North Bay Trip, Part 1: Dramatic Settings and Tough Rough

Earlier this week, a travel buddy and I spent three days in the North Bay Area working on our golf checklists in the region. We ended up playing 8 courses over the course of the trip, so I will review them two at a time here.

We drove up early on Monday morning (technically I left my house Sunday night) in order to get to our first destination on time. Traffic around the Bay Area is always an issue, especially when we have to get somewhere in the North Bay for a mid-morning tee time. However, we built in plenty of cushion just in case and we arrived in Sonoma with plenty of time to spare…

Sonoma Golf Club • Sonoma, CA • 4/8/19

This course was actually the reason for the trip. GolfMoose was hosting a “member for a day” outing here and we had signed up. The original event was actually scheduled for February, but they had to postpone it because the weather was so bad this winter. They rescheduled it for April and we reset our plans as needed.

We played in a 10:00 shotgun and it was a full one with two groups teeing off on every hole. Also adding to the fun was that we had to play it cart path only. On top of that, the rough was extremely deep and thick, making it hard to find balls and to hit them if they were found. We figured we were in for a 5-6 hour round, but the group moved surprisingly well and we finished in right about 4.5 hours.

Sonoma Golf Club is a historic private club that dates back to 1928. The course is located in the heart of the Napa Valley, so it’s a very desirable one to play if you have a chance. The course was designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting and doesn’t appear to have undergone any major renovations. I’m sure it’s been updated in some ways since the early days, but the layout retains its classic qualities.

It plays in a valley, so there aren’t any significant changes in elevation. The scenery is still wonderful with the hills surrounding the course in all directions and some crusty old oaks and other mature trees in play. There is also a creek that meanders throughout the course and comes into play many times as a natural hazard.

Our group started on the par-4 6th hole, which took us right to one of the signature holes early on. The par-3 7th is a beauty, set along the aforementioned creek. Rock walls line the creek and hillside near the green and it’s a great little hole.

The other hole that stood out to me was the finisher. The par-4 18th is a good one that plays as a dogleg right and has you hitting over the creek on your approach. It plays back toward the clubhouse, and I have to say this is an impressive clubhouse. It is a Spanish style and it just has a great old California/Wine Country look. It’s also beautiful inside the clubhouse.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from conditions given the super wet winter, but Sonoma was actually in great overall shape. There were definitely a lot of soft spots and mushy areas. However, the playability was generally quite good from tee to green. The fairways not cut too tight, so there was very little roll-out (if any) on drives. And as I mentioned, the rough was insanely thick, lush and deep.

Our group (and I assume every group) lost a lot of balls. When you did find it, all you could do was hack it out and try to advance. It was brutal, but kind of sadistically fun to play rough that might make even the USGA blush. Surprisingly it didn’t seem to slow down play as much as expected (thank you new 3-minute search rule). The bunkers were good and the greens were also pretty good despite being aerated within the past couple weeks. They were fairly soft and rolling well at medium/fast speeds.

The classic layout at Sonoma is really great. It won’t blow you away with dramatic design features, but that’s what you want in an older course like this. Otherwise, the setting is great and the club epitomizes the indulgent Wine Country way of life. I would highly recommend playing here if you ever have a chance.

Some pictures from Sonoma Golf Club (4/8/19):

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

 

After finishing at Sonoma, we still had one more round to play in the late afternoon. We hopped in the car and headed down toward Vallejo to check another one off the list…

Blue Rock Springs Golf Club (West) • Vallejo, CA • 4/8/19

We chose this one for a number of reasons. First, it wasn’t too far away from Sonoma (though those back roads and rural highways throughout Napa Valley can be a pain to get around). Second, it was a course neither of us had played yet. Finally, Monday afternoon was our only chance to play this course because they were set to close for aeration of the greens on Tuesday and Wednesday.

We called over and they said it wasn’t too busy out on the course, though the local high school team would be practicing on the front nine by the time we arrived. We ended up starting on the 3rd hole to jump ahead of them and then it was pretty smooth sailing after that as we got around the rest of the course very quickly before coming back to play the 1st and 2nd holes we had skipped.

You will hear the name GolfMoose a lot on the reviews for this trip because a majority of our rounds were played using their great twosome deal certificates. We had a number of gift vouchers to use, as well (earned by attending Greenskeeper.org outings) so we saved a ton of dough. The deal at Blue Rock Springs was $49 for two players with minimum restrictions, so that’s hard to beat!

I had previously played the newer East Course here back in 2017, so I’ve been eager to play the West. I really enjoyed my round on East and found Blue Rock Springs to be a minor hidden gem in the North Bay. From what I could see of the older West Course that day looked like a fun layout, so it was good to come back and finally check it out.

The West Course at Blue Rock Springs was designed by Bay Area legend Jack Fleming. The layout definitely takes advantage of some dramatic terrain. It is very hilly, and at times it’s pretty tight. There are some tricky doglegs and a couple forced carries to worry about, as well. That said, it’s not a long course by today’s standards. From the back blue tees, it stretches out to only 6,014 yards. It is definitely a target design where accuracy is much more important than distance.

The signature hole on the West Course is undoubtedly the par-4 4th. This hole will be drivable for some, but it’s all risk or reward if you get aggressive. The tees are extremely elevated. The narrow fairway runs up the left side and then water runs up the entire right side. A creek then cuts across in the front of the green. There is trouble right behind the green, as well. Anyone going for it will have to be very accurate. Even playing it smart and safe off the tee is no easy task because there isn’t much room to work with.

Another tricky hole is the par-4 14th. It is a dogleg right with an uphill approach over a ravine. This is one that will take a good strategy and proper execution to post a good score.

The course was in decent shape. It was pretty lush and green out here with so much rain this winter. However, there were lots of little white flowers and clovers growing in fairways and rough. and some areas seemed maintained better than others. The softest/wettest spots tended to be a little unkempt because I’m sure they are hard to mow right now. Though it was soft throughout, it wasn’t too bad and the course plays decently.

It’s advised to really watch your ball if it goes in the rough because you will have a hard time finding it sometimes. It wasn’t nearly as brutal as Sonoma, but it was still a major challenge to avoid. I was in one bunker and it was decent. I noticed some weeds popping through the surface in a few others. The greens were receptive and rolling fairly well at slow-ish speeds. Obviously, I mentioned they were closing to aerate the greens the day after we were there, so give them a few weeks to heal up.

Ultimately, I enjoyed both courses at Blue Rock Springs and they each offer something a little different from one another. I think the East Course is a better layout overall, with the West being a bit more quirky and tight. It may depend on which style you prefer, but don’t overlook this complex because you get two pretty fun courses and good values are easy to find here.

Some pictures from Blue Rock Springs Golf Club (West) (4/8/19):

 

 

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