Northern California Guru Trip, Day 4

Last Friday was the final day of a four-day trip to Northern California to help promote the Greenskeeper.org Review Guru program. We had a couple courses left to play before heading back home…

Chardonnay Golf Club • American Canyon, CA • 10/21/16

Getting to play here was kind of a last-minute arrangement while on the road, but it ultimately worked out. This was probably the consensus favorite course of the trip. It’s certainly a unique golf experience.

We had a 7:21 tee time, playing as a twosome. We were joined by a nice guy down from Canada and it was a relaxed morning pace of under four hours. It was mostly just singles and twosomes ahead of us so we never had to wait on any shots and were never pushed too much from behind.

We had a chance to speak with the GM after our round and he told us all about the up-and-down history of this club that originally opened in the 1980s. At one point it was a 36-hole facility, and then it was just 27 holes for awhile. Now, it’s just 18, though they do have an extra par-3 they maintain just in case major work needs to be done elsewhere on the course.

Several of the original holes of Chardonnay are now part of the Eagle Vines course right next door. I look forward to coming back and playing that course someday.

Having never played any of the old configurations, I can only go based on the 18 holes we experienced last week. I enjoyed it a lot. The routing now consists of an even disbursement, with six par-3s, six par-4s and six par-5s. That’s a rarity to see, but I personally like it a lot. I think the par-3s and par-5s are the most memorable holes here, and the collection of par-3s is truly great.

There are three of the par-3s that stood out most, and all could easily be categorized as “signature” holes. All the green complexes at Chardonnay are unique and many are very oddly shaped. The 5th is one of those, with a big banana/crescent shaped green. It’s a demanding little hole with a tee shot over a ravine and not much room for error no matter where the pin position is.

Speaking of crazy greens, the 8th hole was my personal favorite. This is a very unique concept and an extremely fun hole. It’s hard to even describe it. The green itself is over 20,000 square feet and it is kind of a wiggly worm-like semi-circle shape surrounded by mounds and bunkers. It features six tiers as it winds from the top left to the bottom right. It’s basically several different green sections, so you want to make sure you hit your tee shot somewhere close to the right level. Otherwise, you are screwed.

To add to the fun, there are many different tee boxes and levels they can use to configure this hole in dozens of different ways. It is almost like an elaborate short game practice facility that is being used as an actual hole. The GM said that originally they would put three pin placements on the green simultaneously, and it was up to the group to determine which hole location they wanted to play to that day. That was interesting to me, but I am glad they did away with that idea. I’d rather just show up and see what the greenskeepers had in store for me. I don’t think you could ever get bored of this hole because it probably rarely plays the same way twice!

The other signature par-3 is the 14th. Most of the course winds through the vineyards, but this green complex is kind of an island situated within the rows of grapevines. It’s actually kind of a simple hole design and there’s plenty of room for error around the large green, but the vineyard surroundings makes it very memorable.

Chardonnay was in good overall shape, apparently the best shape it’s been in some time according to the GM. The rains this year have really made a positive impact as the course is looking lush and green. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were mostly great with just some small scattered dead spots here and there. The rough was a little more spotty, especially around the fairway bunkers. However, the primary areas along fairways and around greens were mostly thick and lush with just enough depth to make you work for a recovery. The bunkers had good soft sand that was tough when damp in the early morning. The greens were very soft and rolling smooth at medium speeds, perhaps a little slower than they looked at times.

If you are in the Napa Valley, Chardonnay Golf Club is worth a visit. You get to enjoy the charming vineyard setting up close and you’ll experience a course that had some very unique qualities. You won’t soon forget the unusual green complexes and some of the more memorable holes you’ll ever play.

Some pictures from Chardonnay Golf Club (10/21/16):

The 8th hole below. Hard to show how insane that green really is!

Next, we worked our way further south back into the East Bay Area for our final round of this great trip…

Dublin Ranch Golf Course • Dublin, CA • 10/21/16

We teed off around 2:30 and it wasn’t too crowded out, so we enjoyed a nice relaxed pace of play. The wind picked up as the round went on and that certainly made things interesting as this course plays along an exposed ridgeline and the steady afternoon gusts can certainly impact play.

Dublin Ranch is an odd one to categorize. Technically, it is an executive course because it only plays to a par of 63 (two par-5s, 11 par-3s and five par-4s). That immediately means a lot of “serious” golfers won’t take it as seriously.

However, other than the predominance of par-3s, it never feels like you are playing an executive course. The layout was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and it offers plenty of challenge throughout. Some holes play rather long and every hole is genuinely designed. The total par may not add up to regulation, but the quality of golf measures up on most every level.

I found it interesting because the relatively challenging course might not appeal to beginner or intermediate-level golfers who might normally frequent an executive course as they hone their skills. At the same time, the more serious-level golfers (who I think the course is primarily designed for) may never even give it a chance because it’s not a full regulation layout. I’m not really sure who the demographic is, but it seems they are doing fine here, so it appears they have found a loyal crowd.

We started on the back nine first, which was nice because we definitely enjoyed the front nine more. It looked even nicer in the evening light compared to the harsh mid-afternoon sun/clouds that hampered my picture taking for much of the front nine.

Dublin Ranch is a very hilly course with all the holes playing either uphill, downhill or along the edge of the hillside. It’s a good mix. The greens were very big and feature some significant undulations, but never anything too crazy. The setting is great with unobstructed views in every direction. Dublin Ranch is definitely a scenic course. I was reminded of Hidden Valley (Norco) at times.

As for conditions, the course was in good, not great, overall shape. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were mostly good, with some thin spots and repair work being done here and there. The rough was pretty spotty. Sometimes it was really thick and lush and sometimes it was bare, with some patchy sections in between. There are a number of areas you can tell they are conserving water and letting it go to just dirt, and some holes looked a little nicer than others in that respect (cleaner lines). The greens were good, soft and receptive while rolling pretty well at medium/slow speeds. The recent storm clearly did some damage to many of the bunkers on the back nine. It is hard to rate those because some were really messed up while others were fine with good sand. They could all use some TLC, though, to smooth out old footprints and restore any damaged/flooded spots.

Dublin Ranch provides a fun golf experience that’s far more than your typical executive course. The lower par may turn some people off and I can understand why, but it is still worth checking out at least once. You’ll find yourself more challenged and entertained than you think.

Some pictures from Dublin Ranch Golf Course (10/21/16):

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