Majestic oaks, sprawling sycamores, and towering eucalyptus trees lining lush fairways.Scenic beauty observed from tee to green.Challenging greens conjuring up of visions of three putts.When you play The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort’s Ranch Course, which is open only to guests of the resort and members of the local men’s club, these are images you will enjoy. Opened in 1955, the Ranch Course is part of a 10,000-acre working cattle
ranch and full-service resort located in the picturesque Santa Ynez Valley, 35 miles north of Santa Barbara. Golf course architect Billy Bell, Jr. designed the Ranch Course around a barranca that winds through the course and comes in to play on 12 holes. A championship par 72, 6500-yard layout with three sets of tees to accommodate golfers of varying skills, the Ranch Course is challenging yet fun to play. In addition to an abundance of century old trees and acres of unspoiled natural beauty, the course is home to a variety of wildlife. The day I played, black tailed deer wandered nonchalantly across the fairways and numerous hawks glided through cloudless pale blue skies.
Playing the course was like taking a leisurely walk through the country, void of life’s daily hustle and bustle. Unusual in its design in that the 9th and 18th holes are both par 3’s, the course’s challenges are many…tight fairways, subtle dog legs, well bunkered sloping greens, and the meandering barranca that seems ever present throughout the course. My favorite holes were #8 and #16. Anytime I par a number one handicap hole it automatically becomes a favorite hole…and the 416-yard par-4 eighth hole is the course’s toughest. My drive was short of the barranca that crosses the fairway 236 yards from the tee. My second shot avoided the outof-bounds behind the green and the bunkers to the right and left of the green. When I coaxed a pitch and run shot to within 10 feet of the pin and sunk my curling double breaker putt, I had my par. The hole immediately became a favorite. The 16th hole, a relatively easy 377-yard tree-lined downhill par-4 was my second favorite. I managed to avoid the large fairway bunker guarding the left side of the fairway but proceeded to hit my second shot into the bunker to the right of the green. Although I bogeyed the hole, because it was one of the most scenic holes on the course, and a doe and two speckled fawns crossed the fairway prior to my second shot, it quickly became my second favorite hole.
Home to numerous tournaments including the Southern California Golf Association Senior Amateur, the Ranch Course’s low round record of 63 is held by Johnny Henn who, incredibly, was a freshman at Santa Ynez High School at the time. Other notable scores include a 65 by “Mr. 59” Al Geiberger, and a 65 by now deceased local Santa Ynez Valley golfer Dick Thomas who was 65 at the time.
When you finish your round of golf, you will find there are plenty of other things to do at The Alisal. You can swim, kayak, sail or fish in the resort’s 100-acre spring fed Lake Alisal, play tennis, take a horse back ride, lounge by the pool, relax in the Jacuzzi, enjoy a refreshing drink in the lodge’s comfortable western themed bar, or just plain sit and commune with nature. If you do decide to go fishing for blue gill, trout or wide mouth bass in Lake Alisal, be sure and ask the resort’s professional fishing guide Jason Grupp for fishing tips and/or a guided fishing trip. I did and caught four bass in 30 minutes.
The Ranch Course reflects the old style course design not found at many of today’s modern courses. When asked what changes he planned for the course in the future, Course Superintendent Dave Rosenstrauch said, “We are going to leave it the way it is. It’s beautiful as is.” Both Head PGA Pro Dave Hartley and I agreed…The Ranch Course at The Alisal is truly beautiful. If time permits, be sure and play The Alisal’s River Course on the outskirts of Solvang just a few minutes away from the resort. Its serene riverside setting offers wide-open fairways with challenging lakes and bunkers. For more information about The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, and its myriad of guest packages and activities, visit www.alisal.com