Northern California Guru Trip, Days 1 & 2

This past week, I took a four-day road trip up to Northern California to help promote the Greenskeeper.org “GK Review Guru” tee time program. JohnnyGK set up several rounds, primarily at Kemper Sports Management properties, and I was along as an ambassador. After all, most of the courses were new to my list!

It was a fun four days as we jumped around to different areas. Our first day was mostly driving, followed by a stop on the Monterey Peninsula. It was a course I have played before, but it was nice to visit it again…

Quail Lodge & Golf Club • Carmel, CA • 10/18/16

I first visited Quail Lodge back in 2012 and enjoyed myself there. It’s a solid track that was in good condition then. You can read my original review and see pictures here.

At that time, some renovations to the course had already taken place and they were in the midst of a complete renovation of the lodge. Since then, further renovations have been made to the course itself. This review will primarily touch on those changes and current conditions.

At least one big water hazard was removed on the course. It was the one guarding the par-3 17th green and also came into play on the 18th tee. It really changed the look and strategy of this hole, but it is still a great-looking design.

The main renovation that happened was that all the bunkers were redone. They were reshaped with a more rough-hewn style that is kind of a Monterey Peninsula signature look. Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Monterey Peninsula CC and the renovated version of Poppy Hills are some nearby courses that come to mind with these more jagged bunker faces lined with deep fescue rough. Quail Lodge was a solid course before, but not anything that distinctive. These new bunkers really spice up the presentation and will help it gain more notoriety in this competitive golf market.

As for conditions, the course was nearly immaculate on every level. Quail Lodge uses entirely poa annua grass, which is most typically only used on greens on the West Coast. Here, it is the base turf throughout the tee boxes, fairways, rough and greens. It is visually striking because it is a very deep green color and it contrasts well with the beautiful Carmel Valley surroundings. The cut lines were clean and having all one turf also allows them to widen/narrow fairways, collars and greens for different events. I can say that the poa fairways aren’t really my favorite surface to hit from because the grass is so sticky. My shallow swing plane does not get along with it, but those with more steep swings will likely find it nice to hit from.

That night, we stayed in the lodge on site and the rooms were incredible. They are huge with vaulted ceilings, massive modern bathrooms, big screen TVs and even a private patio area. It is a first-class place and the upgrades they have made throughout the lodge and course are really going to help put Quail Lodge on the map.

Some new pictures from Quail Lodge & Golf Club (10/18/16):

 

The next morning, we had to hit the road very early and fight through a little Bay Area traffic on the way northeast. We had two rounds scheduled at Fairfield’s sister courses…

Paradise Valley Golf Course • Fairfield, CA • 10/19/16

We were joined by a couple other GK members for both rounds on Wednesday. We teed off around 7:45 and enjoyed a nice relaxed pace with morning groups in front and behind us.

Throughout the round, one of the other players (who is a fellow course collector) and I were listing out courses that Paradise Valley vaguely reminded us of. A lot were courses out in the Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Fresno areas, so we never quite put our finger on any one specific comparison. This course felt familiar, though, as kind of an amalgamation of many others we have both played.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s just worth noting. What it boils down to is that Paradise Valley is a very solid track with plenty to enjoy. It is a good locals’ course that may not jump off the page for those who have played a lot throughout California. I guess I am saying it’s a good course, but not a great course.

The setting is nice as the course works its way through a quiet neighborhood. There are only a few places where houses really come into play, though. Otherwise, the course is lined with a lot of mature trees and has some natural creeks running throughout that double as hazards.

Probably my favorite hole was the short par-4 14th. It is a slight dogleg right with a row of big bunkers running up the right to discourage any shortcuts. Then there is a big tree in the middle of the fairway to make lay-ups to the left slightly more difficult. It’s a nice-looking hole with some risk/reward options, so we all really enjoyed it.

The course was in very nice condition overall. The tee boxes were good. The fairways were pretty lush and green, providing mostly ideal lies throughout the round. Just a few minor weak spots here and there. The rough was also lush and just thick enough to make you work for good recoveries. I wasn’t in any bunkers, so no comments there. I really liked the greens, which had great putting surfaces that rolled at good speeds.

After our round, we enjoyed a nice lunch in the clubhouse. It’s a great little hangout spot that attracts plenty of local regulars. It encapsulates the friendly local flavor of Paradise Valley.

Some pictures from Paradise Valley Golf Course (10/19/16):

We only had to drive about 10 minutes across town to reach our second course on Wednesday…

Rancho Solano Golf Club • Fairfield, CA • 10/19/16

From the moment we rolled up, we could tell we would all probably enjoy Rancho Solano a bit more than Paradise Valley. It is in a hillier area, so the natural terrain would provide a more distinctive layout and picturesque setting.

At Quail Lodge the day before, one of the NorCal GK members we played with referred to Rancho Solano as “The Four-Putt Capital of the World.” Some others we talked to at Paradise Valley in the morning confirmed this reputation. That had us very intrigued because we’ve all played plenty of crazy/tough greens and have never heard that kind of description.

The hilly terrain does make for a nice course layout. There are some big doglegs and somewhat technical holes. Then there are others where you can grip it and rip it. It is a good mix that will require just about every shot in your bag.

Then, there are the notorious greens. We were proud to say that nobody in our foursome (all first-time players at this course) had a four-putt here. However, we could see why these greens have a scary reputation. First, they are massive. Second, they do have some undulation. Not insane amounts, but enough to make things interesting. Lastly, the course is built on some hills, so you have to factor in the natural slopes, as well. The combination of all these elements definitely makes you work for your putts. We were probably a bit lucky that the greens weren’t running super fast. If they were, there would have likely been a four-putt or two in our group.

Some of the standout holes include the uphill, dogleg left par-5 7th, which has probably the nastiest green on the course. Then, the 11th is another great par-4 hole with an intimidating approach shot over a big water hazard.

This course was also in nice overall condition, just a slight step down from Paradise Valley on most levels. They were working on the tee boxes while we were there. The front nine tee boxes were punched and heavily sanded. The back nine tees were just punched, but have probably been sanded since we left. The tee boxes looked a little ugly as you’ll see in the pictures, but didn’t really affect much as there were always level stances and places to put tees in the ground. The fairways were good overall with a couple of grasses in the mix, but well-maintained and generally providing great lies. The greens were very soft and rolling smooth at medium speeds. The one bunker I was in had good sand.

Then, they have this crazy thing called “rough” that us Southern California guys haven’t seen much of in awhile. It is rather thick and nasty throughout this course. Balls would settle in (sometimes quite hard to find) and recoveries were often very tough.

Though still probably not a must-play course or a “destination” facility for those visiting the Northeast Bay Area, Rancho Solano is an excellent option to consider if in the area. It may depend on your personal preferences if choosing between here and Paradise Valley, but you can’t go too wrong either way.

Some pictures from Rancho Solano Golf Club (10/19/16):

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