Short Course Blitz: Along the Redwood Coast

On Saturday, I began making the long journey home to Southern California. Naturally, I stopped for plenty of golf along the way because the weather was looking pretty good in Northern California. Saturday turned out to be a “play it by ear” kind of day and eventually became a Short Course Blitz. My initial plan was to finally play Eureka Golf Course, but I stopped by in the morning and they had some serious frost on the course along with some flooding from the heavy rains this area has gotten.

I didn’t feel like waiting around and it just didn’t seem like the right time to play here, so I kept heading down Highway 101 (aka “Redwood Highway”) toward the next Humboldt County course on my radar…

Benbow Hotel & Resort Golf Course • Garberville, CA • 12/26/15

I have driven by this course so many times over the years and have always resisted the temptation to stop. You can see parts of it from the highway. It always looked like a neat setting, but the course never appeared to be anything special. I was right in both of those assumptions.

I checked in and they let me know they weren’t allowing carts out on the course that day. It would be walking only. I knew parts of the course were hilly, but I was there and committed to playing. It was $23 just to walk nine holes. Considering I was the only one out there playing golf (probably all day and maybe all week), I would have hoped that rate would be less.

Benbow is a 9-hole, par-35 course with slightly different tees for front and back nine play. The first couple holes are flat and run next to a KOA Campground and some cabins, and then you go up into the woods. I was actually surprised at the amount of houses around this course, as they are well in play on several of the holes. In fact, this whole layout is extremely tight. There are OB stakes everywhere—often on both sides of the fairway. Some trees come into play and those houses feel extra close at times. It’s not a long course, but you better be accurate just to keep the ball in play.

The holes up the hill and deeper into the woods are nicer looking than the ones down by the highway. The 8th is a really awkward par-3 that plays through a tight chute of trees from the tee. It goes downhill to a green that has trouble on all sides. There is a paved cart path just a few feet to the right of the green and then there is the main road just behind it, too. The only place to miss here is short and left, otherwise you are hitting asphalt and hoping you don’t kill an unsuspecting driver on that road. It is really a nasty little hole, and not in a good way.

The conditions were pretty wet and soggy, but not nearly as bad as I encountered earlier in the trip. They obviously aren’t able to mow the fairways much this time of year when it’s so rainy, so they were extremely long and shaggy. Things were green and looked decent from afar, but the playability was pretty terrible all the way around. The greens were ugly, beat up and bumpy. I found one bunker and it was wet, but the sand was better than I would have expected.

This would definitely be a better summer course, but I am glad I finally checked it off my list. It’s been nagging at me for many years, so now I can say I played it and I’ll never feel the need to come back.

Some pictures from Benbow Hotel & Resort Golf Course (12/26/15):

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I kept working my way south on Highway 101, where I stopped at the next golf course available…

Brooktrails Golf Course • Willits, CA • 12/26/15

I’ve been aware that there was a course in Willits for sometime. Again, it’s a town I’ve driven through many, many times over the years and it’s never more than a pit stop. However, the course is a little out of the way and I never went to check it out before. I didn’t really know much about it.

When I arrived, I was intrigued by the setting. This course is set back into a grove of redwood trees. I’ve played other local courses with redwoods in play, but this one was really amidst these mighty trees. It actually feels like they didn’t remove any trees to make this course. They just shoved some golf holes in there whether they fit or not.

The price was $15 to walk nine holes. There was actually another twosome that went off right ahead of me, but they let me play through and it was a quick round after that. Brooktrails is a 9-hole, par-28 course. There are eight par-3s ranging from 97 to 207 yards if you play the blue tees. Then, there is one insanely wacky par-4 that may be the worst hole I’ve ever played.

As I mentioned, the course is playing through the grove of redwoods. Setting-wise, it’s a really neat little course. Layout-wise, not so much. It is extremely tight. The tee boxes are mats and the greens are tiny. Most of them are turtle shell in shape, mounded in the center and then falling off in every other direction. They are rather tricky to hit and hold. It’s a very tough little course because you either have to hit the ball extremely straight or be able to shape it both ways around the trees.

Then, there is the 5th hole, which I am still trying to process. It shows on the map as a 90-degree dogleg left and I suppose you can play it that way. It’s a very narrow shot out to that corner and you have to be very precise on your placement to have any sort of angle into the green. Or, you can be tempted to go straight at the green. Between the tee and it stands a row of redwoods with a few small gaps. You can hit and hope, but even if you get knocked down, you still may have a better shot in than if you take the long way around the corner. Hitting over the trees is not really an option for most as they are freaking redwoods. The white tee box is elevated and brings that idea more into play, but you’d still have to have a crazy high trajectory to get over the tall trees and then come down on the other side before going out of play over the green. However you play it, there is just no comfortable shot here and no strategy seems sound. I played a couple balls from both tees and none worked out particularly well.

