Norcal in September, Day 2: Miller Time in the Napa Valley

Day 2 of my recent trip took me to the Napa Valley area for two rounds with some fellow course collecting friends. The first course we visited was one of the the centerpieces for this trip, so it’s a round that I’ve been really looking forward to…

Silverado Resort & Spa (North Course) • Napa, CA • 9/17/17

Silverado has gained a little extra notoriety in recent years since it re-took over as the host of the Safeway Open (formerly Frys.com Open), which was previously held down at CordeValle. Though it’s not the biggest event on the PGA Tour, it is now the first tournament of the season since they shifted the schedule to end with the FedEx Cup. Silverado has previously held PGA Tour events and many other big-time golf tournaments.

I’ve watched a little bit of the tournament on TV, so I could see that the North Course looked like something I would enjoy. Unfortunately for me, the resort went back to a semi-private policy where the courses are typically only accessible to club members and resort guests. 

However, fortune was on my side because a friend of mine had won a free foursome round at Silverado at a charity golf tournament. I was lucky enough to be invited up for the round, which was booked for 8:30 on Sunday morning.

It wasn’t too busy out there, so we actually teed off a little early and enjoyed our own relaxed pace of under four hours. The staff was great and the facilities are nice here. There was a lot of construction going on around the course as they get the bleachers and hospitality tents erected for the tournament in just a few weeks. In fact, I believe Sunday was one of the final few days they were allowing any public play ahead of the event.

Because of this, I would say we got a slight taste of what the pros will experience on Silverado’s North Course. We encountered very thick rough and extremely firm/fast greens that really put us to the test. I’ll speak more about the conditions later.

As for the course, this is a really nice layout that ended up being more interesting than I expected based on what I’ve seen on television. It was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and then renovated more recently by Johnny Miller. 

Despite some modern design upgrades, I thought the North Course still had a more classic/traditional feel with the tree-lined fairways and natural undulations. The elevation changes are fairly minimal here, but there are a lot of rolling ups and downs to make sure it never feels flat. Many of the greens are elevated and well-protected by big bunkers. 

The course is set in a beautiful valley that has a ton of mature trees, which will definitely knock down any stray shots. Along the hillsides surrounding the course, you see plenty of really nice houses. It’s quite a nice setting. It was very overcast and a bit foggy when we started our round, and then the sun slowly burned its way through by the time we turned onto the back nine.

Between the weather pattern, the setting of the course, the deep green grass color and the overall feel of the layout, I found myself unexpectedly reminded of my round on The Greenbrier Old White TPC course a couple years ago. I’d say The Greenbrier has a few more distinctive old school design elements and quirks, but Silverado definitely had a similar overall feel. I sure wasn’t anticipating a course in Napa to remind me of a course in West Virginia, but I couldn’t escape that feeling all day. Even the resorts have similarities with their respective grand old mansion-like buildings out front. 

As much as I enjoyed the course as a whole, only a few holes stick out in my memory. The 8th is a fun par-4 with a tee shot over a creek and then the hole doglegs left up the hill. The 11th is a pretty par-3 over water. The 17th is one of the toughest short par-4s I’ve ever encountered as the green is tucked behind a row of tall trees. You either need a major draw to get around them or you need to position your tee shot way right (even though there’s really not much room over there). As a cut hitter, I am still not sure how to play this hole even though it’s only 332 yards from the white tees.

As for the conditions, things were very nice as they get ready for the tournament. This place was very lush and green from edge to edge. It was playing very wet in the morning and that added a lot of challenge and length. Otherwise, the tee boxes were nice. The fairways didn’t provide much roll, but I mostly had nice lies to hit from. There were some mushy/muddy spots because of so much moisture in the turf. The rough was a big story as it was so thick and it was a deadly mix of grabby kikuyu and sticky rye grasses. It was deep enough that it was hard to find your ball a lot of the time, yet it probably wasn’t anything compared to what the pros will have to deal with.

