People love “best of lists,” as do I, so let’s carry it over to several golf stories. We will start with my top 10 public courses in Northern California. Some you may agree with and some – maybe not. There are sure to be courses left out, but I have always felt golf courses are like wine – one man’s treasure is another man’s garbage, not that any of these would ever be considered garbage!
I like these courses for many reasons. It could be aesthetics, quality of the course, history – there are multiple reasons – but these are my top 10 courses in Northern California and I think a must plays for golfers.
Please keep in mind this is a subjective list based on what I like in a high-quality course and all are courses I have played.
Pebble Beach (www.pebblebeach.com): The last time I did a course ranking story, I had Spyglass No. 1 and Pebble at No. 2. So, what has changed? They are easily the top two courses, but Pebble Beach has all the intangibles of being Pebble Beach. The history, the vistas – everything. At the end of the day, when you are playing Pebble Beach, you stop and think numerous times “I am fricking playing Pebble Beach!” There is no better three-hole finish – on either the front or the back nine – that what Pebble brings to the table with 7-8-9 and 16-17-18. Stand on the 18th tee, take in everything around you and tell me there’s a better feeling.
Spyglass Hill (www.pebblebeach.com): Golf wise, this is the mecca. The last time I played it was a clear, 70-degree day on December 26. Amazing. The course is immaculate and no where near as busy as Pebble Beach. The back nine gives an Augusta type feeling as you move through the Monterey Pines. My wife rode in my cart the day I played – she doesn’t play golf – but she found the experience to be one of the most peaceful on a golf course. Perfect course condition and wonderful vistas throughout.
Edgewood (www.edgewoodtahoe.com): Okay, I know it is technically located in Nevada, but it’s close to the state line and since South Lake Tahoe is also in California, this qualifies. My favorite course on this list I have also played it more than any other course other than Wente. I have played Edgewood in all the glory of a High Sierra Course, be it snow, rain, wind or just a beautiful sunny day. One of things I love best about the course is at any time when you hit a bad shot, step back, take a deep breath and take in the views of Lake Tahoe. It’s hard to be pissed for much longer. Also one of the more scenic and relaxing 19th holes anywhere.
Pasatiempo (www.pasatiempo.com): The first time I played the course, my feelings walking off the 18th green were, “I have never had so much fun getting my rear-end kicked by a golf course.” The Alister MacKenzie course is arguably one of the most overlooked courses in Northern California. Why? Because the location is my top guess. Located in the Santa Cruz mountains, it’s not convenient to get to and you must negotiate Highway 17 to get there. Golfers know about the magic as it is always a highly rated course and more important, highly respected. Not for the faint of heart, the course will test every aspect of your game. Another fun fact – Pasatiempo is where McKenzie made is home – the house is located off the 6th fairway.
Bayonet (www.bayonetblackhorse.com): The unsung course in the Monterey Peninsula and perhaps the toughest as well. Since the course was redone and opened for play in 2007, making it one of the elite courses in Northern California. The course is narrow, the bunkers are steep and from the tips it plays over 7,100 yards. Framed by views of the Monterey Bay, the course is used for USGA and PGA Tour qualifying.
Old Greenwood (www.oldgreenwoodgolf.com): There is certainly no shortage of courses in the Truckee area that could be on this list, but Old Greenwood has always been my favorite in the region. The Jack Nicklaus Signature Course brings all the elements of classic Nicklaus course into play. The landing areas are ample and fair, with the approach demanding much more accuracy and touch. Located just of Interstate 80, the course is tucked into the trees without any feeling of being right off the freeway. At the end of the round, enjoy a refreshing beverage on the patio overlooking the 18th hole.
Wente Vineyards (www.wentevineyards.com): Might surprise a few that this is included on the list, but it is the closest to my house and in many respects, I consider it my “home” course. Location aside, the golf is wonderful. Though not the longest track, there is challenge after challenge awaiting the golfer. From the first tee where you feel like you are hitting off the top of the world, to the 18th tee where you are left starting at a split fairway with trouble down the middle, as well as right and left, Wente is a treat. There are great vistas throughout the course, including from the 10th tee, the highest point on the course. At the end of the round, enjoy some world class food and wine on the patio overlooking the 18th green.
Spanish Bay (www.pebblebeach.com): Might get a bit overshadowed by its two siblings of Pebble and Spyglass, but it’s 18 holes that cannot be overlooked. Links style golf set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, Spanish Bay gives you a world-class golfing experience in a peaceful, serene setting. If you finish late enough in the day, stick around to watch the bagpiper take his nightly walk around the clubhouse.
Harding Park (www.tpc.com/hardingpark): The course originally opened in 1925 but fell upon hard times until the PGA Tour got involved and helped with the redesign. When the course re-opened in 2003, there was a masterpiece for the golfers. The host of a WGC event as well as a President’s Cup, Harding Park is a wonderful track that has the golfer often dealing with the heavy coastal air. The 18th is a wonderful finishing hole with a tee shot that can travel over water and finishes with an uphill approach to a small, well-guarded greed.
Northwood (www.northwoodgolf.com): This last spot goes way off the charts, but if you’re a fan of MacKenzie – and how can you not be – then a trip to Monte Rio (located just outside of Guerneville) to play this 9-hole course in the middle of the redwoods. Designed for the Bohemian Club, the club was opened in 1928. It’s not going to knock your socks off as a world-class course, but the history just oozes throughout the round. Additionally, built right in the middle of towering redwood trees, when the sunlight gets through the trees it provides a chapel type setting. Way different than the other nine courses, nonetheless, I really feel this is a must play course for any serious golfer.
By Dennis Miller