There are plenty of reasons not to like California right now, but there is no debate when it comes to whether you can play year-round golf.
I get asked all the time about what courses I have played and what I think about them, and when people come from outside the area, I get asked for recommendations.
It got me thinking about breaking down the courses geographically in Northern California. I decided on the following regions: East Bay, South Bay, Monterey Peninsula, Peninsula, San Francisco, North Bay, Sacramento, and Sierra Nevada.
I will wheel one region out each week, with the qualifier being they must be a public course that I have played. I will start this week with the East Bay.
I will go with my top five courses in each region, and once again, I must have played the course for it to be considered in the region! I will also add my favorite and least favorite holes on each course.
1) The Course at Wente Vineyards (www.wentevineyards.com): I have touted this as my top course in the area where I live for some time now. There are so many reasons this is my top choice. You get the feeling you are playing different courses throughout the 18 holes. The elevation of the first tee drops you into the backside of the course, which comprises the first six holes. From the 7th tee, you see the front side of the valley on the downhill par 3. Two more holes and you are hitting the switchback cart path to take you to the top of the hills where the 10th sits. A nice three-hole swing awaits you on top of the hill, each hole offering a different challenge. Finally you hit the risk/reward 13th, then another downhill par three before reaching a tough four-hole closing stretch before ending your round with a beverage on the patio at the Grill, one of my top 19th holes in Northern California.
Favorite hole: It has to be the 10th! The 304 yards from the tips, par 4 offers perhaps the biggest/reward hole on the course. The views of the Livermore Valley from the tee give you a cause for pause before deciding to hit a mid-iron to the middle of the fairway or let the big dog eat and take on the hazard. Have tried both, with the mid-iron certainly being the smart move. Least favorite hole: Also, an easy choice. The 6th hole is a 353-yard, uphill par 4 with. Honestly, the only time I enjoy playing the hole is in a scramble. A blind approach to the green often leaves the golfer needing more club to avoid rolling back off the green and into the rough.
2) Corica Park – South Course (www.coricapark.com): A well-known course in Alameda for many years, but also a course that needed an upgrade. It got that and more in 2018 when Rees Jones came in a turned a tired track into a vibrant course featuring the Bay Areas’ only Australian Sand-Belt style course. It really wasn’t a renovation, but rather a new course! The fairways are very welcoming, but the work begins on the approach shots and on the greens.
Favorite hole: Hands down I thought the most fun hole on the course was the 8th, a 297-yard, par 4. The multitude of bunkers, along with water coming into play hardly make it an easy par despite the shorter length. Least favorite hole: The 415-yard, par 4, 4th hole is into the wind. The hole also features numerous bunkers, adding to the difficulty. Not a bad design, just a tough hole making it my least favorite.
3) Callippe Preserve (www.playcallippe.com): Just a beautiful course in the hills on the south side of Pleasanton. It’s a well-kept, scenic municipal course that is just fun to play. There are some issues – play on a busy day and expect a long round. I played in a scramble once at the course and it took almost seven hours. When I play, I try to be one of the first groups out, leaving a quick, wonderful round.
Favorite hole: There are multiple holes I love at Callippe, but I think No. 15 stands out. A sweeping, downhill 505-yard par 5 where you can go for the green in two, but that brings water into play. The epitome of what I think is a great par 5. Beauty, risk/reward, fun. Least favorite hole: No doubt – it is No. 18. The 573 yard, par 5, needs to be blown up and re-done. Some players are forced to hit an iron off the tee to avoid trouble and how is that fair on a par 5? Just a horrible design on an otherwise fun and enjoyable round of golf.
4) Poppy Ridge (www.poppyridgegolf.com): Located out in Livermore wine country, the Northern California Golfers Association members course is 1.5 golf courses as there are three, 9-hole courses. Appropriately named 9-hole tracks – Chardonnay, Melot, and Zinfandel – the three offer stern tests of golf as solid wind is often present. The staff rotates the 9’s meaning you can actually get a different course when you come out. Beautiful views of the surrounding vineyards for as far as the eye can see affords the golfer an enjoyable round. To be honest it has been a never a course where I have played particularly well but I go back again and again to get my tail handed to me.
Favorite hole: The 9th hole on the Chardonnay course is a wonderful closing hole. The 526-yard, par 5 starts with a somewhat blind tee shot that starts slightly up hill, then goes down hill after the crest of the hill. There are two fairways, and a big hitter can get to the second fairway. Going for the green in two runs the risk of bringing the water to the left of the green into play as the approach in front of the green narrows as the lake pushes into the fairway. Least favorite hole: No. 4 on the Zinfandel course plays uphill and usually into the wind. Do I need to go on any more? It’s a bear and not enjoyable in the least. It’s not like I am against tough holes, but when it’s uphill and into the wind it’s gotta go!!
5) Dublin Ranch (www.dublinranchgolf.com): It is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout that plays to a par 63 as it features 11 par 3’s. Before you get thinking it’s a glorified executive course, it’s a course that has some bite. The par 3s are hardly easy as the greens are big and tough to read. It is an exceptional course to work on your short game with some longer holes mixed in that make it interesting. Played it in a scramble one time and we did not score as well as I thought. Great vistas of the Dublin-Pleasanton valley are afforded the golfer through most of the course.
Favorite hole: The downhill No. 7, a 158-yard par 3 is a beautiful hole but can be tough. Being downhill it demands playing down a club. but you can’t be short here. Bunkers protect the front and if you don’t make the bunkers you face a tough uphill shot. There is a hidden bunker behind the green, leaving a tough shot back towards the trouble at the front. Fun hole! Least favorite hole: Just two holes later you find the 365-yard, 9th hole. I am not sure if it’s the aesthetics or something else, I just don’t like this hole. To be honest, it’s the only ugly hole on the course. Pass.
By Dennis Miller