with no homes or roads to interrupt the 200-acre landscape, the course offers what locals refer to as a “Pebble Beach” experience in Santa Barbara.
The back tees at the course measure more than 7,000 yards. More modest players can tee up from the silver at 6,597 yards. The clubhouse leaves a bit to be desired. The restaurant lacks a “clubby” atmosphere and there’s no bar. Drinks are served outside or inside when seated for dining. The top-notch dining-room and pro-shop staff makes up for any shortcomings, but I would have expected a course of this caliber to have better facilities.
I played the course in mid-January following the heavy rain, flooding and mudslides that had devastated the region just south of Santa Barbara. The course was wet, but in remarkable shape given the circumstances. The day I played was sunny and warm with a nice wind, which was doing wonders to dry out the course. A “cart paths only” rule was in effect and the grass needed a trim, but the greenskeeper was holding off until later in the day to minimize damage to the course. The greens were incredibly fast and true, which made for an interesting challenge.
Hole 5 (509-yard par 5)
The No. 14 handicapped hole on the course, this one isn’t too difficult. From the tee box, you are launching your drive uphill to the landing area. Danger lurks on the left in wooded vegetation areas. From your second shot in, you should have a decent wood or iron to the green (wet conditions meant loss of distance on our tee shots). As you walk up to the green, you meet your first view of the Pacific Ocean, which was like glass the day I played. The view alone was well worth the hour or so drive from Los Angeles.
Hole 6 (195-yard par 3)
Running along cliffs with the Pacific Ocean below, this is one of the course’s signature holes. The view is beautiful, but errant shots or wind gusts can sweep balls over the cliffs and onto the beach. The hole played a little longer than it looked, which may have been due to the wind; most shots were coming up short of the green. Again the green was very quick, so doable putts were passing the cup rather than dropping.
Hole 10 (381-yard par 4)
A great golf hole leading down to the Pacific Ocean, No. 10 is a dogleg left. Off the tee you can play it safe or go for it, launching your ball over a stand of trees on the left side to cut the corner. Be careful, as the safe landing area is dotted with bunkers to trap your ball. Golfers who gamble and succeed have an enormous yardage advantage and will have a 9-iron or pitching wedge to the small dangerous green — dangerous because any ball too long or too far right will be gone and unplayable. The flag was far back center the day I played, so I had to reach the elevated area of the green on my approach shot. It is a beautiful hole marred only by the sound of a nearby pumping station, which pumps oil from the derricks at sea.
Hole 12 (341-yard par 4)
No. 12 is the No. 18 handicapped hole on the course, but play can be more difficult than expected. Your tee shot is to an uphill landing area (dogleg right). Balls that fly beyond this area will run off the hole to the trees on the left; shots that venture right can end up in a similar situation. The saving grace is the larger green with only a few bunkers protecting it. My wild tee shot landed right, but still allowed me to take an 8-iron to the green. I had an enormous putt to recover as the pin was far forward of this large green.
Hole 13 (532-yard par 5)
This spectacular hole has a blind tee shot to the fairway. Once you reach your ball, you will most probably have to lay up due to a brush-covered area in front of the green. Balls in this area are gone forever. You can shoot a little left (over the breccias) to a landing area and chip from there on a more level surface to the green, or chip up to the green, which is a good 25 feet or more above you from the fairway.
Hole 14 (444-yard par 4)
A long par 4 with the tee box placed back and a gully in front, No. 14 offers a great challenge to get on the green in two. All four in my group had magnificent drives off the tee; we were grouped together in and off the fairway within 30 feet of each other. We all had about 185 yards to the green. An easily hit 5-wood took my ball cleanly to the green. Smart and cool, I stood by and watched my partners chip up, but the green speed did me in: A three-putt was the order of the day.
Ranked among the top 25 public courses to play by Golf Digest
Ranked among the top 75 upscale courses to play by
Hosted PGA Tour Qualifying School in 1997
Hosted LPGA Santa Barbara Women’s Open
Ranked among four-star places to play by Golf Digest
Hosted PGA Tour Tournament Players Series
SANDPIPER GOLF CLUB
7925 Hollister Ave.
Santa Barbara, CA 93117
tel 805 968 1541
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I had just taken off my sandals, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 am back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to by husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
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