February in the Bay Area, Part 4: A Bit Nippy in Napa

After two days in the East Bay Area, we headed north for the third day. We stayed the night in Vallejo and then were ready to go early on Friday morning in the Napa Valley…

Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park • Napa, CA • 2/23/18

Our early morning round was at Napa Golf Course. As we scouted the weather, we saw projected temperature at dawn in Napa would be 29 degrees. I called ahead on Thursday to ask about potential frost delays and they let me know that would not be a concern. Even if there is frost on the course, they do not enforce frost delays here. The only policy is that it will be cart path only.

I’m not sure what temperature it was when we arrived, but it was definitely chilly and a solid layer of frost blanketed the course. The guy in the pro shop was ready for us and checked us in at a very reasonable $29 rate (cart included). We were the only ones there because nobody else would be so foolish. Perhaps they don’t do frost delays because they just don’t expect anyone to be stupid enough to show up that early.

Either way, we were teeing off at first light and crunching our way across the frosty fairways and greens. Walking on frost-covered greens can damage the turf, so we did our best to tread lightly and both of us were wearing spikeless shoes. We had a few slips here and there and it took a long while to gain any feeling in our fingers and toes, but it was also rather fun.

We didn’t see another player going out until we were just about to make our turn a little before 8:00. More players started to trickle onto the course after that. The course stayed frosted over throughout our front nine, but it thawed out quickly on the back nine. It actually worked out great from a photography standpoint. The front nine is the less-exciting half of the course visually, so having the icy white grass offered some cool pictures. Then, as we turned onto the more interesting side of the course, we were treated with pretty lush and green conditions. Turns out the course was in rather nice shape for winter and we were able to enjoy that throughout the second half of our round.

Napa Golf Course gets a little overlooked in the Napa Valley golf scene because it’s kind of the only muni-level course in Napa. It’s up against more heralded and dramatic resort/vineyard style courses like Silverado, Chardonnay and Eagle Vines. I was very pleasantly surprised to find Napa Golf Course as a very solid track and a killer value compared to its closest neighbors.

The first few holes on each side offer a pretty traditional parkland style look with trees lining the fairways. Then, the middle sections of each nine open up to a big area where there are very few trees in play. However, water hazards are everywhere you look throughout these sections of the course. They come into play on just about every hole, so it’s never as wide open as it may seem.

Overall, the course is fairly flat with just a bit of rolling terrain on the more wooded holes. Napa Golf Course was designed by Jack Fleming and was opened in the 1960s. It definitely represents the more working-class side of Napa and I’m sure it gets plenty of local play as a friendly and affordable course.

Napa Golf Course may lack a little on-course scenery, but that is somewhat made up for by numerous unobstructed views in every direction. It sits kind of in the middle of the valley, so the surrounding mountains in the distance provide a nice backdrop throughout the course.

The hole that stood out to me most at Napa Golf Course was the par-4 10th. It’s an interesting one with a fairway that dips and splits about 2/3 of the way to the green. Then, there is a huge oak tree situated at the end of the first half of the fairway—pretty much right in the center. Another big oak tree hangs over from the left side at the fairway split. These trees sure make this hole tricky.

The frost made the front nine more challenging than it probably was. However, I could tell as we were playing that the grass underneath was in pretty good condition. The greens were hard as rocks and skidding putts atop the ice were hard to judge, but that’s all part of the fun. Most bunkers were also frozen over, but the sand was good underneath (just a bit unmaintained and lumpy in the few bunkers I found).

As the course began to thaw out and reveal its true conditions, things only got better. There were some minor thin/brown spots here and there, but there was mostly really good coverage throughout tee boxes, fairways and rough. The ice on top of the greens went away, but they were still super firm and frozen underneath as we played the back nine. They were not receptive at all. Once the surfaces thawed, though, the putting speeds really ramped up. These greens were rather fast and really nice to putt on.

All in all, I considered Napa Golf Course a pleasant surprise. Normally courses that don’t enforce frost delays are ones that don’t have turf good enough to care about. That is not the case here as the conditions were well above average in February. This course is not going to define any trips to the Napa Valley. However, if you are looking for a good place to play in Napa that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, you’ll find what you are looking for here.

Some pictures from Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park (2/23/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

It’s impossible to drive through Napa right now and not think about the horrific wildfires that rampaged through this area and throughout the hills and valleys all the way up toward Santa Rosa last fall. It was devastating and it will take the area many years to recover. We did not notice any fire damage as we drove through town, though some utility trucks were out were working on traffic lights and electrical lines that may have been affected.

