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California Wine Country Golf
by Dale Leatherman

A fine golf course, like a fine wine, must have a distinct character, a good body and a good finish. Here are three resorts where you can enjoy memorable California wines and golf courses — along with superb accommodations, spas, and activities.

The Area: Napa County

This is quintessential wine country — a lush, pastoral area where mountains hover at the edge of a valley lined with neat rows of grapevines. A "wine train" runs between Napa, the southern gateway to the Napa Valley, and St. Helena, serving meals and local wines en route.

St. Helena is an idyllic village with garden cottages and a list of wineries that reads like a vintner's who's who. The Tasting on Main Street offers samples from all the local wineries. At the north end of town are the Beringer and Charles Krug wineries and the Culinary Institute at Greystone. Beringer hosts the Master Series, described by Forbes as "the ultimate food and wine fantasy camp."

Calistoga and Yountville are two more charming wine country towns. In Yountville, a 100-year-old winery complex is now an upscale shopping complex called Vintage 1870.

The Resort: Silverado Resort (http://www.silveradoresort.com)

Located about an hour northeast of San Francisco in Napa, this 1,200-acre enclave has at its center a white-pillared mansion built in the 1870s. The Italian/French building now contains the resort lobby and two fine restaurants. Guests are accommodated in luxurious cottage suites secluded in courtyards, around swimming pools, or along golf course fairways. On the grounds are eight swimming pools, two golf courses, a full-service spa, and the largest tennis complex in Northern California.

The Courses:

Early in his career, renowned golf architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., designed two beautifully landscaped golf courses at Silverado. The 6,500-yard South Course has sloping fairways and more than a dozen water crossings. Despite being 200 yards longer, the North Course is generally less penal, with level fairways and fewer hazards. The courses were PGA Tour venues in the 1970s and '80s and hosted the Senior Tour from 1989 to 2002. Following a $4 million renovation, both tracks are in prime condition.

Near Silverado in Napa is the Chardonnay Golf Club (http://www.chardonnaygolfclub.com). The club's Vineyards layout winds through acres of producing vines, skirting several lakes and crossing Fagan Creek five times. The stunning signature hole is a par three with a 22,000-square-foot six-tiered green. The Club Shakespeare course also entwines itself among grape arbors and wildlife areas, with water aplenty. Each hole is named for a work of the Great Bard, including the signature "A Midsummer's Night Dream," a par three teeing off from an elevated rock garden to an island green.

The Area: Sonoma County

The fertile soil of this agricultural area produces many crops besides wine grapes, but the vines seem to gaining ground. In the northern reaches of the county, vineyards eventually give way to redwood forests.

The region is rich in history as well as produce. Antiquing is the name of the game in Healdsburg, a village with homes and shops clustered around a homey town square. The small town of Sonoma centers around an eight-acre plaza (a national historic landmark) lined with historical sites.

Santa Rosa is the largest town in Wine Country and a tourism hub with countless antique stores, shops and restaurants. To the west of Santa Rosa is Bodega Bay, where Highway 1 takes visitors north along the scenic Pacific coast.

The Resort: The Fairmont Mission Inn and Spa (http://www.fairmont.com)

Built in the 1920s as an exact replica of a California Mission, the inn was the latest incarnation of hotels built on sacred Native American healing grounds next to thermal mineral springs. The historic hotel, which lies 45 minutes north of San Francisco, weathered closure during the Depression and use as a Navy R&R center during World War II.

There have been many changes to the Mission Inn in eight decades, but none that spoiled its 1920s cachet or the quality of service and amenities. A new 40,000-square-foot European-style spa earned the resort a place among the top five spa destinations in the world in the 2002 Conde Nast Traveler poll; with more than 15 pages of treatments, one can understand why.

The Course:

Of the same vintage as the hotel is the private (inn guests only) Sonoma Golf Club, with its sumptuous clubhouse. Designed in 1927 by Sam Whiting and Willie Watson (who crafted San Francisco's famous Olympic Club Lake Course), the course has also withstood the test of time; it remains one of the classic, must-play venues in the region. It stretches 7,087 yards through native oaks and redwoods, with vineyards along the borders and views of mountains to the east and west. A stream and three lakes add good measure, which is hardly needed.

The Area: Santa Clara County

This Silicon Valley area south of San Francisco on California's central coast has prospered and grown as a result of its technological industries, but retains a legacy of early Spanish/Mexican settlement and the Gold Rush days. Attractions are as diverse as adobe pueblos, the former home of President Herbert Hoover, and the historic Paul Masson Mountain Winery, now a popular venue for concerts. Despite the invasion of the chip, there are many fine wineries and daunting golf courses in the area. A dozen vineyards are clustered around Morgan Hill, which prides itself on being a "family town" where delightful festivals are held.

The Resort: The Lodge at CordeValle (http://www.cordvalle.com)

The 1,700-acre Auberge resort is located in a secluded valley 30 minutes south of San Jose and 45 minutes north of the Monterey Peninsula. On site is a winery and an 85-acre vineyard. Guests choose fromĘ luxuriously appointed lodgings with three different floor plans — 700-square-foot bungalows, 3,100-square-foot four-bedroom homes, and 1,100-square-foot villas overlooking the golf course.

The Courses:

The CordeValle Golf Course is a sanctuary devoid of residential or commercial development. Architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., says "CordeValle is one of those pure 'core golf' experiences. It is perhaps my finest creation."

The layout's multiple tees present many different approach angles and distances. It plays to a maximum of 7,169 yards along a route with slight elevation changes and numerous water-filled inlets. Views of the valley, Lion's Peak, and the Clos LaChance Vineyards provide stirring backdrops for many holes.

Not far from the resort, the Eagle Ridge Golf Course has given the town of Gilroy a claim to fame other than "Garlic Capital of the World." Johnny Miller oversaw the 7,005-yard design that is notable for its bunkering. You could park a compact car in the British-style hazard fronting the par-three sixth hole.

An easy drive from the resort is the Coyote Creek Golf Club in Morgan Hill, home to two Jack Nicklaus Courses. The 7,027-yard Tournament Course skirts the foothills of the Diablo Range, then opens to generous fairways in the flatlands. The Valley Course is a 7,066-yard test incorporating four lakes and two waterfalls.

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