Nor-Cal Gems: With Warmer Days Comes The Urge For Travel
This past winter’s cold and snow may not have produced many golf days in certain parts of the Golden State, but now that warmer days are here, the golf travel bug is sure to bite. Here are three Northern California golf destinations we recommend for your next adventure.
A 30-minute drive south of San Jose — and a world away — puts you at CordeValle located in the small town of San Martin. A four-time host to the PGA Tour — 2010 to 2013 — and home to the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open, CordeValle opened in 1999 as an exclusive retreat for Silicon Valley executives. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, however, a 45-room resort component emerged and the 7,360-yard, par-72 Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation became receptive to hotel guest play, though not to low scores.
Liberally dotted with oak and sycamore trees that contrast nicely with the surrounding straw-colored hills, the burly CordeValle layout features ravines and streams crossing the fairways, artfully sculpted bunkers, fast greens and views of the adjacent Clos LaChance vineyards.
You might require something stronger than wine after tangling with the 605-yard, par-5 third hole, a risk/reward beauty with a twisting creek that influences play on all three shots.
But you may be able to make up ground at the 358- yard eighth. With its greenside backboard helping to funnel well-struck shots even closer to the hole, it’s considered to be one of the best drivable par-4s in Northern California.
“CordeValle features good direction change, good elevation change and visually striking bunkers,” says Jones Jr. “We built the green surrounds to mimic the Santa Cruz Mountains in the background, so that you could capture the light and use that as a target when it mixes with shadow. California is called the Golden State, and with its beautiful golden hillsides, CordeValle is the course that best fits that description.”
What elevates CordeValle to rarefied air is that it’s free from coastal fog and the service is off the charts, with cheerful staffers that include caddies and golf butlers. Mealtime is a treat, whether you’re dining al fresco at the Lion’s Peak Grill or more formally at the One Iron Bar, where the California-inspired cuisine impresses with taste and presentation. A spa, fitness center and outdoor pool are among the other enticements.
Rest your head in a bungalow, fairway home or villa suite, each enveloped in creature comforts, but there’s always an itch to scratch — one more go at the Top-100 golf course. —Travelin’ Joe
The Ritz-Carlton: Half Moon Bay
Twenty-three miles southwest of San Francisco International Airport is the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, a resort hotel that gets everything right. Its coastal, cliff-top setting overlooking the Pacific wows in every way, with service that complements and even enhances the aesthetics. Above and beyond is the norm rather than the exception. We’re also a big fan of its manageable size — only 239 guestrooms and 22 suites unfold gracefully across the property.
Somehow, even as its facade provides the appearance of a classically grand edifice, the hotel possesses an intimate ambience.
Adjacent to The Ritz-Carlton is Half Moon Bay Golf Links, a 36-hole beauty that not only touches the ocean but practically devours it. The Old Course celebrates its 50th birthday this year. At 7,001 yards, par 72, this Arnold Palmer- Frank Duane design is the roomier and more muscular layout of the two, as it meanders through quiet parkland neighborhoods for most of its journey.
It emerges from its trip through the trees at the final hole, one that’s had everybody buzzing since the day it opened. The 405 yard par-4 eases downhill toward a wetland that bisects the fairway, but you’re invariably distracted by a gigantic water hazard — aka the Pacific Ocean — that threatens to swallow any sliced tee shot or approach. The stadium-golf aspect of the second shot induces additional nerves: The green is cocooned by the majestic hotel, so expect a gallery to acknowledge your efforts.
The Old’s younger sibling, the aptly named Ocean Course, is a 6,854-yard, par-72 Arthur Hills design from 1997 that serves up Pacific panoramas from nearly every hole. Those vistas are occasionally prone to fog, and the front nine routing can get a tad cramped, but the tawny edges, wispy grasses and firm, fast fairways make the Ocean play like a true links most of the time. And all the time, the 403-yard, par-4 16th and the 184-yard, par-3 17th holes, which will always get the pulse racing and the cameras out, as they scoot along the cliff edge above the Pacific, with the handsome hotel in the backdrop.
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay delivers all the luxuries you’d expect from that hallowed name in hospitality, but it does so in a decidedly unstuffy way. And if during your stay you partake in one other activity besides sampling both courses, make it a celebratory beverage at the 19th hole fire pit. As the sun sets over the Pacific, it’s a sure cure for whatever ails you. — Travelin’ Joe
The Golf Club at Copper Valley
A different kind of adventure awaits in California’s Gold Country, the kind that combines historic small towns and first-rate golf with low-key luxury accommodations. Located in the Sierra Foothills east and south of Sacramento, both lodging and golf can be found at The Golf Club at Copper Valley, in Copperopolis. Here, one- and two-bedroom bungalows provide all the comforts of home, including a spacious kitchen, a comfortable living room with fireplace, laundry facilities and exterior patios that allow you to enjoy a glass of wine in nature.
A short walk from the clubhouse and the first tee, the bungalows are well situated for an early morning tee time (pro tip: grab a breakfast burrito from Verona 18 in the clubhouse on the way to the first tee), which will leave afternoons free to explore the historic Gold Rush towns of Murphys, Coloma, Angels Camp and Sutter Creek. Small towns with big stories to tell — this is the heart of Calaveras County, which gained fame when gold was discovered in the American River, setting off the Gold Rush of 1848-49.
Mark Twain famously wrote about the area in The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Nowadays the jumping frog contests that Twain witnessed are held as part of a four-day festival that takes place during the third week of May each year, a great time to visit if you’re interested in experiencing both an important slice of California history and the usually ideal pre-summer weather.
Twain, of course, was also credited with remarking that “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” a comment that lets you know that he didn’t play The Golf Club at Copper Valley. If he had, his assessment of the grand old game may have changed. The course — designed by Carter Morrish and opened in 1996 — rolls through the golden Sierra Foothills, encountering both gentle and dramatic elevation changes. Magnificent live oak trees liberally line the landscape, and views stretch across the Sierra to Yosemite in the south. Natural lakes, streams and grasses frame each hole, with flashed, bleach-white bunkers scattered throughout.
Verona 18, with its Italian-themed menu, is the place to gather after a round. Burgers, salads, cold drinks and an espresso bar are also faves. — Geo. Fuller