Hunter Ranch’s golf shop overlooks the par-four 18th green.
Picture yourself in outback-style wine country. The undulating terrain just spills out before you with adjoining vineyards cast beyond. Ancient live oaks line the fairways and impressively large flashed bunkers define the challenge. The scale of the golf course is big, no make that grand. You are not in Napa nor Australia, but rather about thirty miles from the Pacific and only a couple of miles from Highway 101 in what is called California’s Central Coast by the engaging little town of Paso Robles. This is Hunter Ranch.
The native grasses in contrast to the green playing surfaces, and the vineyards beyond make for stunning recurring vistas at Hunter Ranch.
In an area that boasts several fun, attractive layouts, Hunter Ranch may be the cream of the crop. Crafted by Ken Hunter and Mike McGinnes in 1994, the course legitimately falls into that often over-used term of “hidden gem.” Its beautiful rural location sans homes does not really get it the attention you might assume. This is affordable, high quality golf and those who have played Hunter Ranch will usually speak of the experience with a gleam in their eye, but largely the course’s rural location causes it to fall beneath the radar of many golfers.
Looking back toward the tee from behind the par-three 8th hole. (Photo by Robert S. Fagan)
Arriving at the hilltop parking lot, you gaze out over the oak-studded rolling terrain and that continues as you pass the 10th tee. Enter the tastefully done one-story clubhouse with its tin roof, rough redwood siding, and spacious covered porches, and proceed to the first tee and you realize your on to something special. From teeing it up through your final hole-out, the vistas and the challenge will not disappoint. I particularly enjoyed the quartet of par-fives and call the 6th and 7th one of the best back-to-back sets of par-fives in America while the two three-shotters on the back nine offer fun risk-and-reward options! The par-threes are likewise attractive not only in look, but well-bunkered challenges.
A strategically positioned oak as well as water the entire length down the right can affect play on the risk-or-reward par-five 16th. (Photo by Robert S. Fagan)
Hunter Ranch allows most hitters to pretty much wail away with their drivers to large hitting areas and then finishes off the challenge with large oval or roundish putting surfaces contoured with overall large slopes, but nothing busy. As you will note, designers Hunter and McGinnes moved relatively little land and let the property pretty much speak for itself, which it does quite nicely.
The sweeping lines of the Hunter Ranch come into play on the par-five 7th, the second of two consecutive wonderful par-fives! (Photo by Robert S. Fagan)
If there is a weakness to Hunter Ranch, it is the stretch between the 11th and 13th. First-time players will find these three par-fours awkward. There is a large hidden water hazard and forced carry on the 11th, it is difficult to ascertain the direction and play off the tee on the formidable 12th, and the 13th has only a narrow slit through the trees to its elevated green. Be that as it may, once you’ve experienced these holes, they become more playable. There are also a few forced carries for the weaker player, but overall the course is fun and fair.
The attractive approach shot to the par-four 11th is hidden from the tee affecting longer hitters and does pose a challenging forced carry for shorter ones. (Photo by Robert S. Fagan)
Also of note at Hunter Ranch is their restaurant. It is a perfect place for even non-golfers to come and enjoy not only the delicious menu of offerings, but the views as well.
All in all, Hunter Ranch is a golf course everyone should want to experience!
Above is the short, but engaging par-four 9th at Hunter Ranch and below is the view back from behind the green. (Photos by Robert S. Fagan)