North Bay Trip, Part 3: Contrasting Conditions

After playing Indian Valley on Tuesday morning, my friend and I ventured up the 101 for our second and third rounds of the day. Let’s just say there was quite a contrast between the two courses we played…

Bennett Valley Golf Course • Santa Rosa, CA • 4/9/19

Between massive wildfires and wet winters, Santa Rosa has had a rough couple of years. However, there’s some good golf in this northern corner of the North Bay Area. I actually drove out to Bennett Valley a couple years ago, but they had a big tournament going on that day and I wasn’t able to play.

During that brief visit, I saw what looked to be a solid course with a nice setting, so I’ve been looking forward to coming back. We had another GolfMoose twosome voucher for Bennett Valley (two players for only $49) and this was the opportunity to make my way back out there.

Unfortunately, the rain has hit this course particularly hard this winter and into spring. When my friend booked the tee time a couple weeks prior, he was warned that the conditions were rather scruffy. When I called ahead on our way up from Indian Valley, we were warned that things were almost unplayable because they just haven’t been able to mow the grass. Still, we had the voucher we needed to use and we had to see for ourselves, so we went up there anyway.

We were informed that some parts of the course hadn’t been mowed in almost two months while other parts (particularly the front nine) were somewhat better maintained and moderately playable, but still very shaggy and wet. This course apparently doesn’t drain well and it has been difficult to maintain with record rainfall this winter.

It wasn’t ideal, but we made the best of it. We emptied our bags of junker balls as many drives would simply disappear in the deep grass and muddy ground. The fairways here were comparable to the difficult rough we encountered at most other courses on this trip. The rough was even crazier, being as much as 12 inches deep in places. Some holes had forward mat tees set up so longer holes would basically play as long par-3s. After awhile, we kind of gave up playing seriously and we would just go out to about where our drives would normally land. We’d drop our balls and play in from there. It was silly, but fun in its own sadistic way.

Of course, it was also cart path only. We were actually surprised to see a handful of players out on the course. They were all walkers and I think they only played the front nine.

Where I can give Bennett Valley a lot of credit is that they have still been able to maintain their greens. In fact, the greens were great. They were soft, but cut well and rolling nicely at medium/fast speeds. The areas around the greens were manageable, as well, though the bunkers were pretty beat up (just compacted wet sand). Once we were up by the greens, we could play a pretty normal game.

I don’t want to dwell on the conditions and I give the course credit for warning us and letting us know the fairways and rough were almost unplayable. If I was on my own, I probably would have passed, but we had the twosome voucher to use and there wouldn’t be another easy chance for both my friend and I to be in Santa Rosa at the same time later this year. Rarely do I feel the need to come back and play a course like this, but I know I will venture back to Bennett Valley someday (probably once my California public list is complete) to give it a proper review when conditions are back to normal. Having been out there before, I could see that they keep it in decent shape when the weather allows. The quality of the greens despite all the current challenges are a testament to that.

As for the course, Bennett Valley is a solid layout designed by Ben Harmon. It’s a pretty traditional parkland layout with tree-lined fairways and a creek that runs through parts of the course to provide a natural hazard on a handful of holes. It features some mild changes in elevation, but nothing too significant. It’s not a layout that will blow you away, but the setting is nice and there’s plenty to enjoy about it.

My favorite hole here was actually the par-5 1st. It ultimately plays as a dogleg left with the approach shot over the aforementioned creek to a nice-looking green complex.

The 15th was my favorite of the par-3 holes, as it also plays over the creek.

Though the game we had to play was kind of a modified version of normal golf, we made our way around Bennett Valley and putted out on every green—enough to check it off the list. Someday, I hope to come back and experience the course under better circumstances. For now, I’d recommend staying away until the summer when they can hopefully dry things out and mow everything properly. You can see in the pictures that there’s plenty of lush grass, so it will look and play nicely when they can cut it down and keep it maintained.

Some pictures from Bennett Valley Golf Course (4/9/19):

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

 

After a tough trudge through Bennett Valley, we were looking forward to more playable conditions at our next course…

Rooster Run Golf Club • Petaluma, CA • 4/9/19

When making our bookings for this trip, many people at the courses we talked to recommended we include Rooster Run. They all mentioned it was probably the best-draining course in the North Bay and has held up very well during the area’s insanely rainy winter/spring.

We were planning on playing here anyway, but that was good reassurance that this course would be a welcome break from soggy conditions and cart path restrictions. Unfortunately, we also knew that it would likely be one of the more crowded courses we’d play because of those very same reasons.

We just paid the afternoon rack rate here of $42 with cart. This would be a very nice course to walk if you are so inclined. We teed off around 1:45 as a twosome and were finished just about four hours later. It seemed slow at times and the course was definitely packed, but we were ultimately very happy with that total pace.

I’ll get to the course conditions in a bit, but I would have to say that the nice playability of the course perhaps outshined the layout. It was a nice change of pace to be able to drive on fairways, hit normal shots and walk without the ground squishing underfoot. However, I probably remember the conditions more than the design of the course.

The front nine is mostly pretty straightforward and kind of a farmland links design. The terrain is flat and the layout runs straight out and back next to a small local airport. It was really windy Tuesday afternoon, so the first half of the front nine played directly downwind and the second half played straight into it to make things quite tough going in that direction.

The highlight hole on the front nine is easily the par-5 9th, which is a double dogleg around two ponds.

The back nine does get more interesting with some more natural hazard areas in play and nicer holes. The highlight hole on this side is the signature par-3 15th. It plays to a large island green complex and it’s a fun one.

As for conditions, Rooster Run was great as advertised. It definitely offered the best playability of this trip with only a few minor soft spots here and there. For the most part, it was playing rather firm and fast. The tee boxes and fairways were great. The rough was just enough to make you work, but not nearly as brutal as many of the courses we played. The bunkers were nice and the greens were excellent. They were firm, yet receptive enough and rolling at good speeds.

My final review of Rooster Run may be a little mixed. I think there are much more interesting layouts in the North Bay Area, but this course is well-known for providing some of the best playing conditions around. If you are looking to play golf around here in the winter season, I would highly recommend Rooster Run because it drains better than the rest. When it’s not so wet elsewhere, there are other courses that I would pick from a layout/scenery standpoint.

Some pictures from Rooster Run Golf Club (4/9/19):

 

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