Santa Lucia Preserve

Next to California’s Monterey Peninsula, a vibrant community protects the land’s natural beauty—and a way of life

By: Tom Dellner

Appeared in 2013 LINKS Premier Clubs

Any story properly told about the Santa Lucia Preserve begins with the land. The private community lives gently on 20,000 acres—31 square miles—of redwood forests, savannas, grasslands, wetlands, oak woodlands, and stands of Monterey pine nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains of California’s majestic Monterey County. Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pebble Beach lie just to the northwest, Big Sur to the south.

The Preserve—the former Rancho San Carlos, once owned by the flamboyant, polo-playing socialite George Gordon Moore, who may have been the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby”—is now managed and protected in perpetuity by the Santa Lucia Conservancy.

The Conservancy ensures that The Preserve of today, as well as 100 years from now, looks much like that 19th-century ranch. Ninety percent of The Preserve’s land—18,000 acres—is designated either as open or wild lands and will remain forever pristine, home to mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer, wild boar, gray fox, turkey, golden eagles, redtail hawks, and more than 600 species of plant life.

Just 296 homelands are available on this property, a parcel larger than the entire Monterey Peninsula. The homes at The Preserve feature a wide variety of architectural styles with a large number having been recognized for their award-winning designs. All that’s asked is that they complement and recede into the landscape to preserve the land’s natural beauty: homes disappear into ridgelines; recessed windows prevent light from reflecting and marring the beauty of another glorious sunset.

But the land is more than just one of the world’s most spectacular settings: It is the inspiration for a community and culture that make life special.

“The Preserve speaks to people who have a deep love and respect for nature; those are the people who are drawn to this place,” says long-time owner Laura Gamble. “What we’ve found is that this extends to a love and respect for one’s neighbors, the staff, and the community as a whole. These shared values make The Preserve a wonderful place to live.”

You may be tempted to dismiss this sentiment as a corny platitude, but its spirit is lived out daily. It’s evident every Thursday, when the residents gather at the historic 1920s Spanish Colonial Hacienda, The Preserve’s social hub, a 16-room lodge with sprawling grounds, indoor and outdoor dining, and a pool, among other amenities. Over cocktails, people see who’s in town, reconnect with friends or make new ones, and plan the week’s activities—golf, a hike or trail ride (horse and mountain bike are the preferred modes of transport over the 100-plus miles of trails), tennis, swimming. Usually, the party continues over dinner. Frequently there’s musical entertainment or a guest lecturer.

In another evolving Preserve tradition indicative of its culture, every few months a family will host a dinner at the Hacienda, where they serve some of their favorite dishes, often reflecting ethnic or cultural roots. (The club’s culinary team takes care of all the work.) Usually, the hosts speak about their family’s traditions and heritage. The events are fast becoming favorites among residents.

The Midsummer Night’s Dream is another signature Preserve event, held in July beneath the natural canopy formed by a centuries-old grove of 100-foot redwoods. Residents and guests gather in the grove—many dressed in “Cowboy Formal,” black tie and blue jeans—for an elegant evening of cocktails, live music, and dinner. It’s the revival of a tradition started by the Gatsbian Moore in the 1920s. Musicians perform opera, jazz, or classical music beneath a full moon. The Preserve’s beloved Chef Carlton Lepine prepares a four- or five-course meal and each dish is paired with a world-class wine.

On Labor Day weekend, the equestrian center is the setting for Fandango, celebrating the Vaquero traditions of horsemanship, style, and community spirit. A barbeque and barn dance held on opening night set the stage for the main event the next day. Equestrian enthusiasts of all ages and abilities head to the arena for a variety of competitions, including barrel racing, cattle sorting, and cow penning, with traditional buckle awards and ribbons given to the winners. Following the competition, a five-piece mariachi band leads everyone into the barn for a traditional Mexican fiesta and a trunk show showcasing the finest Western wear, hats, jewelry, and leather goods.

Of course, there’s another way to enjoy and explore this incredible community. The Tom Fazio-designed Preserve Golf Club stretches over 350 acres, the routing covering all the geographical variety of The Preserve: woodlands, savannas, wetlands, and grasslands.

The holes are as diverse as the setting, with inspiring changes in elevation and views that traverse the natural terrain. Long par fours may have you contemplating a lay-up
second, while shorter holes may be best attacked with an iron off the tee.

At 7,067 yards from the back tees, this Fazio design provides a fair but challenging test for members of all abilities as well as the many tour professionals and ranked amateurs who have graced the course. Chief Operating Officer Michael Kelly explains that the fairways are generous, but any gifts stop at the greens, which are well bunkered, multi-tiered, and feature nasty breaks that can easily change a birdie into a bogey. Fast, they typically roll at 11, several featuring false fronts that can send an ill-fated approach 20 yards down the fairway.

The premium, therefore, is on how one approaches the green and when there, the short game. The day’s hole locations can make all the difference in the world, which, along with the diversity of holes and a spectacular walk, make this a course to play and enjoy over and over.

Course conditioning is world class, one more reason The Preserve belongs on any player’s Monterey County bucket list, right there with Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, and Spyglass Hill. But The Preserve offers what none of those courses—and few anywhere—can: a round almost entirely uninterrupted by views of homes, other holes, or the sounds of traffic, residents, or other golfers. It is as pure and private a golf experience as you can find.

With the city of Monterey and the ocean 15 miles away, throughout the summer when it is damp and cool on the coast, it is sunny, 85 degrees, and postcard-perfect at The Preserve. Plus, the purity of the golf experience will never change, just as the unspoiled beauty of this place will endure across the generations.                                                           



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