Golfing Magazine Online -
Northern California North Bay Golf
Tom Landers
By Tom Landers
Published on 08/15/2006

Club Crawl - Early Summer

Our travels now take us to the North Bay.  Believe it or not, we feel these courses are underplayed and under “covered” by our local media, etc.  It seems that folks somehow forget about the great golf to be had right here around our communities in the Greater Bay Area.  In this issue’s Club Crawl, we would like to share with you a sampling of courses you may have heard about, may not have played and maybe didn’t even know that you can play!  Read on, friends . . .

Stonetree is one of those courses that you just want to play over and over and over!  If you’ve never played it, you may have a familiar feel for the location.  Some 10 or 15 years ago, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire was held in this spot.  You would park in the dusty (back then) flat lands, then walk back into the Blackpoint Forest to find things like a big turkey leg to eat as you were watching events like jousting and acting out by folks dressed in medieval-themed costumes.  Well, nowadays, the Faire has moved to another location and lush fairways have taken over the flatlands and forest!

Playing to a 143 slope and rating of 73.3 from the Championship tees, Stonetree is right up there at the top of the food chain with it’s toughness in Northern CA golf.  A collaborative design effort by Johnny Miller, Sandy Tatum, Jim Summers and Fred Bliss, you’ll enjoy the way you are lulled into your round here.   

The first hole is probably the most straightforward of all the holes you’ll play during your round here, a Par 4 of 408 from the tips, just keep your tee ball left-center and you’ll have an approach shot that plays best to the right hand side of the green.  Number two is a short Par 4 of only 310 from the Championship tees, but with it’s narrow landing area and creek that runs across the entire front of the green, you’ll probably want to play a long iron or hybrid out into the fairway.  The sixth hole is a Par 5 measuring about 500 yards from the Black tees.  If you aim right out of the tee box, there is some risk with wetlands, but it will help you to get home in two, should you have a nice lie.  Otherwise the creek again runs across the front of this hole, only it’s about 100 yards short of the green so use care with your lay up.

The seventh hole is quite scenic, as it is an uphill dogleg right that plays just north of the clubhouse and begins your first trip into the forest.  The yardage makes it look like a short hole, but with the elevation change, it’ll play easily two clubs longer into this green.  The eighth hole has a tee box atop a hill and provides a terrific opportunity to see the surrounding plains and Coastal Range.  The ninth hole is the number one handicap hole and plays tough as nails.

When you get to hole number thirteen, you’ll be faced with an uphill tee shot that can have your blood boiling!  An errant tee shot left could very well be out of play, or in the trees, or it might even roll all the way back down to you via the cart path!  If you do hit the fairway, you’re approach shot better hit the green and stick, or it too could come rolling back down as the hillside ramps up to meet the green here. 

I think the fifteenth hole at Stonetree is my favorite though.  A Par 4 playing 460 yards form the Championship tees, just keep it left-center out of the tee box, then be sure to give yourself enough club to get on the green. The stillness and quietness on the tee box at 16 provides some echoing with every drive and is very cool to hit from.  The fairway narrows a bit leading into this green, with anything left being out of play, so if your accuracy isn’t spot-on so far into your round, play it safe with a well struck lay up.  This course allows for play in virtually all weather conditions because of superior drainage, so don’t let the weather keep you from coming out.  The food served here is excellent, so be sure to provide ample time to refuel after your round!

My journey to Chardonnay started up Highway 80 on to Highway 12 West - Jamieson Canyon Road.  It is on this short drive up and through the canyon, that you truly begin to appreciate the beauty in and around the Napa area, as hillside vineyards begin appearing and you realize you are just a hint southeast of one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Napa Valley. 

When the road finally opens up and the southern end of the valley lies out majestically in front of you, you come upon a wonderful place – The Chardonnay Golf Club!  And, let’s now put a stop to all the rumors that you may or may not have heard about this course – Chardonnay is alive and well.  In fact, with a new owner that is passionate about the game and this course, you’ll begin to see changes occurring here soon, including a fantastic new clubhouse, new irrigation and new cart paths.  Again, not to say anything was wrong here, but now we’ll see this facility truly step into world-class status!  The design itself, 27 holes of pure golf designed by Algie Pulley and Johnny Miller (folks know that Mr. Miller has a house in Napa, right?) has not a single home in sight.  And, because of the three nines here, you’ll always have a challenge awaiting you on each and every round here that you play.  Just to restate, the layout is terrific, shot values are excellent and even though this course really isn’t that old, it seems to have a legacy-type feel to it.  It even feels like this might be the place you have a “career” round - your first hole-in-one, or break 90 or 80 or even 70 for the first time.  It just feels that good!

