I’m guessing Arnie had no idea how many others would also fall hard for the game. We love to hit the long ball and we have a passion for precarious putts. We love our hot new hybrid and have a thing for finding the ideal ball. We love uncovering new courses and have a weakness for a picture-perfect golf getaway. We love everything about golf. We even love complaining about it! As Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote, “When you fall in love with golf, you seldom fall easy. It’s obsession at first sight.”
Northern California offers much to love about golf, and we all have our favorites. So here, in no particular order, are my 72 reasons (a golfer’s perfect number) to love golf in Northern California.
1. The hole with no fairway | Edgewood Tahoe’s par-3 No.17 puts you so close to the lapping lake waves that you actually hit over beachfront from tee to green.
2. Shades of Bobby Jones | Guests at Meadowood of Napa Valley can play the nine-hole course with borrowed hickory-shafted clubs.
3. Cheeseburgers | The Olympic Club (San Francisco) and Silverado Resort (Napa) serve theirs on hot dog buns made from Bill Parrish’s original 1950 family recipe. Olympic Club members would send caddies to the other side of Lake Merced to pick up the tasty burgers from Bill’s trailer; eventually he and his wife, Billie, were invited to set up shop on the course. Daughter Candy, who now runs the original Hot Dog Bills (her brother runs the snack bar at Silverado), says the one-bun inventory for burgers and dogs was initially a cost-saving measure.
4. Déjà Vu on Two! | Stand on the tee at Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club in Clio and you’ll have the feeling you’ve been there before. Look up and you’ll see Eureka Peak, which is depicted on California’s state seal.
5. Like Golf in a Cathedral | With giant redwoods lining the fairways, the best Alister MacKenzie golf course you’ve never heard of is the Northwood Golf Club’s nine-holer along the Russian River.
6. Dog of the Year | Tommy, the course dog at Fall River Valley Golf & Country Club, was honored by Golfweek SuperNEWS magazine for keeping the course clear of geese and for his mesmerizing early-morning sprinkler dance.
7. Tough as Nails | At Lahontan Golf Club in North Lake Tahoe, unusual square-headed iron nails put the finishing touches on a handsome clubhouse designed and built in the post-and-beam style of old-time Tahoe.
8. Double Eagle, Anyone? | No. 2 at Tahoe Paradise Golf Course in South Lake Tahoe, with a combination of thin air and a par 4 listed at 225 yards from the back, gives you a great chance to make your first two on a par 4.
9. Oldest Nine-Hole Course in Nor Cal | Built in the 1920s by the McCloud River Lumber Company, McCloud Golf Course has long since replaced its oiled, sand greens.
10. Beauty and the Beast | The seventh hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Play a sand wedge or a 3-iron depending on the direction and strength of the wind.
11. All-Time Double Team | Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed only a handful of courses together. Their last was a dandy: Winchester Country Club in Auburn is built on a grand scale that befits the talents of these two golf giants.
12. Poor Man’s Pebble | On condition the city build a golf course, S.F.B. Morse sold the land under Pacific Grove Golf Course in 1932 for a $10 gold coin. Now it sports a $10 gazillion view and a green fee about one-tenth that of Pebble Beach.
13. Snow Way! | You’re wearing shorts as you walk up the 18th fairway at Lake Shastina Golf Resort, but magnificent Mount Shasta in the background is capped in snow.
14. Best of the Best | After 21 consecutive years of being listed as one of the Top 100 Golf Shops in America, Haggin Oaks Golf Super Shop was named “Best Public Golf Shop in America” for 2006 by Golf World Business magazine, a Golf Digest Company publication.
15. Don’t Get Lost Here | At the Bigfoot Golf & Country Club in Humboldt County’s Willow Creek, your mind will conjure up birdies, bogeys and Sasquatch.
16. On the Edge | Both the Old Course and the Ocean Course finish on cliffs overlooking the ocean at Half Moon Bay Golf Links. File these under your “gotta play ’em” holes.
17. Jones Gets His Man | While filming at Del Monte Golf Course in Monterey, Bobby Jones, who was in town for the 1929 U.S. Amateur, was told to aim for the cameraman down the fairway. The ball hit the camera dead center and the cameraman fell out of the tree. Presumably, the tree is still standing at the West’s oldest course in continuous operation. (It was opened in 1897.)
18. Golf and Wine Club | Premier winemakers from Napa and Sonoma provide a yearly barrel of their best vintage for member allocations at Mayacama Golf Club near Santa Rosa. Each member receives a private wine locker in the underground grotto for storing favorite wines.
19. That Ocean Is a Lake! | At first glance, the vast Lake Tahoe looks like an ocean inlet. After your round, the new Brooks’ Golf Bar and Deck at Edgewood Tahoe is a great place to enjoy a cold beer and contemplate how lucky we are to be alive and have had a chance to play the game.
20. West of Scotland | The seaside links feel of The Links at Bodega Harbour will have you yearning for gray skies and stiff breezes, even when the sun is shining.
21. Seeing Stars | The AT&T at Pebble Beach is a unique golf tournament where celebrities and tour players offer plenty of opportunities for close-up gawking. If you’re lucky, Bill Murray may autograph your head, too.
22. PlayGolfAmerica.com | Whether you’re new to the game or only play occasionally, this one-stop source of information is where the fun begins. Drop in your ZIP code and find affordable Northern California programs for adults, families, business associates and more.
23. Seventeen Miles, 117 Holes | Nowhere in the world, let alone Northern California, will you find better golf than the 117 golf holes along the Monterey Peninsula’s Seventeen Mile Drive. End to end, you’ll hit upon Pebble Beach Golf Links, Cypress Point Club, Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay.
24. History Lesson | In 1917, the United States entered World War I and Reno’s first course, Washoe Golf Course, was opened. It was rebuilt in 1948 and its second head professional, Barney Bell, remains there today. Course record is 63 by Ben Hogan but Barney wasn’t there.
25. A Horse of a Course | In the mid-1800s, General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo’s prized white mare swam across the channel to an uninhabited island, thereby becoming the namesake for Mare Island, established in 1854 as a naval shipyard. Thirty-eight years later, Mare Island Golf Club was born as a nine-hole layout. With 18 holes today, the Vallejo course offers magnificent views of San Pablo Bay, Napa River, Mt. Tamalpais and even the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day. Incidentally, General Vallejo was a pretty influential guy: Sonoma is named after his wife, and Benicia was his daughter.
26. Back to Basics | At San Francisco Golf Club, one of the best private inland courses in the world, there are no yardage markers on the deceptive layout. Is that an 8-iron or a 4-iron to the green?
27. One Piper Piping | The 5 o’clock ritual of the bagpiper walking The Links at Spanish Bay and finishing at The Inn at Spanish Bay will give you goose bumps and a good excuse for another toddy.
28. The Right Side of the Grass | A stone temple built in the 1800s lies between the 11th and 12th holes at Whitney Oaks Golf Club in Rocklin. The temple still holds the remains of its namesake, Mr. Whitney himself. This should serve as a gentle reminder that there are worse things than making double-bogeys.
29. Hooker’s Delight | Most par-4 and -5 holes at Marysville’s Peach Tree Country Club are dogleg left. Not a place for the conservative player.
30. Hit All 18 Greens | The greens at Fairfield’s Rancho Solano Golf Course are undoubtedly the largest in Northern California. The good news is you may well hit all the greens, and the bad news is that if you choose the wrong club, you could be looking at a 100-foot putt!
31. No Cable Cars Here | The Course at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, the only Greg Norman design in Nor Cal, features a crooked Lombard Street-style cart path to take you up the side of the hill.
32. Where the Deer and No Antelope Play | An afternoon round at Fairfax’s Meadow Club, where more than 200 deer live on the property, usually ends with deer everywhere. If they don’t move, it’s probably because they can tell from your set-up whether you’ll hook or slice.
33. Play Where Presidents Played | The Presidio Golf Course, with its century-old eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees, survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and was “home course” to Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
34. Follow the Road to the Clubhouse | The security officer’s instructions at the gate of The Preserve in Carmel don’t quite prepare you for the 25-minute scenic up and down drive though oaks, past stables and eventually to the golf course.
35. Looks like Gringe | Stevinson Ranch Golf Club in the San Joaquin Valley maintains some of the fastest greens in Nor Cal. The fringe, cut as short as greens on many other courses, is called “gringe” by the locals and allows a putt from anywhere off the green.
36. Northern California Golf Association | In addition to tournament play, NCGA members receive a free USGA membership, NCGA/USGA handicap index, NCGA Golf magazine subscription and discounts on merchandise and green fees at Poppy Hills and Poppy Ridge golf courses. 180,000 members can’t be wrong.
37. Soup’s On! | Every Monday, the kitchen staff at Poppy Hills Golf Course (most staff members are from Oaxaca) in Pebble Beach puts authentic tortilla soup on the menu. The soup base is a homemade salsa made from fresh, locally grown produce. Add seasoned chicken, tortilla strips from scratch and cheese, and it might be the best soup on the planet.
38. Drown Your Sorrows | After your round at Genoa Lakes Golf Club in the Carson Valley, forget your bogeys at the Old Genoa Bar. Built in 1863, it is the oldest continually operating thirst parlor in Nevada. Sorry, no horses allowed.
39. No 10th-Tee Jitters Here | The 10th fairway, which used to be the first fairway, at Seascape Golf Club in Aptos is channeled from two hillsides, making your errant drives a sure bet to roll back into the middle.
40. Golf’s History Preserved | The Brandenburg Historical Golf Museum at San Jose’s Cinnabar Hills Golf Club is a fan’s delight with its unique collection of full-size exact replicas of trophies from the U.S. Open, British Open, Masters, Ryder Cup and PGA Championship. You’ll find memorabilia from Sarazen, Nelson, Hogan, Jones, Hagen, Snead and more.
41. Lefty’s Delight | General Robert B. McClure, who constructed Bayonet Golf Course in Seaside, was a left-handed golfer with an all-too-common fade. He managed to reduce his handicap with a little creative architecture: Holes 11 to 15, known as Combat Corner, include a series of sharp doglegs.
42. California’s Wisconsin Clubhouse | Originally designed in 1923 for a Wisconsin location, Frank Lloyd Wright’s dream became a reality in the spectacular Nakoma clubhouse at The Dragon at Gold Mountain.
43. On a Wing and a Prayer | Bing Maloney Golf Course in Sacramento might well be the only golf course with landing lights. Even if your tee shots aren’t as the crow flies, you can be sure the airplanes landing above the sixth fairway are headed straight for the adjacent Sacramento Executive Airport.
44. Get High at Sierra Star | At 8,000 feet, Sierra Star Golf Course at Mammoth is the highest golf course in California. The thin air will produce visions of Tiger Woods-type drives in your head.
45. Bed, Breakfast and Bogey? | There might not be a better 24-hour experience than being pampered at the Little River Inn near Mendocino, followed by a round at the charming nine-hole Little River Inn Golf Course overlooking the Pacific.
46. Raise the White Flag | Historically, raising the white flag meant giving up. When you see the white flag on the blind tee shot of Roseville’s Woodcreek Golf Club’s seventh hole, it’s safe to hit your tee shot.
47. Green Green | At the Wawona Golf Course in Yosemite National Park, green fairways are taken to a new high. The course is one of only four organic golf courses in the United States and a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
48. Get High at Weed | It’s somehow fitting that Northern California should be home to Weed Golf Club. The natural high here comes from the gorgeous, hilly, weed-free, nine-hole, 1925 layout, which has stood the test of time.
49. Plenty of Hang Time | The elevated practice range at Plumas Pines Golf Resort in Graeagle ensures everyone will get the ball in the air. The ball seems to stay up there forever.
50. Apple a Day | The satisfying crunch of a cool, crisp fresh apple is a first-tee treat during the fall apple harvest at Apple Mountain Golf Resort in Camino. Area growers deliver a selection of their crop, which players can pick from a basket on the first tee.
51. Yay for Yates! | Patrick Yates is a remarkable man from Grass Valley who eliminates barriers by inventing, designing and manufacturing a number of assistive devices for disabled golfers, including his Model Tee, a one-person cart that will drive on greens.
52. Saving Strokes | Sacramento’s American Stroke Association program uses golf as a rehabilitative tool for stroke “victors.” The program is now offered in six locations including Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco, Pleasanton Golf Academy in Pleasanton, McInnis Park Golf Course in San Rafael, Seascape Golf Course in Aptos, Coyote Creek Golf Club in Morgan Hill and the pilot location at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento.
53. Jim Langley, PGA | Named 2005 Northern California PGA Professional of the Year, Langley, who recently retired as head professional at Cypress Point, represents the 1,150 Northern California Section pros who teach, manage courses, fit equipment and generally make the game more enjoyable for the rest of us.
54. These Guys Are Good | The PGA Tour comes to Northern California with the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am every February and the Reno-Tahoe Open at Montreux Golf and Country Club, Aug. 24–27.
55. A New Home for the Ladies | The LPGA has moved its tournament location from Sacramento to Blackhawk Country Club in Danville, where the women will tee it up for the Longs Drugs Challenge Oct. 18–24.
56. Oldies But Goodies | The Champions Tour, for players aged 50 and older, culminates with the top money winners in attendance at the exciting Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Sonoma Golf Course Oct. 23–29.
57. In the Wings | The Nationwide Tour began in 1990 to provide a place to play for up-and-comers, as well as veterans looking to sharpen their skills for the Champions Tour. The Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship will be played March 30–April 2 at The Course at Wente Vineyards.
58. Make Mine Over Easy | The lowest rating for a course at least 3,000 yards long is Visalia’s Exeter Golf Club at 56.2, and the lowest slope belongs to Quail Valley in Grass Valley (at 76), featuring a blind shot over an old milking barn.
59. I like Hard Boiled | If you play them from the back and the harder the better, you’ll love the Nicklaus tees at Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton, with Northern California’s highest rating at 76.7. The highest slope belongs to Mayacama’s back tees, at a staggering 153!
60. Inspiration for Augusta | Bobby Jones was so impressed while playing Pasatiempo that he invited Alister MacKenzie to design Augusta National, home of The Masters. Designer Tom Doak’s recent restoration has preserved the historical integrity of MacKenzie’s design.
61. Growing the Game | The First Tee program, available at many area courses, provides a wonderful opportunity for youngsters to learn life-enhancing skills through the game of golf. The national program is based on a successful Sacramento model developed in 1983 by PGA professional Ken Morton Sr.
62. Tiger and Big John | San Francisco’s Harding Park Golf Club will forever call to mind indelible images of Tiger Woods and John Daly battling on extra holes to decide the 2005 World Golf Championship-American Express Championship, an event featuring the best the PGA has to offer—playing at a public facility!
63. Big Ball Washer | No. 15 at Reno’s LakeRidge Golf Course is a famous par 3 with a tee box set 140 feet atop a rocky ridge. The target is an enticing island green surrounded by the area’s largest ball washer, called Lake Stanley. Do you tee up a new ball or dig deep in your shag bag?
64. 27 Holes, One Tree! | If you’re really good at hitting woods but have trouble getting out, Poppy Ridge Golf Course in Livermore is calling your name. You’ll contend with only one tree on the entire 27-hole layout, but the architect found other ways to get your attention.
65. A Seasonal Snack | I don’t want to advocate ignoring signs that suggest you shouldn’t partake, but surrounded by grapevines at Napa’s Chardonnay Golf Club, you may find it hard to resist hand-picking a few fresh snacks between visits from the hospitality cart.
66. Gold of a Different Color | The history of Copperopolis dates back to the copper mines of the 1800s. Today’s treasure is found at the Saddle Creek Resort, where a weekend retreat will have you feeling like you discovered gold.
67. Splish, splash | Buckingham Golf and Country Club in Kelseyville has a lake on the driving range that used to be part of a volcano. It’s marked with distance flags, giving you the opportunity to actually hit into the lake—on purpose!
68. Golden Moment | Talk about putting a golf course in the right place. On a fog-free day, tee it up on the 17th at San Francisco’s Lincoln Park Golf Course and you’ll be treated to a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
69. Sea to Shining Tee | How many places in the world offer you the chance to play on the ocean in the morning and in the mountains in the after-noon? Tee it up at Bodega Harbour Golf Links at dawn and tap in at dusk at Old Greenwood in Truckee.
70. Two with a View | Northern California has more than its share of first-class resorts for a romantic golf getaway for two. Take your pick from some gems among many: Carmel Valley Ranch, Quail Lodge Resort and Golf Club, the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay, CordeValle, Silverado Resort, the Resort at Squaw Creek. Or rent a weekend home on the course at Sea Ranch Golf Links or Plumas Pines Golf Resort.
71. Carl Spackler Aside | Unlike Bill Murray’s Caddyshack character, a good superintendent often goes unnoticed working behind the scenes. Players love the quality and the consistency of the greens at Hiddenbrooke Golf Club in Vallejo. That’s the domain of the course superintendents who groom our courses from subzero temperatures in the mountains to triple digits in our valleys. Green thumbs up!
72. The Newest Baby | While golf course construction has slowed, new courses continue to open. The latest is Callippe Preserve Golf Course in Pleasanton, which brings the total number of courses in Northern California to more than 400. How many have you played?