The final stop on my recent trip up north was the most notable. Stanford was certainly a private club I really wanted to play someday, but CordeValle in San Martin represented a true bucket list course.
This is a true resort course, though they also have a private membership. They offer stay and play packages at the Rosewood CordeValle that aren’t exactly cheap, and that’s the main reason why I’ve never played here. However, I mentioned my friend splurged for a stay at the Rosewood Sand Hill the night before and he also splurged for a night at Rosewood CordeValle. He stayed Sunday night after the round of golf here. I had to drive home, but did get to see his bungalow and it was pretty sweet.
I really just came for the golf because there would be no better (and less expensive chance) chance for me to check this one off the bucket list. It still wasn’t that cheap for me as I took care of the requisite caddie fees and tips for both of us. Late January wouldn’t seem like the ideal time to play here and I was concerned about what the course conditions would be after everything else I experienced on the trip so far. I was also worried we might get similar gray skies as Stanford that wouldn’t allow for great photography. Well, those concerns were quickly washed away. We had blue skies all afternoon and the course was in phenomenal winter shape. I couldn’t have been more impressed.
We were both there pretty early, so we enjoyed a nice breakfast inside the clubhouse as we waited to tee off. We had an 11:50 tee time and were originally paired with another twosome. One of those guys was running late, so the starter decided to split us up. Playing with a forecaddie (or individual walking caddies if you prefer) is required for guests here. Our guy, Quin, was great. He got off pretty easy because we’re both fast and very casual players that don’t need much attention, so he was mostly along for the ride. He did offer a lot of great local insight and stories about the course that were helpful along the way (that included pointing out some ideal photo opportunities), and he was there to help whenever we needed him. He quickly adjusted to our personalities and styles of play, and that’s exactly what I look for when I must have a caddie.
We went off behind a pretty slow-moving member foursome and we were encouraged not to push them, even though they had several open holes in front of them by the time we finished. This is a place I don’t mind slowing down and taking my time anyway, so we just relaxed and enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon on a stellar golf course. The total pace was still fine around 4.5 hours. Needless to say, I took a lot of pictures and I guarantee there’s a calendar shot for next year in there somewhere!
CordeValle was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. It is a great resort set-up, but also designed for championship-level play. They have a good variety of tee boxes to suit any game and the course is as demanding as you want it to be based on which tees you choose. It hosted the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open for several years and was also the site for the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open.
I think because the stay and play is so expensive to access this course, I’ve always kind of held that against CordeValle. In a weird way, I didn’t want to like it as much as I did and I probably set my expectations a little lower than I should have. However, I have to say this is an incredible course that I loved on every level. I didn’t play very well and that was frustrating all day, but I wouldn’t ever hold that against the course itself.
There really aren’t many lackluster holes at CordeValle. It’s a fun, interesting and challenging layout from 1-18, and the secluded valley setting is truly special. Each nine starts down by the clubhouse, but then both have a great stretch of holes where you get some good changes in elevation. Creeks run throughout the course and there are many huge old oak trees in play. Jones did a great job of incorporating those trees and natural features into the course design. It seems like every tree feels perfectly placed on each hole.
Holes 6-9 make up the highlight stretch of the front nine, in my opinion. The par-5 6th features a pretty good uphill climb as the hole slowly doglegs left and looks beautiful all the way. The course has multiple vineyards surrounding it. Though the grapevines are all dormant this time of year, it still provides a nice backdrop.
The 7th is a long, but somewhat downhill par-3. It is followed by two of the signature holes. The 8th is a tricky short par-4 that plays downhill off the tee and somewhat back uphill on the approach over a big water hazard. It’s a target hole that requires some thought and execution.
The 9th was probably my favorite hole here, even though it doesn’t set up well at all for me. It has an elevated tee and a split fairway bisected by a creek. If you can reach the right fairway, you’ll be left with a cleaner shot in. If you go up the safer left fairway, you may be dealing with a massive oak tree obstructing your second shot. I know that from personal experience.
The back nine is more hilly overall as you start going uphill on the 13th hole and don’t come all the way back down until the 17th. This whole side of the course is beautiful and interesting. There’s almost too much to highlight. It all culminates in a nice 18th hole, which is a fun par-5 finisher filled with risk/reward options for longer hitters.
As I mentioned, I was really impressed with the conditions during a relatively cold and wet winter so far. Everything was lush, green and well-manicured. The bentgrass tee boxes were like astroturf. The fairways were soft and didn’t provide much roll-out, but I always had great lies and the ground underneath was never too wet or mushy. There were plenty of big divots and a few fat shots, but most of the damage was user error! The rough was thick, lush and consistent. It was enough to make you work, but not overly punitive.
The bunkers had beautiful white sand that was always perfectly raked. It wasn’t quite as soft/deep as it looked, but great to play from once you adjusted to it. The greens were firm and rolling super smooth at medium speeds. They are actually getting ready to redo the turf on all their greens starting in April. The greens currently are bent with poa having invaded over the years, but they were still excellent surfaces. They expect it to take several months as they resod with a new bent hybrid that should be more resistant to the poa. They will have small temp greens in the fairways during the renovation, and those patches were already marked off as GUR in preparation. Be warned if you are shelling out big bucks to play here this summer!
The ultimate question is whether or not CordeValle is worth paying for just to play the golf course. That is hard to say because it depends on your own financial outlook. I certainly wouldn’t put it ahead of Pebble Beach on your Northern California resort bucket list, but it is one to keep on your radar. There is plenty of other appeal to stay at a secluded high-end resort (more of a retreat) like this with your spouse or family, in which getting to play golf is a just part of a bigger luxury experience. As you might expect, they treat you very well the moment you pull through the gates. If playing the golf course is your only objective, then it’s hard to justify this expense. I got lucky to tag along with someone staying at the resort, so it worked out well for me and that’s all that matters this time around.
Some pictures from CordeValle Golf Club (1/27/19):
(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)