The two nines on our recent visit – The Meadows and The Vineyards were in fantastic shape and ready for play as was The Lakes nine.  Hole 1 on the Meadows is a Par 5 playing 503 from the tips.  A wide open fairway here from the tee box, just play to the center, as you’ll be turning a bit left to come into this green protected by two bunkers on both the right and left side of the green.  Number three on The Meadows is a Par 3 measuring 182 from the Blue tees.  It plays a bit blind coming out of the tee box, so get a good idea what to aim for before you pull the trigger, and then just trust your shot.  I love the seventh hole on the Meadows – it’s rated as the easiest hole on this nine.  It plays as a Par 3 of 164 from the Blue tees with an elevated tee box, a carry over trees and the creek, to again an almost blind look at the green. 

You get just a sliver of a peek at this green!  Number nine is a fun hole, leading back to the clubhouse.  Par 5 of only 457 from the tips, it plays into the prevailing breeze adding some yardage to the hole that’s not represented on the card.  There’s a trough that runs across the fairway that might catch your tee ball, then a creek that meanders across a bit closer to the green.  You’ll be hitting into a long thin green on nine, protected by trees on the right and the creek on the left.

The Vineyards nine starts with the first three holes leading you into that prevailing breeze, so take enough club as to not be short on your approach shots.  Number four is a long Par 4, but with a tail-wind, you should navigate it just fine.  Five is a Par 3 of 125 from the Whites.  Just be accurate here from the tee, two-putt and you’ll be on to six with your par.  One of my favorite Par 3’s in the area is number 8.  You just have to see it!  The ninth hole on the Vineyards is a great finisher – a Par 5 measuring 481 from the Black tees.  Your tee shot has to be a rocket coming out of this tee.  Aim for the center of the fairway, then grab your hybrid or fairway club and take aim for the flagstick!  (I missed my eagle putt, but made the come-backer for birdie here!)  By the way, this course happens to be next-door to Eagle Vines, and for those of you looking for a huge venue to host a charity, special event or corporate golf event, the combination of these two courses can host 360 players!  The service and food here are also top-notch.

So, remember – check the scorecard for local rules around shots that enter the vineyards or environmental areas and put The Chardonnay Golf Club at the top of your list for “must-play” courses here in Northern California!

What’s this? An Arnold Palmer Signature course right here in the Solano County? Picture this... Think back about twelve or so years ago, walking with Mr. Palmer and Ed Seay through the meadows and hillsides in a completely untouched setting, creating concepts for golf holes, then executing upon Arnold’s plan in constructing 18 holes of fantastic golf! Well, the thrill is as good then as it is now. The challenges presented by this course are terrific. Five sets of tees provide the flexibility for golfers of all skill levels to be tested here. With its elevation changes, water hazards and just plain terrific routing, this is one course where the surrounding houses tend to disappear as you begin play. Playing to a 142 Slope and 73.8 Rating at 6,762 yards from the Palmer tees, you quickly get a feel for the level of difficulty this course presents.

The first hole starts out pretty straight forward, a Par 4 playing just 388 from the back tees with just a slight turn to the left as you approach the green. Two is a Par 5 of 481 from the Palmer tees, but plays straight into the prevailing breeze here and is rated as the toughest hole on the course. If you get a good rip out of the tee box and plan on trying to get home in two, be aware that there is an elevated green with a false front that just happens to catch any short ball and presents a tough third shot to stick here on this green. There is also significant bunkering to the front and right of the green.

Four plays downwind with a blind tee shot that’s best aimed at right-center of the fairway. It’s a short hole, only 351 from the back tees and plays as the second-easiest hole on the course. The fifth hole is my personal favorite – a Par 5 with an elevated tee, narrow fairway and green protected on the left by water. Plays a bit safer as a three shot hole, unless you are just ripping your hybrids, then go for this in two!

