Northern California Guru Trip, Day 3

On Thursday of our GK Review Guru trip in Northern California, we headed up to Santa Rosa for a double-header at Oakmont Golf Club. I broke off for a quick solo round afterwards, as well.

We were staying in Cordelia as kind of a central location to our last three days. Getting out to Santa Rosa from there in the morning wasn’t a smooth ride with so much traffic and construction throughout Wine Country, but we ultimately arrived…

Oakmont Golf Club • Santa Rosa, CA • 10/20/16

There are two courses at Oakmont and we ended up playing them both. Three of us started with a morning round on the executive East Course. It has its own separate clubhouse and starter, and we enjoyed a quick morning pace there without too many players on the course. We then enjoyed a relaxed lunch at the West Course’s bar/restaurant. We were joined by a fourth GK member for the second round on the West Course, teeing off at 12:00 and finishing a little over four hours later.

East Course

The East Course at Oakmont is an 18-hole executive layout that plays to a par of 63. There are nine par-3s and nine par-4s. All of the par-4s are relatively short, while the par-3s actually skew toward longer yardages. One is actually 221 yards from the back tees!

Oakmont is a senior community, so a good percentage of play is from resident members. This course is definitely set up to be senior-friendly and most holes are pretty straightforward, but it still offers more than enough challenge for players of all ages. It’s a pretty decent little course lined with big oak trees. We caught it at a great time of year, because there were a lot of fall colors to create a nice contrast with the surrounding hills and the green grass of the course.

The East Course was in decent shape from tee to green. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were a bit shaggy in the morning and some were recently aerated so we encountered some loose turf pellets. They were punching the 10th fairway as we played. The rough wasn’t always consistent, but it seemed mostly pretty lush. Bunkers were on the thin side, but playable. The greens were soft and slow. Some on the front nine were really beat up and hadn’t fully recovered from the recent aeration. One (I think it was hole 2 or 3) was really ugly. Otherwise, most were okay and seemed to get a little better as the round went on and things dried out.

There isn’t too much else to highlight about the East Course. It’s good for a warm-up or cool-down round after the West Course, but otherwise it’s mainly suited to the regulars of this community.

Some pictures from Oakmont Golf Club (East) (10/20/16):

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West Course

The West Course is a more traditional par-72 regulation layout. It is the primary course at Oakmont, so it naturally attracts a wider range of golfers than the East. 

I found the West to be a solid course. The setting is nice, with similar views as the East Course and a similar look with the old oak trees, some tall pines and redwoods, and the nice autumn colors from other trees in the mix. 

For the most part, the key here is to hit a good tee shot. There are some trees that hang into play in front of a few tee boxes, providing a little discomfort if you play a fade. However, once you are out there safely, things usually feel more open as you hit your approach shots into the greens.

The greens probably provide the biggest source of challenge. They are crowned in nature, with the highest points in the center and then multiple fall-offs around the edges. They weren’t super firm on Thursday, but the ball would get big first bounces and ample roll-out thanks to some relatively fast surfaces. We had more than one ball trickle off the edges and it was a little frustrating at times.

I’m not sure what would be considered the signature hole here. I personally liked both of the par-3s on the back nine, both of which brought water hazards into play.

The West Course was in good overall shape, maybe looking a little better from a distance than close up. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were mostly in great shape. There were a few shaggy spots and a few thin spots, but mostly everything was pretty good. The rough was mostly lush, but had some inconsistencies and more weak spots the further you strayed from fairways. The bunkers were pretty good. The greens were nice and rolling at medium-fast speeds. My only gripe was the amount of debris found on most greens. They do leave a lot of grass clippings throughout the fairways and rough here, so the morning players will walk across everything with wet shoes/spikes and that leaves a lot of clippings on the greens. Then, we also had some falling autumn leaves, as well.

Oakmont is a little out of the way, most easily accessed if coming from the 101 Freeway. Even then, it’s about 20 minutes from downtown Santa Rosa. From other parts of the Bay Area, it is less convenient. It’s a good enough course to check out while there, but I probably wouldn’t go that far out of my way for it again.

Some pictures from Oakmont Golf Club (West) (10/20/16):

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The rest of the group was done golfing for the day, but there was a lot of daylight left by the time we finished. I could not resist breaking off for a quick round of my own. There wasn’t enough time for a full course, so I opted for the nearest short course…

The Fairgrounds Golf Course • Santa Rosa, CA • 10/20/16

I rarely have high expectations when squeezing in a short course, but I have been pleasantly surprised in the past. That said, I had very low expectations about this place. The name is quite uninspiring (yes, it’s a golf course at the fairgrounds) and any information/photos I found online made it look like a dump.

Oh well, it was another one to check off the list, so I made my over there. It’s a little confusing when you get here because you have to find the right entry gate and then turn quickly toward the horse track grandstands. I actually got lost and drove around the fairgrounds for a bit before I had to give in and call the course for better directions. I eventually made it.

What I didn’t realize was that the course is actually located within the infield of the race track. There is a small pro shop, driving range, short game area and a 9-hole golf course. It’s rather unique and actually adds a ton of charm. I’ve played inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at Brickyard Crossing, but I’ve never played a course inside a horse track.

The price was $13, but that was actually good for unlimited play. I was only there for a quick nine holes, so I zipped around the course in about a half hour. There are seven par-3s, ranging from 90 yards up to 180. Then, there are two short and basic par-4s.

I was pleasantly surprised at how green and well-kept the course was. There was a consistent coverage of grass and the lines were cleanly cut. It’s one of the nicer presentations I’ve seen at a low-end short course of this caliber. The layout itself is very basic as it’s essentially a wide open field with the green complexes and bunkers providing the only distinctive contours. It’s almost a linksy style, but it doesn’t play at all like a links course.

There are a couple water hazards, but otherwise what you see is what you get. Playing inside the track is interesting (anything hit onto the race tracks—both grass and dirt tracks here in concentric loops—is considered O.B.) and the grandstands provide a cool backdrop.

The greens were actually the fastest of any I played on this trip. They looked a little beat up in places, but I was shocked at how quick they rolled. The bunkers had decent enough sand. Otherwise, the rest of the course played as nice as it looked. I’m sure there are certain times of year (when the fair is in town or when events are at the track) when this course looks terrible or is completely shut down, but it was pretty darn nice while I was there!

Fairgrounds still isn’t that exciting a course. It’s just the unique setting and shockingly good conditions that blew away my extremely low expectations. It does also smell heavily of horse crap, too, so that takes away a little enjoyment as you walk around the course. Beyond that, it’s a good beginner/novice level course with ample practice facilities and affordable pricing. I can always appreciate a good starter course like this, where a lot of locals have probably learned to appreciate the game throughout its existence. 

Some pictures from The Fairgrounds Golf Course (10/20/16):

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