The bunkers had super duper soft sand, and then there were the greens. They had some tricky Sunday pins that added even more difficulty, but the greens were very firm and lightning fast. They were intimidating to say the least. However, the surfaces were so pure and smooth. It was a tricky combination of conditions because anything that landed short of the green would stop because it was so soft. Anything landing on the green would release like crazy unless you could generate pro-level spin. That meant you were almost always putting from above the hole and just hoping to keep it on the green coming back. Brutal, yet fun. And again, probably nothing near as firm and fast as they will be for the pros in a few weeks.

We had a lot of fun on Silverado’s North Course. It is a fantastic layout and the pre-tournament conditions certainly added some challenge and excitement. I look forward to coming out to play the South Course someday.

Some pictures from Silverado Resort & Spa (North Course) (9/17/17):

We enjoyed a nice lunch in the Silverado clubhouse and then two of us made our way through Napa and toward our next destination…

Eagle Vines Golf Club • American Canyon, CA • 9/17/17

Speaking of Johnny Miller, he definitely has his fingerprints all over Eagle Vines, as well. If I am not mistaken, he once owned this course (or at least part of it) and he may still be involved in ownership. I heard numerous people on this trip refer to it as “his course” in some form or another.

His name is definitely associated with the design of the course. Well, in part. Eagle Vines has a unique history that’s directly associated with its next door neighbor, Chardonnay Golf Club. You see, Chardonnay was originally a 36-hole, two-course complex. Some stretches of Eagle Vines represent parts of what used to be one of the original Chardonnay courses. It’s not a straight 18/18 split, though. A number of new holes were developed to round out the Eagle Vines routing. That’s where Miller comes in

I couldn’t tell you which holes were added, which are the same as before and which were modified. However, there are definitely portions of this course that run right next to holes on Chardonnay and there are plenty of holes at Eagle Vines that feel very similarly designed. Then, there are some stretches that feel a bit different.

That’s about as much as I know about how Eagle Vines came to be a separate 18-hole course as Chardonnay eventually evolved into just one 18-hole course. 

We had a 2:06 tee time (first at the twilight $45 rate) and we were racing over from Silverado after a long lunch. We made it just in time to get to the first tee and join two other singles for the round. There was no huge rush, though, because the course was crowded and there was a big group in front of us that really plugged things up. The round took almost five hours and we finished just before dark.

I really enjoyed Chardonnay when I played it last year, so I expected that I would enjoy (at least parts of) Eagle Vines. That turned out to be the case. It’s definitely a good sister course to its neighbor because it strikes a lot of the same chords. The course utilizes the vineyard setting and natural terrain. The layout is interesting and never, ever boring. Every hole presents a unique test and some are quite demanding.

Chardonnay has one of the best collections of par-3 holes that I’ve played in recent years. Eagle Vines is no slouch in that same category. Each of this course’s par-3s is enjoyable and different from the others. 

The signature hole at Eagle Vines is the par-3 14th, which features a very elevated tee box and a dramatic island green complex. It is a large island with a crazy-shaped green in the middle. It’s a very big green that allows them to use a variety of pin placements that will make it very different each time you play it. It is definitely a neat hole design. Unfortunately, the pond had a lot of red algae on top and then some reeds/weeds growing around the edges in the water. You’ll see in the picture that it looked less like an island with these conditions. Hopefully they can clean up the water and restore it to a presentation the hole deserves.

No matter what, you won’t get bored at Eagle Vines and the signature hole sums it up nicely.

The course was in pretty good overall condition. The tee boxes were solid. The fairways were mostly quite nice to play from with just some scattered thin spots. The rough was a bit more hit or miss. Some areas were nice and others not so much. The greens were firm-ish and rolling very well at medium-fast speeds. Had I not experienced near-perfect greens at Silverado in the morning, I might have felt even more impressed with Eagle Vines. The bunkers here are the weakest aspect. Some were adequate, while some were way too thin and hard.

All things considered, I’ll definitely still be ranking Chardonnay ahead of Eagle Vines. It’s a more cohesive layout and conditions seem like they are usually a notch or two above. However, if you like one of these courses, you will undoubtedly like the other. They are kind of conjoined twins who were separated at some point along the way, so there are plenty of similar qualities that make both quite enjoyable.

Some pictures from Eagle Vines Golf Club (9/17/17):

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