PASO ROBLES, Calif. -- Forget Napa Valley. Forget Sonoma Valley. If it is a wine and golf excursion you are looking for try the Central Coast of California -- some 120 miles of coastline loaded with quaint, friendly, seaside and inland towns and affordable golf.
The wine business on the Central Coast dates back to 1797 when the first grapevines were planted at Mission San Miguel Archangel in San Luis Obispo. The golf business didn't arrive until the 20th century, but today this beautiful, rolling terrain, dotted with ancient oaks on the Pacific Ocean, is a popular getaway for wine tasting and golf.
Seventy-five Canadians loaded La Purisma Golf Course in February, who came to escape the cold of the north and hit the links and take road trips to more than 60 wineries spread across 20,000 acres.
Good bets for a wine tasting visit is the Sylvester Winery in Paso Robles, known for Chardonnay and Merlot. Try the Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos for its Pinot Noir and Syrah. And Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards in Solvang is another winner for its dark, rich, black currant Cabernet Sauvignon. But there are many others.
Even better are the daily-fee gems of La Purisma in Lompoc, Hunter Ranch in Paso Robles and Cypress Ridge in Arroyo Grande.
La Purisima Golf Course is a Robert Muir Graves test of challenging golf. In fact, PGA Tour and USGA qualifiers have been held here and when the Final Stage of PGA Tour School was played in 1996, even par qualified for the tour. Fittingly, some golfers floored by the layout have walked off the course muttering words like "La Piranha" or "La Prisona."
Developed in 1986 by Ken Hunter, La Purisma has been considered for a PGA Championship, and was once in Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play list. Slick greens, bowling-alley narrow fairways and four-foot deep bunkers define this layout on 309 acres of gently rolling land, amongst ages-old sand hills just 30 miles from Santa Barbara.
But best of all this is pure golf, no houses line the fairways, just like its sister course Hunter Ranch. And the owner, who also developed Sandpiper, drew from Alister MacKenzie's inspiration -- he wanted a course that could be walked with tee boxes a short walk from greens and he wanted it tough -- pars are earned and appreciated.
There always seems to be an old oak in your way on Hunter Ranch Golf Course, a 6,741-yard, par 72, in northern San Luis Obispo County's picturesque wine country. Designed by owner Ken Hunter and Mike McGinnis, the blue oaks are everywhere, and there's enough water and rolling terrain to keep the challenge noteworthy. Greens roll about 10 on the Stimp meter and countless bunkers surround them and confound you from the tee box.
No. 6 is a par 5 of 509 yards. From the tee you can't see much fairway, just problematic oaks, but over the top of them things open up and then right smack dab in the middle of the fairway are two other trees just on the pathway toward the green.
The 415-yard par-4 12th requires a solid tee shot to the top of a hill where you eyeball the green. If you are far enough back you won't even see the trouble - the putting surface is fronted by water. If you have hit it to the 150-yard marker you can play without even thinking about the wet stuff.
Hunter Ranch's spacious clubhouse is rustic and reminiscent of the ranch houses in the Australian Outback. Here you can relax after your round in the Caddie's Grill while soaking in the panorama of the golf course and surrounding vineyards.
This Peter Jacobsen, Jim Hardy 6,803-yard, par 72, is set on a mesa not far from the Pacific Ocean with rolling terrain and plenty of challenges. The bunkers are huge and deep and tricky, subtle greens with hidden breaks might frustrate you.
Mature cypress trees, fragrant eucalyptus, lush green fairways and cool fresh ocean air make Cypress Ridge a new gem on the Central Coast.
"At Cypress Ridge we were given a great piece of property and our team allowed the land to be the hero, resulting in a natural, beautiful course," says Hardy, who is based in Houston. Jacobsen said he knew it was special once he reached No. 14 and had used every club in his bag.
Cypress Ridge is certified as an Audubon Signature Sanctuary - said to the 13th golf course in the world to receive this elite distinction and the first to be designated as a Silver Signature Sanctuary in the state of California. Fringe areas surrounding each hole are planted with native grasses, and there are wildflowers and ponds offering cover and food for wildlife.
No. 16 is a beauty. This par 4 plays 418 yards uphill with a slight dogleg left to an elevated green fronted by a bunker. Huge cypress and eucalyptus trees line both sides of the fairway. Head down the hill on No. 17, another fun hole, a demanding par 3 of 201 yards.
1115 North Street
Lompoc, CA 93436
Lompoc's Embassy Suites is only minutes from the La Purisma Golf Course and the Spanish Mission it was named for. It's also 22 miles from the historic Danish village of Solvang and another golf course to play, The Alisal River Course. Enjoy the full breakfast, included in the rate. Suites include separate living area, with microwave and mini refrigerator.
1621 North H Street
Lompoc, CA 93436
Check out the golf packages and enjoy a full complimentary hot breakfast. Suites include separate living area, kitchenette with microwave, refrigerator, electric range and evening reception with hors d'oeuvres, beer and wine.
February 26, 2004