Publisher’s Note


What’s your favorite golf hole? Even though mine is a couple hundred miles away and I haven’t played it in nearly a year, I can picture it perfectly&emdash;a gently sloping downhill dogleg right, 385 yards long. The scents of pine, sage, cut grass and manzanita mix in the air, and the few sounds one hears are shrieks of the occasional hawk or osprey, or the laugh or cry of a now-thrilled or angry golfer.

From the tee box of my fave hole, the fairway slopes downward and right, disappearing in the distance; beyond is a huge, rounded mountain of pine and fir, with reddish, iron-infused rock jutting out erratically. Hit your drive right or left and you’re in bad shape, but hit the right spot in the fairway and the ball will bounce and roll to the right another 50 to 75 yards. Once there, you’re perfectly poised to get it on the green with a pitch or chip of 100-plus yards.

Ah, great golf holes. We love ’em, even though they often reject us. We see the hole as it could play, should play, our shots straight or curving as intended, the delight of a fine shot filling our senses. All is good in the world.

Welcome to the 12th annual edition of the Northern California Golf Guide. This year, we present golf writer Bob Burns’ favorite 36 holes. Bob’s two fantasy lists of 18 were carefully considered and are completely subjective&emdash;we make no bones about that. But Bob has a special knowledge of and passion for the game, which shows in his writing. You’ll find his top 18 in the Sacramento region, and another top 18 holes beyond Sacramento, beginning on page 12. We hope you’ll use the feature to plan where to play and also to help you create your own list. Let us know your favorites, or least favorites, and why. E-mail them to me at and we’ll post them throughout the year on our website:

To go along with the Top Holes feature, Golf Talk radio show host and writer Vince Mastracco tracked down the pros to get professional advice on how to best play those holes. The knowledge the pros impart can be applied to many other holes, too. Also in this year’s guide: Frank LaRosa’s interview with a woman who may prove to be the best female golfer ever, Annika Sorenstam. A Tahoe-area resident, Annika has many connections to Northern California and shares insight and perspective. In the Getaways feature, writer Alan Humason blazes a trail from Central Oregon down through northernmost California, then to the Capay Valley and Solano County.

Only a small percentage of golfers get the chance to play private courses, where golfers feel special no matter their handicap. In a photographic essay, we give you a glimpse inside five pristine and very private Northern California clubs.  You won’t even have to pay a quarterly minimum to see them.

Last year, I finally visited the land of my ancestry, Ireland. The trip was wonderful; we covered more than 2,000 miles in about two weeks. My wife and I played several courses while there. Golf in Ireland is indeed grand or brilliant, as the Irish say. But as much as I enjoyed Ireland’s special golf and gorgeous courses, the trip made me appreciate even more the outstanding variety of golf we have in Northern California. We hope you play your favorite holes often this year.