Set within a 300-acre site to the north west of Santa Barbara, the fairways of the La Purisima golf course are routed across a wonderful sandy-soiled property that’s devoid of any commercial or residential development.
This public access course was unveiled in 1986 by Kenneth Hume Hunter Jnr – a developer who also created the course at Sandpiper Golf Club in Goleta and Hunter Ranch in Paso Robles – with Robert Muir Graves designing the layout.
Located in the Santa Ynez Valley wine growing region. La Purisima is noted as a tough track (known locally as “La Piranha” though some have also called it the “Bethpage Black of the West Coast”) which has previously hosted final stage PGA Tour School qualifying.
Feature holes include the 158-yard 3rd, played across water to a shallow green, and the left doglegged par five 7th. On the inward half, the 609-yard 12th is a beast of a par five, with the 410-yard 18th also recognised as a difficult water and sand-protected home hole.
During the late 1990's and early 2000's I played La Purisima many times in PGA Tour Qualifiers with much success. Now “retired” from trying to make a living playing golf I can enjoy golf courses for other reasons.
My girlfriend and I played La Purisima as part of a holiday get away on a beautiful day in early January. Our intention was to go to out of the way places. Lompoc, CA is well off the beaten path that is Hwy 101.
We were treated to a windless day. Wind is La Purisima's great defense and most golfers try to play in the morning before the wind kicks up.
When I last played La Purisima my golf bag carried persimmon woods, steel shafts, and just one wedge with more than 50 degrees of loft. Now in my near mid 60's technology allows me to play golf courses in much the same way as I did way back when. Most of my iron shots into greens were the same as I had hit nearly 20 years ago.
The first memory that came back to me when playing the course was just how important it is to be below the hole when putting. The third hole is a short par three. 158 for me and 98 for Marlene. We both hit 8 irons. I had a tap-in. Marlene had an 8 foot down hill putt that caught the hole for a birdie. Had she missed she would have had an eight footer coming back.
La Purisima is a second shot golf course. Good driving is needed but to score you have to dial in your irons. The second shot into hole eight is a mid to long iron. The hills in the background add to the beauty of the green complex. The second shot on ten can be a short to mid iron depending on the hole location on the long narrow green. No room for error. Sixteen is perhaps the strongest par four on the course. Your drive must be long and straight in order to have a mid iron shot that must be right of the hole for a good chance at the putt.
To my thinking hole seven is the weakest hole on a very good course. The drive is too much of a down hill. Unless you can carry the trees on the left there is no real landing area.
For two golfers in their 60's La Purisima is a hard walk. The course has a fair amount of elevation change and most of the time you are walking on the slope of a hill. What make for a challenging interesting golf course means sore feet at the end of 18.
As with too many golf courses these days ladies and short hitters are limited to one choice from where to play. The red tees at La Purisima are 5763 yards. Marlene would be better served if she had the option of playing at something closer to 5200.
For me, I played the course at just under 7000 and had a great time while remembering back to a time when I was a pretty good golfer.
The main anchor weighing down La Purisima is its isolated location. For those who venture from the largest nearby community in Santa Barbara -- you'll need to head nearly 60 additional miles to get there. For many years the community was known more for its host location of a Federal
The land La Purisima occupies is top shelf. Plenty of natural rolls and the holes are placed so that they fit as naturally as possible. Architect Robert Muir Graves did a stellar effort in providing a challenging and thorough routing with various holes mandating quality execution and command of all of one's clubs.
La Purisima is also a tale of two different clubs. In the AM the layout can be docile but when PM conditions materialize one can easily encounter 4-5 club winds. For a number of years the club served as a qualifying site for the PGA TOUR and once one faces such winds you can easily attest to the skills one needs in playing golf at the highest levels.
Graves saw fit not to clutter the course up. The land the layout occupies is the storyline. Knowing limitations is not an easy task but Graves fully comprehended what the task needed to be in order to ensure the final product could truly blossom in grand fashion.
Among my favorites at the course is the dog-leg left 2nd -- a tenacious par-4 that accepts nothing less than one's best. The drive zones are especially vexing. Players intent on going for the maximum had best have their placements in good order. Driving the ball with consistent skills is a must item throughout the round. Graves has provided numerous "choke points" where the fairways edges come together in a very constricted way. Golfers have to decide how much risk they are willing to take.
The green contours are also well done. It would have been a disaster to have putting surfaces with contours that are too savage. Graves varies the greens in terms of overall square footage and in the manner by which they are angled to accept approach shots.
Sad to say, so much of golf course rankings is based on mindless noise chatter from facilities with public relations efforts going full tilt to dramatize what they provide. You won't find that here -- the product doesn't need any bull horn hype.
by M. James Ward