Appeared in May/June 2008 LINKS
After passing through the gatehouse of Santa Lucia Preserve, I cue up Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, the perfect soundtrack for golf’s most scenic, most serene entryway. During the 9.1-mile drive to the Preserve Golf Club, the melody rises and falls like the landscape of hills and valleys, meadows and woodland.
I drive slowly, not only to negotiate the serpentine two-lane road, but also to be on the lookout for wild boar, turkeys, deer and other denizens of the preserve. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is well into the third movement by the time I reach the clubhouse, having shed all of life’s stresses and worries along the way.
Preserve Golf Club is a sanctuary within a sanctuary, a 7,067-yard refuge inside the 20,000-acre Santa Lucia Preserve, a private community that has made conservation its foremost priority. Ninety percent of the property’s land will never be developed, and the human presence—golf course, other amenities like the equestrian center, as well as 300 homesites—is spread discreetly over the 31-square-mile property, which looks more like a 19th century Montana homestead than a 21st century golf community just miles from Monterey.
In fact, only two homes are visible from the entire Tom Fazio-designed layout, and golfers are more likely to encounter wildlife—golden eagles, wild turkeys, mule deer, even mountain lions—than other golfers.
Situated on a rolling meadow valley divided by a ridge, the course features plenty of elevation changes and varying looks. After a tame start marked by downhill tee shots and birdie opportunities, the layout begins to show its formidable side on the 458-yard 9th, the first of four demanding par 4s. The 9th requires two tight draws with a driver and mid-iron to set up a makeable birdie putt at the back-left hole location, while the 10th offers a unique design: The fairway sits diagonally from left to right and is surrounded by native grasses, and the look is reminiscent of target-style desert golf.
But the toughest par 4 of all is the 443-yard 15th, which climbs all the way from the tee to the contoured green. While there are plenty of Western, Sycamore and Valley oaks on the property, the key tree from a golf perspective is a dead oak on the hillside beyond that was kept as an aiming point off the tee.
Part of the experience of a round at the Preserve is a stay in the refurbished Hacienda, which dates to 1924, when George Gordon Moore bought the property and built a ranch on it. It provides a tranquil setting for a postround meal and the accompanying camaraderie.
Leaving the club, there is plenty of time to reflect during one last stretch of quietude while driving back to the gatehouse. I am soon caught up again in the bustle of modern life, but as I wait at the light waiting to turn onto traffic-filled California Highway 1, I realize that I have been lucky enough to enjoy one of golf’s great experiences.