The Sandpiper Golf Club is a public-access facility that sits on the coast near Santa Barbara, on what was once part of a crude oil production facility. After the black had been tapped out, the property was acquired and fitted with new equipment: a golf course from William F. Bell, the son of esteemed architect “Billy” Bell. Bold commenters might suggest that, if the cliffs along the Pacific had been just a bit higher, Sandpiper would rival the younger Bell’s work at Torrey Pines for the finest oceanfront course in his library.
The club was intended for professional play right from the start, measuring more than 7,000 yards from the tips when it debuted during 1972. Three holes — Nos. 6, 13 and 14 — play parallel to the ocean, while nos. 5 and 11 make dramatic runs toward the coast, offering world-class reveals. For all that water, there is only one true water hazard: No. 18 is a rare par three closer, which features a pond carry on the way home.
Rumors have swirled around the club for several years, following some interesting social media posts from Tom Doak. One wonders if ownership is looking to stimulate a renovation akin to the architect’s other prize Pacific Ocean designs.
Sandpiper is a seaside course that has great views, but may be lacking a bit in character. Other than the stretch of holes from 10 through 14, I found much of the course to be quite ordinary. There is some elevation change and a couple of nice doglegs. Six of the holes at one point or another border the cliffs of the Pacific. The greenside bunkers on many holes are set so far back, they are virtually out of play.
I found the course extremely well maintained. The greens were quick with some good movement to them. The fairways were lush and fairly generous in size. However, tee shots that venture too far off line will find some really nasty unmaintained rough just beyond the primary rough. Players who find themselves in this jungle will be hard pressed to hack it out, assuming they can even find it in less than three. Beyond this deep stuff, where there appears to be no irrigation, this deep rough transitions into to just plain old dirt.
By far the most exciting hole on the golf course was the 10th. A dramatic downhill 390 yard par 4 dogleg left, where one can challenge the left side off the tee. However, getting too aggressive could be costly, as there are fairway bunkers guarding the apex, and even worse would be to miss those bunkers and catch the steep slope that leads further left into that nasty stuff I described earlier. I felt the approach on the 10th was the most stunning shot on the golf course. A short iron into a very narrow two tiered green that is perched on a pinnacle with cliffs on either side along with an incredible view of the Pacific in the background.
All and all a nice course. However, I can think of some courses in California that did not make the top 100 that in my opinion may be more worthy.
If there is any course globally that could improve dramatically with a total renovation it is Sandpiper. Located in the intoxicating area of Santa Barbara the course features an ideal location abutting the Pacific Ocean. The facility is one of the final ones approved for the grand location it has to offer.
The issue is that the overall design is merely vanilla. The holes, with very few exceptions, are elementary in anything remotely calling itself compelling architecture.
I have always been a fan of the short par-4 10th -- a top tier hole which really gets the blood going when you step on the tee. The putting surface is elevated and pity the hapless player who doesn't hit a superlative approach. The dropshot par-3 11th is a fine follow-up hole and the short uphill 12th is a good counterpoint. The par-5 13th rounds out the quartet and has plenty of options for players to decide upon.
The bulk of the rest of the course is a textbook example of how a superb site could have been far, far better. Anyone who views Sandpiper as being remotely in the league with Pebble Beach has been drinking a very strong brew of Kool-Aid.
Course conditions can also stand to get far better given the nearly $200 cost to play with power cart on weekends and holidays.
The Santa Barbara area of California is a most impressive locale. It's just too bad that Sandpiper cannot be its equal.
by M. James Ward
Hands down, one of my favorite rounds of 2016. I am a sucker for seaside golf and Sandpiper has it in abundance. The front side has some parkland holes that allow you to get the juices flowing but its really kicks in on the 5th hole which goes uphill to a ridge and you start playing along the sea for a few holes.
You quickly drop back down into the parkland but your appetite has been whetted for the back 9 with a fantastic stretch of holes from 10-12. The 10th is a fantastic short par 4 that doglegs left but left is death due to the cliffs. The approach to the green is framed by the ocean but get used to it because 11 is a fantastic long downhill par 3 with nothing but you and the ocean. The 12th is a dogleg right going uphill and much like Kapalua, look back for the incredible scenery.
The rest of the course offer great holes and ends with a par 3 fascinatingly positioned over a lake.
Conditioning of the course is really the only issue as there are patches of threadbare fairway and the rough is a little too wild and wooly. The rack rate is also extremely high although you can find deals occasionally. Playing this course is a lot of fun and will allow you to get your ocean fix.