In this blog post we’ll explore some of the best golf courses in Santa Barbara in California.
Located on the spectacular west coast of the United States, Santa Barbara captivates visitors with its exquisite natural beauty and enchanting Mediterranean charm. On one side you have the Santa Ynez Mountains, whilst on the other the Pacific Ocean.
This coastal gem offers a perfect blend of breathtaking landscapes, idyllic beaches, and a vibrant cultural scene. Clearly having a superb year-round temperate climate helps! As such, Santa Barbara remains a hugely popular tourist destination.
Add to this a litany of outdoor activities and some world-class wineries, it is no wonder Santa Barbara is considered a quintessential California experience.
And although it isn’t renowned as a golf destination, there are some top class layouts here. Let’s jump into the best golf courses in Santa Barbara.
The best public golf courses in Santa Barbara
Sandpiper Golf Club
We kick off our list of the best public golf courses in Santa Barbara with the spectacular Sandpiper Golf Club. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this is an awe-inspiring plot.
The club is located approximately a twenty minute drive west of the city center, past the Santa Barbara Airport. An extra couple of minutes drive on the 101, and you’d arrive at the luxury Ritz-Carlton Bacara hotel, which is popular with leisure tourists.
Let’s be honest, there must be times when Sandpiper Golf Club feels a bit hard done by.
I can reel off the great courses which are perched on the shoreline or upon cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles…the list goes on.
Every one of those is lauded as one of the best in the world, let alone California. Yet for some reason Sandpiper doesn’t quite get the same recognition. But boy I can tell you, it can rival any of the aforementioned for magnificent views.
As for the layout, it was designed by William F. Bell opening in 1972. Bell created a routing which ensures there are ocean views from nearly every part of the course. There are even ocean views from the clubhouse and parking!
At over 7,100 yards from the back markers, this is also a challenging layout, with plenty of elevation changes. And if those sea breezes pick up, you could be in for a long day.
It’s not cheap, at around $200 a round. But compared to the courses mentioned earlier, this feels like a steal.
Glen Annie Golf Club
Moving away from the coastline higher up in the hills, just five minutes drive from Sandpiper, is Glen Annie Golf Club. Yet fear not. You might not be immediately next to the coastline, but you will still benefit from magnificent ocean views.
Glen Annie Golf Club is home to a fantastic yet challenging golf course which opened in 1997. It was designed by Robert Muir Graves and Damian Pascuzzo in what was an interesting design collaboration.
Graves was a famed designer who throughout the second half of the twentieth-century, had built a steady reputation both in the U.S. and abroad. As for Pascuzzo, he was less than ten years into his burgeoning career, bringing new ideas and a modern perspective.
The course they routed at Glen Annie is anything but boring and non-descript. The layout is set across the rolling Santa Barbara hills and makes maximum use of the hilly topography. Think twice if you’re thinking of walking it!
Inevitably there are plenty of uphill approach shots and expansive tee shots, especially on the tricky front nine.
Compared to some of the other courses in the area with similar views, Glen Annie is decent value. During the week you can get a twilight for between $60-70 and a super twilight for even less!
Santa Barbara Golf Club
The oldest public golf course in Santa Barbara, is Santa Barbara Golf Club. Designed by Lawrence Hughes, the course opened for play in 1958 and has remained a popular municipal offering in the city ever since.
Ever since a young age, Hughes was exposed to one of the finest golf course architects of all time, Donald Ross. His father Henry Hughes worked as part of Ross’ construction team and over the years, Lawrence became more and more impassioned by the game.
Eventually after World War I, Hughes launched his own architectural business leading to a successful career. With much of his work centered around California, Santa Barbara would have been one of his last projects.
The course isn’t the longest from the back tees, measuring 6,022 yards. But in a way, this is what also makes it such fun. You can play here without getting beat up.
The fairways feature gentle undulations with as many tree-lined as there are wide open. The greens are fair and there is enough of a challenge to make it warrant a return visit.
The best private golf courses in Santa Barbara
The Valley Club of Montecito
When it comes to the best golf courses in Santa Barbara, the Valley Club of Montecito is in a league of its own.
This iconic golf course is considered one of the finest in the country and in the top 10 California courses. I covered some of Cali’s best in this article – the best golf courses in California.
The Valley Club of Montecito started life in 1929 and was designed by one of the pre-eminent architects of the age, Alister MacKenzie. It underwent various tweaks over the years, with the likes of Tom Doak, Jim Urbina and Todd Eckenrode all being involved to some degree.
