The Russian River area has become known as a great vacation destination, as well as a strong wine region. But the best kept secret in the area may be the Northwood Golf Club.

Located in Monte Rio, Northwood is a 9-hole course, but it’s not just any 9-hole course. Hard to imagine in the middle of the redwoods in the Russian River area a golf course – but there is and it’s worth the trip to the region.

The course has been rated by many publications as one of the top 9-hole courses in the country and it’s easy to see why. It was that great of a round.

Incredibly enough the course was designed by Alister MacKenzie – yes, the same MacKenzie that has his name on Augusta National and Cypress Point.

The course was the product of three men. Famed amateur golfer Jack Neville was a member of the Bohemian Club and he envisioned the course being built on 70 wooded acres across the Russian River from the Bohemian Club.

In 1925 Neville, who designed Pebble Beach along with Douglas Grant in 1919, took the idea to Claude Milleresch, owner of the land. Milleresch was married to one of the Korbel daughters and he agreed to the use of the land for a golf course.

Neville then got the interest of MacKenzie to design the 9-hole course and the course was built in 1928. Since the completion of the course there has been many owners.

The property was foreclosed on in 1970 and it was then that the Northwood Recreation group bought the property out of foreclosure. The maintenance of the course suffered through the years, but the group restored the course, as well as adding buildings housing the pro shop and restaurant.

What you have now is a masterpiece in the redwoods.

“It has a MacKenzie cathedral like ambiance,” said Vern Ayres, the Host PGA Professional at the Northwood. “It’s a great walk in the redwoods.”

Getting out on August or Cypress Point may be a daunting, almost impossible task, but Northwood offers the MacKenzie experience at a fraction of the cost.

From the white tees (the tips), the course plays 2,888 yards, a number that on the surface does not appear menacing, but the doglegs through the trees along with the greens makes for all the test you want.

“MacKenzie was known for building nuances in the greens,” explained Ayres. “You have to think your way around the course to score, but it’s also a good course for beginners.”

If you want to play 18, you merely play the 9 again – there’s no different tees – and trust me, once you play 9, you will want another crack at the course. Local knowledge is critical to playing well.

“When someone questions me about playing the same nine a second time, I tell them it’s tough enough the first time you play it,” said Ayres.

The bending in some of the fairways, along with the course being framed by the towering trees almost demands sacrificing distance for accuracy. There is only two holes over 400 yards, and the slope of 113 can add to a false sense of security.

“It’s misleading on the distance and it rates easier than it actually plays,” said Ayres.

Most of the holes were memorable to me, starting with the 145-yard, par 3, 3rd hole. The distance isn’t threatening, but visually seeing the hole and the green framed by the menacing, but beautiful trees, gives cause for pause.

The 5th is a 464-yard par 5. The tee shot is uphill, but after the fairway levels out, it’s slightly downhill to the green. The 6th is only 280 yards, but the dogleg right makes you think about leaving the driver in the bag.

The 8th might be my favorite hole on the course. The 120-yard par 3 is all downhill from an elevated tee. It’s a beautiful hole from the tee complex.

Once you make it through the first eight holes, all that awaits is the signature hole – a 533-yard, par 5.

“It’s a target golf hole,” said Ayres of the 9th.

Playing the course gives the sense of serenity that I get when I play Edgewood, although there are differences in the scenery. At Edgewood, you have the views of Lake Tahoe throughout the course.

At Northwood, it’s the redwood trees lining the course. It’s hard to get upset with a bad shot when you can step back, take a breath and enjoy the area surrounding the course.

Although it is a bit of haul off the 101 (about 30-40 minutes west of Santa Rosa), it is well worth the trip. There is plenty of things to do in the area, but make sure playing Northwood is right at the top of the list!

For more information go to www.northwoodgolf.com

By Dennis Miller

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