Perhaps Director of Golf Cabe Jones best sums up The Course at Wente Vineyards.
“It is one of those courses that you can play over and over and never get tired of it,” said Jones, in late April as we sat out on the patio of The Grill, arguably one of the finest 19th holes in Northern California.
Truer words may never have been spoken. Consistently one of my top courses in Northern California since it opened in 1998, the Greg Norman designed course has something for everyone, from the high-handicapper to the single-digit ace.
“I really do think it is a course for all players,” said Jones. “The run-ups are fair. The low or high handicapper can enjoy their round.”
True on a number of levels.
Aesthetically the course is one of the best for an inland track, as there are three levels of topography. The first six holes comprise the “valley side” routing throughout a valley over the hill from the clubhouse. The next three are considered the “vineyard valley,” running along plenty of vineyards. As Jones said, hit it OB and pick a grape!
The 10th-14th holes comprise the ridge holes, with the final four coming back to the “vineyard valley.” To top it off the course, though realistically not far off the beaten path, does give the feeling of being out in the country.
“I think one of the fun things is that you can come out here and get away from the hustle and bustle of the world,” said Jones. “It’s not that far from the big cities, but it feels like it.”
It doesn’t take long to embrace the fun and the beauty of the course. The first hole plays 405 yards from the blue tees (the course is 6,266 yards), but the drive up the side of a hill from the clubhouse leaves the tee boxes 100 feet above the fairway.
From the tee, the landing areas seem to all but disappear but trust they are ample and fair as you strike your first shot. The hole actually presents a chance to open with a birdie and par is the maximum with what you should walk away.
The second hole presents one of several “risk-and-reward” tee shots. At just 286 yards, the par 4 screams for the driver and a shot at glory, but well-placed trees and bunkers make it a much tougher shot.
“It all depends how straight you are,” said Jones with a sinister grin. “I say hit whatever will leave 115 yards out.”
Following two pretty straightforward holes, the par 5, No. 5 is a reachable hole at 479 yards, the hole that plays with the wind at your back, is a chance to pick up another stroke.
“The first 5-6 holes are your scoring holes,” explained Jones.
The 6th completes the grouping and at 298 yards, it is another hole where birdie is possible. But it is a unique hole located on the side of a hill. The fairway runs well below the level of the cart path and the second shot is uphill and a blind approach.
Not one of my favorite holes.
“You just have to tell yourself, ‘I love this hole, I love this hole’,” said Jones with a laugh.
Jones was right about saving strokes on the first six holes, as the final three on the opening nine are tough.
No. 7 is a 182-yard downhill par 3 to a green that has always been hard to hit. The 8th is a beast at 547-yards and is at best, a three-shot par 5. The final hole on the front does not look daunting at 405 yards with a big fairway, but it plays into the wind and the approach is uphill into a green the slopes from back-to-front. A par on these three would leave you feeling accomplished.
The drive from the 9th green to the 10th tee is another feature that sets Wente apart. The cart path – also known as Lombard Street – has eight switchbacks as it takes you 250 feet up to the highest part of the course.
“It’s a talking point – a memory,” said Jones of the experience.
Once at the tee box, the views are stunning. The vineyard valley section of the course is laid out for the golfer, as are views all the way into Pleasanton and even beyond.
Once the views have been absorbed, another risk-reward tee shot is faced. A par 4 that plays 281 yards, the natural reaction is to let the big dog eat, but that 250-foot drop-off runs all along the right side of the hole and wasteland frames it to the left.
“If you are feeling straight, go for it,” said Jones, almost with a smirk. “I would say hitting something 160 yards out there is perfect.”
A pretty, downhill par 3 follows and then comes the 12th, one of the toughest holes on the course.
At 542 yards, the par 5 starts with a wide landing area that shrinks down as it cuts through two sides of the hill. A huge tree in the fairway that sits 95 yards from the green demands accuracy with the second shot or you are trapped on your approach.
The green is large enough, but it is surrounded by bunkers and anything short right, left or long is gone.
As tough as the 12th is, the 13th is that much fun. The 375-yard, par 4 features a 120-foot drop from tee to green. Following the fairway, the hole plays to a dogleg left, but the option of driving over the vineyards and to the green is an option on yet another risk-reward hole.
“You have to be a longer hitter to think about it,” said Jones of cutting the corner. “There is a lot more fairway landing area than it looks off the tee.”
A 160-yard, downhill par three is next, followed by the par 15th, the last realistic scoring hole on the front.
The 499-yard, par 5 is reachable, but a bunker 89 yards out right in the middle of the fairway does make the hole look closer. The deep green is welcoming and a birdie awaits.
Now comes the battle home.
The 16th is a 372-yard, par 4 that plays much tougher than the distance would indicate. There is a hazard cutting through the fairway at 263 yards from the tee, often times forcing you to play shorter than liked. The approach has to navigate a huge bunker guarding the left and the green is one of the tougher to read.
The 17th is a 400-yard, par 4 with the hazard running the entire right side and the hole traditionally plays into the wind, increasing the difficulty of the approach.
The 18th is one of the best closing holes in the region. My thought has always been for a hole to be good finisher; it must be the type of hole where good choices can break a match.
At Wente, all boxes are checked on No. 18.
At 412-yards, it is the longest par 4 on the course and once again usually plays into the wind. Adding to the mix is the creek running right down the middle of the fairway before connecting with the big lake that guards the right last part of the hole.
If you find the fairway, visually the approach is as daunting as it gets. In addition to the presence of the lake (honestly it should not come into play, but it sure likes it will), the patio of the Grill is right beyond the green and on a nice day, is full of people.
“You know all those people are watching,” said Jones, again laughing.
The total experience doesn’t end with the round of golf. The Grill as mentioned, features tremendous vistas and draws more than just a golf crowd. Of course the Wente wines are featured, but so are local breweries and there are beer-paired dinners offered throughout the year.
“On weekends, it can be up to an hour wait for a table,” said Jones.
In addition, there is the Estate tasting room, as well as The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, a highly reputable dining establishment. During the summer months there is a concert series outside featuring groups such as Chicago, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Huey Lewis and the News.
For more information, go to http://www.wentegolf.com or www.wentevineyards.com
By Dennis Miller