North Bay Trip, Part 2: By Dawn’s Early Light

I’m going to mix up the order of my remaining North Bay Area reviews a little bit, mainly so I can keep them paired up in better geographical fashion. Today’s post will feature my early morning rounds played last Tuesday and Wednesday, which both happened to be in Marin County (the upper peninsula on the bay, north of the Golden Gate Bridge).

Currently, there happens to be only two public 18-hole regulation courses in the county, with San Geronimo having recently been closed (again). I do not know the future of that course. It doesn’t look good, but I would love for it to reopen because I never had the chance to play it.

Nonetheless, my friend and I had our first of two Marin County rounds scheduled for early Tuesday morning…

Indian Valley Golf Club • Novato, CA • 4/9/19

We had a 7:00 tee time. Though it gets light much earlier this time of year, a lot of Northern California courses don’t start play until 7:00. We arrived earlier in hopes that we could get out ahead of our tee time, but no luck. We were the only ones ready to play that early and we teed off right at 7:00 as a twosome.

They did have a small member shotgun set to go off at 8:00, but it didn’t get in our way at all and we finished in about 2.5 hours. We were slowed down a little by the fact it was cart path only and this course requires a lot of hilly (and soggy) walking when that rule is in effect after a wet winter. This was also another good deal courtesy of GolfMoose (two players for $69).

From the pictures I’ve seen and some things I’ve heard, I had a feeling I’d enjoy Indian Valley and that was certainly the case. This is my type of course. It’s in a beautiful secluded setting along the city’s watershed (which is basically just a huge lake right now). The layout is fun—and at times a bit funky—with a target design, lots of hills and plenty of trees. Love it or hate it, you can never say that this is a boring course!

Indian Valley is not a super long course by today’s standards, topping out at 6,374 yards from the blue tees. I would argue it plays longer with a number of steep uphill shots and tight angles where positioning is often more important than distance off the tees. It was designed by Robert Nyberg.

The signature hole at Indian Valley is the par-4 16th. It features a very elevated tee with an excellent view. Then, it also has two different greens you can play to. I am not sure if it is usually the course’s choice or if the player always has the choice, but both flags were in on Tuesday. They were mowing the right one, so we played the left one. To the left, this hole is basically a big dogleg left with a downhill approach. To the right, I’d say it’s trickier as it’s kind of a double dogleg with a tougher uphill approach that requires a great drive to give you a decent angle of attack.

There are a number of other memorable holes at Indian Valley. The 4th and 17th are both short downhill par-3s that have semi-blind shots (you can’t see the greens from the back/middle tees). The 9th hole is another good par-4 with an elevated tee and a creek cutting across in front of the green to cause a little trouble.

One of the most memorable features of Indian Valley is the elevator (I think technically it would be considered a funicular). I’ve seen similar things on other courses to help walkers up steep hills, but they are never in use anymore. Indian Valley’s is there between the 13th green and the 14th tee, and it is functioning. It’s just a little caged car you get in and it rides a railway through some trees up to the top of the hill. It looks really fun. Unfortunately, it wasn’t turned on yet by the time we reached that part of the course. Playing quickly backfired as we were prepared to take a joyride up and down the elevator, but sadly it wasn’t meant to be.

The course was in pretty nice shape considering all the rain and the super hilly/difficult terrain here. Things were wet and soft, but plenty playable for the most part. The tee boxes good. The fairways were lush and soft with a lot of grass clippings to deal with. The rough was pretty challenging. The bunkers were decent. The greens were also in pretty solid shape, rolling well at medium speeds.

Though not a destination course, I’d consider Indian Valley a bit of a hidden gem in the North Bay Area. It’s not a layout everyone will appreciate, but it’s right up my alley. It also helped that we had a beautiful clear morning to play and I got a ton of great pictures!

Some pictures from Indian Valley Golf Club (4/9/19):

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

Next, we will skip ahead to Wednesday morning when we were back in Marin County to check out the other public regulation course in this neck of the woods…

Peacock Gap Golf Club • San Rafael, CA • 4/10/19

On a positive note, it was another picture perfect morning to play golf. On a negative, this ended up being our second most expensive round of the trip behind Sonoma Golf Club. We got great deals everywhere else (mostly thanks to GolfMoose vouchers), but we were forced to pay full rack here. It was $54 with a cart, which felt a bit steep on a Wednesday—even in the Bay Area, where things are rarely cheap.

The good news is we were able to tee off first by ourselves again, getting out closer to 6:45. We had to play around and through maintenance, but we still got around the course very quickly. This one was not cart path only and it is the opposite of hilly, so that helped speed up the pace of play quite a bit.

In many ways, Peacock Gap is kind of the polar opposite of Indian Valley. It’s located closer to the bay and the terrain is very flat. There is no need for any funiculars here! There are a few slightly elevated spots on the course, but nothing too significant. This is a more traditional back-and-forth kind of routing.

It may sound like I am knocking the layout of Peacock Gap, but bear with me. Though the terrain here isn’t very dramatic, this course does have some character thanks to big, undulated greens and excellent bunkering. It was originally designed by William F. Bell and then later renovated by Forrest Richardson. The current owners had a few recent revisions made, as well, but I don’t know the name of the architect behind those changes.

Peacock Gap benefits from a nice collection of par-3s. There are five on the course and four of them are pretty memorable. The 3rd is a tricky uphill one (I think this green might be the most elevated point on the course, which isn’t saying much). The 6th is one of the signature holes—if not the signature hole—hitting over a water hazard to a massive three-tiered green.

The 10th is a rare par-3 to start your back nine, and it’s a fun one with a slight downhill shot to a green protected by some big, nasty bunkers. Lastly, the 16th would be the other signature hole in my opinion. It plays over the edge of a small lake and is all carry from tee to green unless you bail out right.

The course was in good overall condition. Everything was lush and soft as expected, but had pretty good playability with all things considered. There were some extra mushy areas to avoid or shaggy/un-mown spots that played as GUR here and there. There were lots of grass clippings in the semi-deep rough that sometimes made it hard to find balls. They are in the midst of a bunker renovation right now. Some are done with nice soft sand, others are being worked on and some are just pretty much hardpan until they get to them. It will be nice when they are all done. The greens were soft and rolling smooth at medium speeds.

If I had to guess, I would think that local Marin County golfers will strongly prefer one course over the other. If you like a more traditional design that is easy to walk, then Peacock Gap is probably your preference. If you like something more dramatic, then Indian Valley is for you. The fact is both have good qualities to offer, and it was nice to be able to compare and contrast these two courses on the same trip.

I will be back up in Marin later this summer to play the private Marin Country Club and hopefully the two short courses (Mill Valley and McInnis Park), so I’ll have even more to compare up there in a few months. Who knows, maybe even San Geronimo will be revived again by then. I’m not holding my breath on that one, though.

Some pictures from Peacock Gap Golf Club (4/10/19):

 

 

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