But at no point has it ever lost its heritage and character. And at no point has the golf course ever lost its identity and the Golden Age features which are so highly treasured.
The club is located a ten minute drive due east from downtown Santa Barbara, just a couple of miles inland. There is nothing grandiose about the Valley Club. In fact quite the opposite. It is modest and unpretentious, focusing on providing a unique golf experience.
Measuring over 6,600 yards from the back tees, it isn’t the longest. Fairways feature subtle undulations but are on the whole relatively accessible.
It is the green complexes where the Valley Club of Montecito really differentiates itself. Hugely sloping greens protected by sculpted bunkers will severely penalize poor approaches.
One of the outstanding west coast golf courses, if you do get the chance to play here, enjoy every moment.
Another golf club which has been a mainstay on the Santa Barbara golf scene for over a century. Montecito Club, which was previously known as Montecito Country Club, is effectively a ‘new kid on the block’.
This is because after a change of ownership, in 2015 the club underwent a staggering $119.5 million renovation, transforming it into one of the most desirable premier clubs on the west coast.
It is now the epitome of luxury and exclusivity. Playing here is a pipedream for many of us.
Amongst the work which was carried out here, nothing was left untouched. A whole range of new and updated amenities, with a complete rebuild of the clubhouse.
Central to all this work was to completely transform the original 1922 Max Behr designed golf course. And who to oversee the work for this significant project – Jack Nicklaus himself. With Nicklaus officially overseeing and being part of the rebuild, Montecito Club is officially recognised as a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course.
The transformation was a complete redesign, reshaping many holes, rebuilding bunkers – this is fundamentally a different course.
It’s fair to say the parcel of land they inherited is pretty special. It enjoys magnificent views across Santa Barbara, but also out to the ocean and Channel Islands. Therefore maximizing these views whilst delivering a first-class golf experience was a key objective in the build.
The Nicklaus course opened in 2019 and has elevated the course to new heights of conditioning and strategy. Credit also needs to go to the Nicklaus Design group for the water conservation efforts as part of the overall design.
Birnam Wood Golf Club
One of the finest private member clubs in this area of California, Birnam Wood is so much more than just a decent golf course.
It is a community featuring a range of sumptuous residences in the leafy suburbs of Montecito. Tucked between the mountains and sparkling beaches, members have various amenities to choose from including tennis and pickleball courts, a fitness center and premier dining options.
For the golf course, they have an elegant Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed course. Maintained to the highest standards, this is an enjoyable yet hugely challenging round of golf.
When I say the course is only just over 6,000 yards, you’ll probably question how difficult it really can be. Well a lot of the difficulty comes from the very narrow fairways, where anything but hitting the fairway is essential to scoring well. Simply finding your ball could be considered success on many holes if you spray it from the tee.
The greens are firm and fast ensuring getting to the putting surface is only half the challenge.
But if you do manage to hit it straight, you’ll enjoy a fantastic layout, designed by one of the great golf course designers of his era.
La Cumbre Country Club
Last up on our list of the best golf courses in Santa Barbara, is the private members club of La Cumbre Country Club. It also happens to be the oldest golf course in Santa Barbara, with the first rudimentary layout opening for play in 1908.
Since then, it has moved location and had various remodels, course renovations and a few name changes.
It started life as Potter Country Club, as it was owned by the Potter Hotel Company. In 1914, following the financial demise of the owning company, it became known as Hope Ranch Park Golf Club.
It was also around that time that the membership managed to acquire the existing plot of land, literally over the road from their old location. On this land the members designed an 18-hole layout which just two years later, was redesigned by the celebrated architect Tom Bendelow.
Oh, and don’t forget name change number three at this point, now calling itself La Combre Golf and Country Club.
Additional land was purchased some seven years later which allowed the club to again commission a well-known architect, and redesign the course. On this occasion, they turned to two well-known architects, George Thomas and William Bell Sr.
Things slowed up a little in the intervening years although it did still include one more name change, to its current moniker.
The course itself is delightful, hidden away in its serene setting. There is a sense of tranquility golfers will enjoy, whilst taking in the beautiful mountain views.
Accuracy is 100% a requirement, with a number of tricky holes. And half way through the round, you’ll play five holes which work their way round a charming lake.
It’s easy to see why La Cumbre Country Club is one of the most desirable places to become a member in Santa Barbara.
What is the best golf course in Santa Barbara, California?
The best golf course in Santa Barbara, is the iconic Valley Club of Montecito. It was designed by one of the great architects of golf’s Golden Age, Alister MacKenzie. Opening for play in 1929, the course has remained one of the highest ranked golf courses in California.