San Marcos Re-Opens!

Closed since March 1st, Rancho San Marcos golf course re-opened for play July 4th.

The course, which opened in January 1998, is now owned by Ty Warner, who has spent $2 million or so with Robert Trent Jones Jr., original architects of the course, on some much-needed repairs.

We conducted the following interview with PGA pro Greg Villeneuve, Director of Golf Operations for Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts, while driving a golf cart around the course on Monday July 2.

Q. What have you done with Hole Number One?

A. The landing area for the tee shot stays the same, but the hole has been lengthened by about fifty yards [it’s now 601 yards from the back tees, 560 for average players, and 481 from the women’s tee]. A “deception bunker” has been installed on the left hand side of the new green [formerly green # 3], to tempt big hitters to cut out the dog leg left and go for the green with their second shot. If they do, they’ll find they’ll have another 40 yards of turf between the bunker and the edge of the putting surface, which is why it’s called a deception bunker. If you’re going to take that shortcut, you better take your short game with you. If you come up the regulation way, a third shot will actually kick-slope towards the green, as a reward. We used to gang foursomes up on busy days because it was such a reachable green. Now, I think it has become a true par five.

You’ve changed out all the sand in all the bunkers, correct?

The bunkers are now the focal point of the golf course. They stand out and give the course a great look. We’ve gone in and taken out all the old “bad” sand that had made drainage almost impossible, and filled them with white sand, the same kind used at Pebble Beach. It’s very, very, playable sand. The old sand didn’t allow the water to percolate through to the drain tiles; this sand will. I don’t want to say it’s ‘easy’ to play out of, but it’s very forgiving. The biggest advantage is that the ball won’t plug.

You used Hole Number Three’s green for Hole Number One; how does that change Hole Number Three?

It was formerly a dog-leg left that required a precision drive and a second shot over a dry creek to a small green. We’ve built a new green and it is now a straight, short [347/314/255] par-four with a second shot to what looks like an infinity-edge green. A new championship tee box makes it a fun hole, and some players will go for it on the drive.

What have you done to Bear’s Back, the infamous Hole Number Fifteen.

We’ve relocated the Valley Oak that was on the right hand side of the fairway, and opened up the view corridor from the tee box to the landing area. We also removed the cart path entirely from the right side of the fairway, and don’t pick it up again until just near the green; the cart path is lower than it was, and it’s twelve to fifteen feet further off to the right. The right greenside bunker has been extended and Jones architects have softened the undulations on the fairway. It’s still a tight shot to the green, but golfers will most likely have a better lie because of the changes. •••

All remaining poanna (a weed, not a grass) has been removed from the greens; they are now completely bent grass, and all the fairways feature 419 Bermuda. Bunker edges will be maintained “at a closely mown rough height” – about an inch and three-quarters. “We want the ball, if it hits in one of those tongues, to chase down into the bunker,” Greg says.

All the specimen oaks on the golf course have been cleaned up underneath with bark mulch, and though changing the cart paths from concrete to decomposed granite would have given them a more natural look, they were finally decided against because of the dust factor and ongoing maintenance required. Rather than plant new grass seed and waiting for it to grow, Jones’s architects placed sod on the changed fairways. Tee boxes have been top-dressed and leveled, using, among other things, old sand from the bunkers.

Players will find a big change on the 18th hole. The dry creek bed on the right looks natural, but is not; it was designed. Over the years, however, it has been altered considerably from its original configuration to where anyone landing over there had no view of the green or the landing area. A lot of the brush has been cleared, planted trees removed, and rocks and boulders have been added so that it looks like the dry creek bed it was intended to look like.

San Marcos has received its beer and wine license, and golfers will be able to imbibe after a round until one hour after dusk. The course is open seven days a week; the first tee time is 7 am and twilight rates begin at 2 pm. Afternoons in the summer are quiet, and a 4:30 or 5 pm tee time generally allows time to get in 18 holes. Preferred Players at Sandpiper are invited to play San Marcos at the Preferred Player rate.

Rancho San Marcos, 4600 Highway 154, is a twenty-minute drive from Montecito. Call 805-683-6334 for tee times and more information.