Condition-wise, the greens are the only thing that matters and they were okay at best. Soft, shaggy and slow, but maintained decently considering the surroundings.

Again, Brooktrails is easily a one and done course for me. The setting is very cool in the redwoods and that might make it worth a stop for some. The course itself is too funky for most, though. They do also have a disc golf course here and the property seems better suited for that. I had my all-purpose disc in my trunk and thought about doing double duty here, but decided to just stick with the regular golf.

Some pictures from Brooktrails Golf Course (12/26/15):

Next, I had a decision to make. When I set off in the morning, I had a back-up plan in case Eureka was frosted out. I was planning to play Benbow and Brooktrails, and then keep heading due south to play the 9-hole Ukiah Municipal Golf Course. However, I still had ample daylight and had to consider heading west toward the Mendocino Coast. It was more out of the way, but that was kind of the point because it would give me an opportunity to check a real pain-in-the-butt-location course off the list while saving the much-easier-to-access Ukiah course for another time.

With the weather being so nice, I decided to go for it…

Little River Inn Golf Course • Little River, CA • 12/26/15

The Mendocino/Fort Bragg Coast area is very interesting. It is one of the most beautiful places in all of the state, easily rivaling Monterey in terms of rugged oceanfront scenery. However, it is brutal to access this isolated stretch of the coast. There are multiple roads in and they all suck. I came in along Highway 20 from Willits and that is the best of the bunch, but it still takes and hour to drive 20 or so miles because of the small winding road. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful going through the redwoods, but it’s a tiresome drive if you are just trying to get from Point A to Point B.

Just imagine if the PCH from the south was the only way to get to Monterey. That’s kind of how Mendocino is, no matter which direction you come in from.

I don’t if it’s because of this inaccessibility, lack of local interest or environmental restrictions along this very protected part of the coast, but golf is an afterthought in this area. The oceanfront setting and natural features seem conducive to world-class golf resorts that could hold their own against Pebble Beach and Bandon in terms of scenery. However, there is just one golf course in this area, and it’s at the Little River Inn.

I knew Little River Inn was just a 9-hole course, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is a regulation 9-hole course. It is par-35 on the front nine, but then has some alterations to make it a par-36 on the back. There are different tees for front and back nine play. In addition, two of the holes (7/16 and 9/18) have two different green complexes.

The 7th is a mid-range par-3 (141 yards) and then the 16th stretches out to a semi-blind and fairly long par-3 that is 203 yards. The 9th is a 177-yard par-3 to the green on the left while the 18th is a 273-yard par-4 to the green on the right by the small clubhouse.

I only played nine holes, but I did tee up second balls on both alternate back nine holes to get the full experience of the course. The rate to walk was $20 and that seemed to include as much as I could play. I probably could have squeezed in a few more holes before dark, but I was satisfied and wanted to get back on the road. It was actually rather busy out here, so I had to play through a couple groups and wait on a twosome ahead of me at times. Still, it was a fairly quick round.

Little River Inn features a pretty hilly course that goes back into the woods for a nice setting. Overall, the layout is fairly enjoyable with a good mix of hole designs. It’s not too long and it’s not nearly as tight as Benbow, but it’s a much more legit layout. If they had a full 18 holes here, it would be a course that could draw a little more attention. If hardcore traveling golfers are willing to go out of their way to play Sea Ranch, Little River Inn further up the coast would also have to be in consideration. After all, as bad as Mendocino is to get to, Sea Ranch is even less accessible. I know from experience.

The highlight at Little River Inn comes when you step on the 9th/18th tee and are treated to a fantastic ocean view. There are a few too many trees in the way, though. They are better for each hole’s design, but unfortunately obscure the best part of the view. On a clear day in the late afternoon, I was treated to a really nice scene and took a bunch of pictures. The view from the 8th/17th tee isn’t too shabby either.

The conditions were pretty good at Little River Inn, as the fairways/rough were clearly more maintained here. The greens were very soft and rolling at slow-ish speeds. They did get really bumpy as the round went on, though.

Is Little River Inn worth the daunting drive just to play the course? No, it’s not. That said, the Mendocino Coast is worth a visit and if you are here, this is a pretty decent course to play as one of many activities you can enjoy.

Some pictures from Little River Inn Golf Course (12/26/15):

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