If you happen to be playing your round from the tips - the Palmer tees, be careful not to drive (or walk) right past the tee box on number nine, as it is set back and left from the other tee boxes. This poses a bit more difficulty, as you not only have to hit it further off the tee for good position, but it also creates a challenge to get up and over some of the foliage directly in front of the tee box – again, only the Palmer tees see this because of their position. By the time you get to 13, you’ve played two more Par 4’s and a Par 5 and now you’ll go up a hill and look across a canyon from the tee to your target – a Par 3 of 169 from the tips, but with significant elevation change and a left to right prevailing wind to contend with. Short shots are history here, anything left or just short will probably end up in one of the bunkers protecting this green and believe it or not, long might be O.K. here. The fourteenth hole is a long Par 4 playing straight into the wind. If the tee wasn’t elevated on this hole, it would really seem like you are doing battle and playing a much longer hole.

Sixteen is another favorite on the course – a Par 5 of 529 from the back. Nice landing area, tough second shot to try to reach in two and the green itself is long and skinny! I’ve heard that 17 is Mr. Palmer’s favorite hole on the course – a Par 3 playing over a water hazard 204 yards from the back tees. 18 is such a good closing hole. You’ve now got a bit of a tail wind, so resist swinging out of your shoes. Stay within yourself to put a safe shot on the fairway so you can have a look at the green. The fairway on this Par 5 tends to feel a bit thinner than it actually is, but play safe and smart to finish your round. The approach into the green can be difficult as this green is more wide than deep. After your round you’ll have a couple of excellent options to cool off with food and beverage, so just relax a bit while reviewing your scorecard.

And, don’t forget, Hiddenbrooke hosted the LPGA’s Samsung World Championships here for three years – another testament to the high quality experience you’ll find at Hiddenbrooke

So, you though this course was restricted to military personnel only, huh?  No sir!  You, my non-military friend are hereby ordered to call and request your tee time immediately!  You will now execute your mission!  Play golf, enjoy your round – that’s an order!  O.K., all joking aside, Cypress Lakes does permit public play.  The course itself has been around for over forty years, but most folks in Northern California have not played it because they thought it was reserved for military play only.  That may have been the case in the past, but now the public is encouraged to give Cypress Lakes a call!  Simply call the golf shop and request a tee time. 

Playing almost 6,900 yards from the Blue tees and with a Slope of 125 and a Rating of 72.7, it’s the easiest of our courses covered this issue, but don’t let that fool you.  I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent shape of the course, including fast and true greens and terrific shot values.  Another thing – the name is truly accurate - the 13 lakes provide water hazards on 14 of the holes here.  And, with its age and seasoning the trees bordering the holes can quickly add strokes to your scorecard too.  Use their range to get loose, then get to number one to start your round!

My day began at Cypress Lakes by being introduced to two normal-looking players, guys you would expect to see on any golf course.  Guys I later found out were two of the highest ranking military folks from Travis Air Force Base!  They provided me with their course knowledge and gave me some tips in navigating my way around the course.  Nothing out of the ordinary or against the rules I might add, just a couple of comments about the course and its layout.  In fact, I learned that the back nine was the original nine here and the front nine was added to complete the track some fifteen or so years ago.   Now, I have a curious thought around the rating here – I wonder if the stiff winds were in-play the last time this course was rated by the NCGA?  The wind doesn’t just blow here, it can howl!  So if you’re thinking of traveling to an area outside of our region to play golf, and you might encounter some wind during that upcoming round, I would definitely come here for a round to tune-up your “wind game.”

Another observation about Cypress Lakes – the back nine tends to play tougher than the front nine.  If you usually take nine holes to get warm and “into” your round, boy it will be just in time, as I think it’ll typically play about 2 shots tougher from front to back.  The holes tend to play “sneaky-tough” here, not overly concerning from the tee box, but should your shot stray, you might be adding shots to your score for the hole just based on a low hanging branch or two.  The back nine has a couple of sharp corners to navigate – number 16 for example:  from the tee you can actually drive it through the fairway, so choose your club carefully – just put it in play in the middle of the fairway to give yourself a look at the green.  We had a guy in our group who tried to cut the corner on this one and somehow he managed to pull off the shot of a lifetime!  It was fun to watch.  Then, seventeen lulls you into making a “sucker” shot out of the tee box, so just play it straight away on this Par 5.  18 is just a classy finisher, as you can bend a nice fade out of the tee box onto the fairway, then play a mid to long iron into this green.

In closing, get Cypress Lakes on your list of courses to play, as it’s my bet you’ve not played it before.  Then afterwards, drop into Gatsby’s Grill for the huge chicken sandwich and a cold beverage of your choice.  See you there!