Hansi Rigney, 68, runs along the Recreation Trail in Seaside to help stay in shape for her marathon regimen.
Hansi Rigney, 68, runs along the Recreation Trail in Seaside to help stay in shape for her marathon regimen. (ORVILLE MYERS/The Herald)
It's hard to find a destination more suited to the sporting life than Monterey County. The raw topography — carefully crafted into 24 golf courses, 39 regional parks and lofty 5321-square-mile National Marine Sanctuary — is a ready-made vision for outdoor enthusiasts. Spike that with 326 average days of sunshine per year, and it's little wonder that spending time outdoors is everyone's top priority.

GOLF

Pebble Beach has just cleaned up after hosting its fifth U.S. Open in June (it's scheduled again for 2019). Pebble is a public course, beautiful and challenging. Golfers can tap into a variety of local courses, including the gorgeous Del Monte Golf Course (1897) — the oldest course in continuous operation West of the Mississippi — and Bayonet Golf Course, with its $13 million renovation and qualifier course for the 2010 Open. Players can tee up at Pebble Beach Golf Academy where full day instruction includes playing nine holes with a pro on world-renowned Spanish Bay Golf Course or Spyglass Hill Golf Course. The high-tech lineup of training tools includes a state-of-the-art dynamic balance system to analyze swing motion, digital putting system and Heartmath program to monitor and manage emotional output. Another option is Carmel Valley's Golf Academy at Quail Lodge, which offers courses focusing on The Short Game, Women's Beginner School and PGA Family Course Program to get everyone into the swing of things.

Pacific Grove's city-owned golf course is dubbed "the poor man's Pebble Beach," with its back nine offering sweeping views of the Pacific — and frequent deer who like to "play through.


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In Monterey, Jeff Symmonds Golf School at Laguna Seca Golf Ranch delivers top-end instruction for minimal green. Players can join a semi-private class at the 71 par Robert Trent Jones Sr., and Jr., designed course. The program combines drills at the state-of-the-art 13.5-acre practice facility with chip, pitch and on-course management.

SHIFTING GEARS

Rev up your game with a spin at Skip Barber Racing School at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The "Two Day High Performance Driving School" puts the pedal to the metal with instruction on high performance defensive driving including slide and recovery techniques, trailbraking and race-style heel-and-toe downshifting. Strap into a high-octane Porsche Boxster or BMW 330i on the world-famous 2.24-mile, 11-turn track and approach the Corkscrew Turn at 100 mph, for drills on braking, downshifting and cornering in split second intervals.

One-day "Introduction to Racing" courses also available, www.skipbarber.com. Grab a group and go for a full track rental of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca which is also available for the extreme roadsters that really want to test their own wheels on the Corkscrew, www.mazdaraceway.com.

For the outback set, Land Rover Experience Driving School delivers a full absorption spin through 80 acres of rugged terrain in a plush new Range Rover. Trek over the off-road obstacle course with one-on-one training on advanced techniques like wenching and vehicle recovery. A definite rush, the school puts drivers through the paces of maneuvering over sand traps, boulders, tricky wooded trails and descents steep enough challenge a veteran Everest climber.

SURF AND TURF

Catching the perfect wave — especially the notorious 50-foot pounders at Carmel's Ghost Tree — requires talent. Tap into one of Noah Greenberg's courses at Carmel Surf School. This 20-year veteran of the swells can turn any novice into a sure-fire surfer in two to three lessons; minimum age: three years! On the waterfront, Marina State Beach is the tipping point for hang-gliders and kite boarders, thanks to its powerful infusion of afternoon winds. Hone those skills by launching with the pros just south of the parking lot.

New on the radar of ocean experiences is Kayak Surfing. Learn the art of carving, roll techniques and getting in/out of the wave in a safe, serene environment. Lessons and a full line of specialty surf kayaks enable a beginner to get their groove on. Another aquatic option is S.U.P. — or stand-up paddling. This trend combines surfing with canoe-style paddling in a stand up position, exercising the core and sense of balance.

Deer at Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course
Deer at Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course (DAVID ROYAL/Herald Archive)
 Learn to walk on water via classes covering the basics of balance, strokes and paddling techniques. www.adventuresbythesea.com, www.kayakconnection.com, www.montereybaykayaks.com.

BUCK TRADITION

From the days of the early Vaqueros, riding these beautiful ranges has evolved into a cowboy culture that's well steeped. Saddle up at Holman Ranch, a state-of-the-art riding facility with miles of trails in the lush Carmel Valley. Lessons in English and Western, as well as day camps and trail rides round out the options. Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, a training center for hunter-jumpers, reins in rider's English skills with private and group lessons and scenic trail rides along Monterey Bay.

For the ultimate trial by fire, pack those spurs for an authentic cattle drive at V6 Ranch in Parkfield. Not a stint for sissies, the cattle drive on 50 miles of trails at the Varian family's 20,000-acre ranch includes plenty of daytime cattle work, delicious ranch style fixin's and fireside sing-alongs. V6 also offers a "Ranch Life in California" program teaching traditional Vaquero horsemanship from a Hall of Fame Honoree, including the basics of team sorting, rope handling and working cattle by horseback.

PAVE THE WAY

Runners seeking to hone their marathon skills or simply bump up their regimen will find a variety of trails and outback terrain weaving through the county. For locals, this region is sheer bliss; just ask any athlete who has crossed the finish line at the annual Big Sur International Marathon or Seagate Triathlon.

Visitors can tap into the loosely organized Wednesday Night Laundry Runners for morning runs at Garland Ranch Regional Park,Toro Park and the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. Fleet Feet of Monterey also offers Saturday morning fun runs from Pacific Grove's Lover's Point as well as a full schedule of triathlon training.

Strike out on your own on the 18-mile Monterey Recreation Trail, a solid start for pairing pavement with unsurpassed scenery. This path traverses the Monterey Bay past Cannery Row and heads north past surfers riding sets at Seaside State Beach.

Another iconic run is Pebble Beach's 17-Mile Drive (for both runners and bikers). Rated as one of the top 100 routes to pedal in America, the road zigzags past world-class homes, emerald greens and jaw-dropping views of the Pacific.

For off-road enthusiasts, Fort Ord features a network of 86 miles of trails on 7,200 acres, the majority being long stretches of sandy trail with prime views of Salinas Valley. The Oil Well Road route is an excellent advanced run offering an 11-mile loop through beautiful wooded areas. For a more aggressive trek, try the Old Coast Road in Big Sur, an 18.5-mile loop including steep climbs through towering redwoods before reaching the ocean at Bixby Landing. Another great venue with plenty of spectacular scenery is the venerable Point Lobos State Nature Reserve.

— From Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau