Even if you played golf for two months straight, you couldn’t cover all the worthy courses Northern California has on hand. So when it comes time to plan a golf getaway, we recommend you pick one part of the region and play to your heart’s content. Here’s a rundown of some of Northern California’s great courses, plus some recommendations on where to spend the night.
IN THE MOUNTAINS
Saddle Creek Resort
At Greenhorn Creek Resort in Angels Camp, five sets of tees create course yardage ranging from 4,882 to 6,749, with all kinds of enticing challenges along the way. Also in Calaveras County, Saddle Creek Resort consistently ranks high on golf magazine ratings. It’s a tranquil 18-hole course, backdropped by the Sierra, and it brings golfers past trees and alongside lakes. To top off your day, some 500 wines
grace the list at the Copper Grille, including some locally produced at boutique wineries.
If your goal is a golf getaway within a short drive, head east on either major highway. Off Highway 50, on Carson Road in Camino, Apple Mountain Golf Resort lures players looking for challenging play among whispering pines and gorgeous Sierra vistas. It’s not far up Interstate 80 to The Ridge in Auburn, where a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course plays for 18 holes on 170 acres. It’s a challenging course; hone your game with instruction from renowned PGA pro Shawn Kelly, whose “Basics and Balance” program has helped golfers of all caliber. Also in Auburn, DarkHorse Golf Club (pictured to the left) was designed by Keith Foster and for three years running has been named one of the nation’s top 100 golf courses by Golfweek magazine. Expect lots of elevation changes as its 18 holes dodge through the woods, across open greens and up over the oak-shaded ridge.
Options abound for staying the night in the foothills. Right on the course, Greenhorn Creek rents guest cottages. Or go the B&B route by checking in to the Cooper House Inn in Angels Camp—luxurious rooms and an organic breakfast, one block off Main Street. In Placerville, the GlenMorey Country House dates back to 1859 and today attracts guests with its antiques-rich, Scottish-style décor. If you decide to spend the night near Auburn, head a few miles east on I-80 to Colfax, where the Sierra Sun Cloud Inn, a New England-style B&B surrounded by gardens and woods, sits on a mountain overlooking the valley and the Sierra.
The Lake Tahoe region is a veritable golf mecca, with top-notch courses around every bend. Edgewood—on Tahoe’s South Shore—has been made famous by the numerous special events held here since its opening in 1968. For 20-plus years, the annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship has been held every July, bringing big-name golfers to the ultra-scenic par-71 course designed by George Fazio. Near Truckee, play Coyote Moon (pictured to the right)—18 holes, 7,177 yards from the back tees, through fragrant pines, past granite outcroppings and along Trout Creek. Former PGA player Brad Bell designed the course, incorporating its Sierra charms into the architecture. Also in Truckee, Old Greenwood—a Jack Nicklaus Signature Designed Course—has won numerous accolades. Set among 600 mountain acres—pine trees, awesome views and the like—the course is certified as a sanctuary by Audubon International. You’ll see plenty of wildlife during your game. While you’re there, let Keith Lyford, the Old Greenwood Golf Academy’s director of instruction, help you improve your swing. Play up to 6,781 yards at Northstar at Tahoe, an 18-hole, par-72 Robert Muir Graves layout—you’re in the meadow for the first nine, the mountains for the second. The Resort at Squaw Creek is a beautiful links-style Sierra course made challenging by its narrow boundaries. The first nine holes take you up the mountain; the second nine open up a bit through marshland and tall grass.
Stay the night at The River Street Inn in Truckee, and you’ll be treated to a calming view of the Truckee River from the back decks. Built in 1885, the place holds historical charm but recently has been renovated with all the trappings of today. That means WiFi and flat screen TVs. On South Shore, we recommend the stunning Black Bear Inn, where its five lodge rooms have mountain décor and river rock fireplaces; three cabins on the property give guests the opportunity for more privacy. Or simply dine at the restaurant where chef Alex Elsaesser works magic with local, seasonal and organic.
On the northern side of the Sierra, some 45 miles from Truckee, Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club sits in the Mohawk Valley near Graeagle, beckoning players looking for a good game in the woods, beside wildflower-rimmed ponds and streams. In nearby Clio, Nakoma Golf Resort—18 holes designed by Robin Nelson—has five tee settings and expands to 6,749 yards. The Frank Lloyd Wright-style clubhouse, with its three-sided stone fireplace, is a luxurious place to warm up after a cool spring round. Two more 18-hole courses in the area, Plumas Pines and Graeagle Meadows, round out the region as a great spot to set up camp for a weekend.
To have the full golf-getaway experience, stay at The Lodge at Whitehawk, where 14 private cabins skirt the course, or the Villas at Nakoma. Also designed in the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition, the three lavish villas have fireplaces and hot tubs on the patios.
Everyone’s Invited to Gray’s Crossing
The Golf Club at Gray’s Crossing in Truckee is now available to all. Step onto this course—designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy, and sister to Tahoe Mountain Club’s Old Greenwood—and gape in awe at stunning Mount Rose. Solely private since 2007, Gray’s Crossing opened its 18 holes to public play last summer.
In the shadow of the majestic 14,000-foot Mount Shasta, Lake Shastina Golf Resort and Mount Shasta Resort have long lured golfers who seek a challenge and a view. Try your luck at the 27 holes at Shastina (nine holes are Scottish links-style) co-designed by the Robert Trent Joneses. Run through 18 at Mount Shasta, where trees dominate the 6,035-yard course. Kids ages 7 to 17 can take a free clinic every Saturday at noon.
Out in Fall River Mills—east on Highway 299—Fall River Valley Golf and Country Club invites everyone at the driving range to try—just try—and hit the old tractor parked out there. On the 7,365-yard course, watch out for deer and rabbits—and Hole No. 3, reputed to be one of the toughest in California.
About 20 miles south of Weed, the McCloud River Inn awaits with five lovely rooms in a nationally registered historic inn. Another inn in town, the McCloud River Mercantile Hotel, has 10 suites decorated with antiques sure to evoke images of days gone by. Sinking into a clawfoot tub feels mighty nice after a day on the green.
BY THE SEA
Half Moon Bay Golf Links
Bay Area/North Coast
In San Francisco, the spectacular Presidio Golf Course runs 6,477 yards along the Pacific Ocean and beneath fragrant eucalyptus trees. A national historic landmark, it’s a hilly 18-hole course designed by Robert Wood Johnstone in the late 1800s. A couple of municipal courses, 27-hole Harding Park (which hosted The Presidents Cup in 2009) and 18-hole Lincoln Park (near the Legion of Honor and granting clear views of the Golden Gate), help round out the city as a great place to play a round while you’re in town.
A bit south, Half Moon Bay Golf Links, with 36 holes between its Old Course (cypress trees galore) and its Ocean Course (links-style), presents a scenic challenge. Cliffs and sea breezes make this a ruggedly beautiful round of golf.
Farther north, The New Links at Bodega Harbour, on the Sonoma Coast, completed a $1.2 million renovation about two years ago—bentgrass replaced Poa Ana, and course designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. oversaw revision of 94 bunkers and regrading of all 18 greens. For some heavy deer sightings and a virtual trip to Scotland, play The Sea Ranch Golf Links, where you are two steps from the ocean and fighting the wind the whole time. And way up north just south of Mendocino, the Little River Inn course has nine gorgeous holes on an Audubon-certified sanctuary that overlooks the ocean just across the road.
While the Little River Inn, adjacent to the course, is the obvious—and a truly lovely—choice for accommodations far north, other options exist as well. The Cottages at Little River Cove, standalone structures with full kitchens, fireplaces and all the comforts of home (and more—you can get in-room massage), allow pets. Near Half Moon Bay, reserve the third-floor Las Nubes room at the Cypress Inn on Miramar Beach, and you’ll discover unfettered views of the ocean, a spa tub for two in the bathroom, a fireplace and heated floors to keep your toes warm.
Along the central California coast, the grandest and most famous golf courses call: Pebble Beach Resorts’ Pebble Beach, The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and Del Monte. Who hasn’t had a memorable experience on No. 17 at Pebble Beach (pictured to the right/shutterstock), where the biggest water hazard of all lies just over the cliff? Here and at Spanish Bay, where a bagpiper closes the course in true Scottish tradition, ocean winds can wreak havoc on your score. Three other renowned courses in the area: Poppy Hills—home of the Northern California Golf Association—and Bayonet and Black Horse, where 36 holes underwent a significant redesign in recent years, emerging to enthusiastic reviews. Bayonet, tree-lined and elegant, runs up to 7,104 yards, while Black Horse provides a broad lookout onto the Monterey Bay.
Head into Carmel Valley to the new Carmel Valley Ranch course. Designed by Pete Dye, the par-70 course underwent restoration last year, enlarging the greens, augmenting tee boxes and adding bentgrass. At nearby Quail Lodge Golf Club, the hotel has shut down, but the par-71, 6,500-yard golf course remains open, with 10 lakes, views of the Carmel River and the sunny skies that Carmel Valley enjoys even when the courses along 17-Mile Drive are socked in tight with fog.
Mix up your Monterey/Carmel experience with a stay along Cannery Row. It’ll get you thinking about reading John Steinbeck again. The Spindrift Inn, a European-style hotel with featherbeds, fireplaces and marble baths, overlooks the bay. Tour the Monterey Bay Aquarium if it’s been awhile.
On Your Way to Monterey: Coyote Creek—Off Highway 101 in Morgan Hill, Coyote Creek Golf Club—two courses, actually—is designed by Jack Nicklaus. Rolling hills, lakes, meadows, waterfalls—the Tournament and Valley courses give challenge to golfers of all levels.
IN THE VALLEYS
Yocha Dehe Golf Club
Close to home in the Capay Valley, Yocha Dehe Golf Club—part of Cache Creek Casino Resort and managed by Troon Golf—is a Brad Bell-designed course affording expansive views of the surrounding hills. Tackle the 18-hole, 7,300-yard course in springtime while the weather’s cool, the hillsides lush and green. Come summer, the heat here soars and you’ll be tempted to dive in after your ball when it hits the water hazards.
Golf for the day or make a weekend of it with a stay at Cache Creek Casino Resort. Or, for a more countrified experience, reserve a room at the Capay Valley Bed & Breakfast, a Victorian-era farmhouse on Highway 16 in Capay. Accommodations range from rooms with shared or private baths in the main house to detached cottages that sleep four and allow pets.
Johnny Miller designed the Eagle Vines Vineyards & Golf Club, a par-72, 18-hole course that’s the Napa region’s newest public course, with lots of sun, water and hills. Chardonnay Golf Club takes golfers out among the grapevines—hit it too far, and your ball could take out a bunch of grapes. It’s a pretty and wild spot; in the hours bookending the day, watch for rabbits, foxes and the bobcats. On dual courses
at Silverado Resort, 36 holes cross water and roll across terrain interrupted by tall pines. And if you venture into Sonoma and stay at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, you’re allowed onto the semi-private Sonoma Golf Club, a 7,100-yard championship layout with unsurpassed views of the Mayacama mountain range.
Accommodations abound in the Napa Valley. One lively spot to stay: the downtown Napa riverfront, recently renovated and now hopping with restaurants, wine bars and shops. Spend the night at the Napa River Inn at the Historic Napa Mill, where you can get a room overlooking the water, and walk to nearby eateries and tasting counters. Reserve a table at Morimoto—chef Masaharu Morimoto of “Iron Chef” fame has created a remarkably unique menu that’s not the same old teriyaki bento box routine.
The Future’s Bright at Silverado—World Golf Hall of Famer Johnny Miller has redesigned the North Course at Silverado. After being closed for renovations, the course reopens this month with a few fewer trees, some more bunkers, changed approaches and more yardage. Bring your sunglasses: New, bright-white sand from Idaho now fills the bunkers.