As we neared our next destination, Silverado Resort & Spa, we could see the brunt of the fire damage up along the hillsides surrounding this part of Napa. I know a lot of houses up there burned down while some did survive. Either way, you could see the charred hillsides that certainly offered a more somber backdrop than the the pretty hillsides I saw last time I visited Silverado.

Fortunately, the resort and its golf courses experienced very minimal fire damage and things have gotten almost back to normal here…

Silverado Resort & Spa (South Course) • Napa, CA • 2/23/18

I played the more famed North Course at Silverado last year. That is where they host the PGA Tour Safeway Open and we were able to experience it just a few weeks before the tournament. That meant ideal conditions and some crazy fast greens.

After that visit, I was able to make arrangements to come back and play the South Course. We were originally going to go up there in early November, but the wildfires happened and a trip to the North Bay Area just didn’t feel right. Silverado was back and reopen within a few weeks of the fires, though, so that was a good sign.

Finally, it made sense to come back to Napa on this trip. We were actually supposed to play Napa Valley Country Club and that was one of the main reasons for planning this trip in February. Unfortunately that fell through kind of last minute, but a round at Silverado was still more than enough reason to have a day in beautiful Napa.

We originally had an 11:30 tee time, but the courses had pretty long frost delays in the morning. We relaxed and enjoyed breakfast in the grille, but then were still able to tee off early around 10:40. I don’t think the South Course had as many tee times booked and they probably had a few cancellations during the delay. We played through a few groups along the way and finished in a little over three hours.

Robert Trent Jones, Jr. was the original designer of both Silverado courses, though his father is also co-credited depending where you look. Then, Johnny Miller did a renovation back in 2011. Most of the focus then was on the North Course, but I believe the South also went through some significant renovations at the time. The resort’s website talks as if he renovated both courses extensively. The South Course scorecard only lists RTJ Jr. as the architect while the North Course card lists him along with the renovation by Miller.

However you want to credit the architecture, the South Course is a worthy complement to its big brother. If you like the design of one, you will probably like the other as they have similar styles. The South is probably a bit more forgiving from tee to green, but the greens are just as challenging. They have some major slopes and undulations to make all approaches, chips and putts a true adventure.

The challenge was definitely cranked up last Friday because it was really windy and the course was fairly dried out with winter-thin conditions. The greens were very firm and fast, and the wind definitely played its part to make the greens extremely difficult to figure out. Anything rolling downhill or downwind was tough to stop. Anything rolling downhill AND downwind was not going to stay on the green unless you hit the center of the hole!

A couple of holes stood out to me. On the front nine, the par-4 6th is easily the most distinctive hole. This is a dogleg right hole that has a downhill tee shot and an uphill approach to a very tough green. A small creek bisects the fairway right at the corner, so you have a decision to lay up off the tee or try and clear it. It’s a fairly small hazard, but it’s almost perfectly placed to force the decision. The green itself has a huge hog’s back on the upper left and the pin was right in the middle of that hump. It was nearly an impossible pin location with the firm and windy conditions. Kind of sadistically fun, but impossible.

Probably the signature par-3 on the South Course is the 15th, which plays over a small water hazard and doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for error on any side of the green.

The conditions were definitely winter thin and it sure didn’t look quite as pretty as the lush/green North Course last year, but the turf was consistent and playable. The tee boxes and fairways have primarily a bermuda base that was tight, firm and a little dappled in color. From afar, the fairways on the North Course looked much more lush as they have different grass in play. The rough had really good coverage throughout and wasn’t too penal. The bunkers were immaculate with blindingly white sand. The greens were super duper firm and fast as I mentioned already. Probably still not as crazy fast as North was last year before the tournament, but still quite slick.

I had some time to talk with the Director of Golf Sales after the round and he mentioned there are some renovation plans on the table for the South Course. Their ultimate goal is to bring it up to the same level of prestige and quality as the North Course. This will probably include redoing the turf so it is the same lusher, greener grass as on North. Then, maybe some design enhancements will be made, as well.

Certainly when you play either course makes a difference. Playing the South in February amidst a relatively dry and cold Napa Valley winter is not a fair comparison to playing the north in September just a few weeks before the tournament. Still, it’s exciting to know they have plans to bring South up to a similar level as the North. The course designs go very well together and it will be nice to have a perfectly complementary pair of first-class courses at this high-end resort.

Some pictures from Silverado Resort & Spa (South Course) (3/23/18):

After two quick rounds and getting out earlier than expected at Silverado, we still had time left to squeeze in another round. However, any courses that we both needed to play would take us further in the wrong direction. We knew traffic getting out of Napa and through the East Bay was only going to get worse later in the afternoon, so we decided to call it a day and hit the road. Eight rounds in three short days was plenty, and it sure felt nice to beat some of the traffic and get home before midnight.

 

 

 

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