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Saddle up for diverse golf courses at The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang, California

Judd SpicerBy Judd Spicer,
The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort - River golf course - hole 2
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Alisal's River golf course features views of the Santa Ynez Mountains. (Courtesy of Alisal Guest Ranch)

SOLVANG, Calif. -- Handsomely set across a sprawling 10,000-acre property, The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort proves a romantic, classic Western-style getaway amid the wine lovers' setting of California's lush central coast.

Seasonal outdoor activities abound for guests in a milieu, which provides a secluded, generational feel and a resort where a well trained, veteran staff hosts with a continually civilized smile.

Oh, and there's also some golf to be had, with 36 holes of diverse play on site for both the public tee sheet and resort guests.

Alisal Ranch Course

Alisal's Ranch Course, a classic Billy Bell design from 1956, is a gem of the design legends' vast SoCal portfolio.

Open to membership and guests staying at Alisal, the vibe of privacy is well suited with the wealth of mature oaks, sycamore and eucalyptus lining the oft-slender fairways. The foliage is complemented by the charm of the grounds' winding barranca and accompanying bridges across the routing.

"You feel like you've got your own private country club out here; you may not see anybody for three or four holes," says Dave Hartley, head professional at the Alisal Ranch Course.

To offer a sense of Alisal's continuity, Hartley is just the Ranch's third head pro since 1955.

Quietude abounds and the Ranch proves a must-play for the Alisal visitor. Akin to its generational design elements, distance is diminutive at just a shade more than 6,500 yards and hole-to-hole segues ensue with ease.

"The barranca comes out of Alisal Lake, which can come into play on 14 holes; though it's easy for it not to come into play as you have the option to avoid it most of the time," Hartley says.

Yet charm, solitude, nature and inviting walkability do not necessarily make for an easy play. Despite the dearth of distance, Bell's design requires continual shot-making and careful green study.

"This course is narrow, squeezed by trees with sloping greens," Hartley says. "You can have 15-footers all day where you're not thinking, 'Make,' you're thinking, 'Safety.'"

From the outset, the Ranch forces players to saddle-up with accuracy on the 528-yard, par-5 first.

"We always think the first hole is the toughest shot on the course," Hartley says. "The fairway looks about three yards wide; there's a lot more room out there than you think on the right, but there is still O.B. on the right and barranca on the left."

Ongoing engagement ensues through a fine run on nos. 5-8.

"The fifth is the closest hole to the Santa Ynez River; it's a beautiful, downhill par 3," Hartley says.

After a slender, stunning seventh plays skinny off the tee, the top handicap hole ensues with an equally narrow path to the short grass.

"On the eighth, if you carry it about 280 or so you can fly it over the barranca, then you have around 120 yards in to a narrow green with a bunker on either side," Hartley says.

Alisal River Course

Not as comely as its celebrated sister, the public River Course at Alisal does flow with its namely wide-open spaces from the box and regular views and environs of the Santa Ynez Mountains and Valley.

"It's a bit longer, links-style course, with big, flat greens where the wind is the defense," Hartley says. "And that wind blows in the afternoon pretty consistently. But the course is nice and open and you can get into the round a bit."

Though longer than the Ranch by about 300 yards, the River offers ample scorability and far easier putting surfaces, with greens that are big and flat.

"And the grasses around the greens are a little easier to chip off of," Hartley says.

Pedestrian for the first hour of play, the River finds momentum with a fine front nine close. "Numbers 6-9 are probably the toughest stretch of the course," Hartley says.

After the lengthy par-4 sixth, the top-handicap seventh is a monster at 438 yards into the prevailing wind with lake water deep left and O.B. right.

The setting of the ensuing, short eighth hole seems born for the silver screen.

"As you finish the seventh and go up the little ridge on the eighth, a short par 4, with all the wineries on the right and Solvang is kind of at 2 o'clock, that's where they filmed the golf scene for the movie 'Sideways,'" Hartley says. "It's kind of the quintessential wine country film, of course, and that particular hole with the vineyards and the views really worked."

Work for the player follows along with the 172-yard, par-3 ninth (try not to wound anybody at the snack shop deep left) before the turn sports a long, skinny tee shot at the 430-yard, par-4 10th.

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Alisal Guest Ranch - Ranch golf course - 13thAlisal Guest Ranch - horses

Judd Spicer is an award-winning, veteran freelance writer hailing from St. Paul, Minn. After 12 years of covering MLB, NBA, NCAA and the active golf landscape of the Twin Cities, he relocated to the Palm Spring, Calif. region to further pursue his golf work and Champions Tour dream. Sporting measured distance off the tee, Spicer refers to his pitching wedge as his "magic wand." Follow Judd on Twitter at @juddspicer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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