Photo by: Sarah Bradbury

Golfing opportunities throughout Sonoma County come easy and are as diverse as the hills, valleys and coastline you will find here.

By: Rollie Atkinson

Aug. 12, 2011

Golfing opportunities throughout Sonoma County come easy and are as diverse as the hills, valleys and coastline you will find here.

There’s a historic shady redwoods course, two ocean-buffeted Scottish-style link courses, friendlier nine-hole layouts and a selection of well-manicured, challenging terrain with lakes, elevation changes and putting tests.

There are courses for families, beginners, bogey duffers and for “scratch” players—sometimes all on the same course from different tee boxes.

Not quite a golf Mecca like Pebble Beach or Bandon, Oregon, Sonoma County all the same offers a full golfing agenda for locals, visitors or corporate outings and is worth many return visits.

All the courses mentioned here are professionally managed and regulated by the Northern California Golf Association and Professional Golf Association. Prices vary, but Sonoma County’s golf establishments offer a variety of challenges and enjoyment for all budgets.

Say you are visiting Sonoma County right now and have a few days of wine tasting and touring all scheduled. What’s wrong with an afternoon or a twilight break, spent with your clubs on a course you’ve never played before? It’s as much a treat as discovering a new favorite Pinot Noir. Golfing and wine is a great pairing; just ask a local.

In fact, the very exclusive, private course at Mayacama in the Shiloh foothills east of Windsor is drenched in wine. Many of the private members are winery owners or winemakers and they each have private cellars of wine stored below the restaurant in a 3,000 square-foot wine cellar. Winemaker members each year provide barrels of their wine for special blending and bottling, offered exclusively at the golf resort.

The oak-studded course was designed in 2001 by Jack Nicklaus and no one should ever pass up an invitation to play this nationally top-ranked layout.

Golfing at Sonoma County courses is a sure-fire way to make new friends. The local players are as inviting and helpful as the tasting room staff you just left at the winery.

One important suggestion: be courteous and always call the pro shop ahead of time to be sure a tee time is available. The local courses don’t mind single players, but they want to be sure you enjoy an unhurried round of golf.

Nine-hole rounds can be played for as little as $10 (Sebastopol Golf Club senior rate); mid-week rounds at larger 18-hole courses average  $35 to $50 (Windsor, Rooster Run, and Oakmont); premium weekend rounds at the oceanside courses range between $60 to $90 depending on the season (Bodega Harbour and Sea Ranch).

Golf can be played year round in Sonoma County where there is next to no early morning “frost delays”?and only larger winter storms to limit other play.

For a unique and always pleasant round of golf, head to Northwood Golf Club on the Russian River at Monte Rio. Don’t be fooled by the shorter, nine-hole layout; Northwood offers plenty of challenge and a great sense of the pure golf game first invented in Scotland.

Northwood was designed by famous golf architect Alister MacKenzie in 1928. It was recently ranked as the Third Best public 9-hole course in America by Golf World Magazine. The course carves through a majestic redwood grove, with narrow fairways and excellent greens. MacKenzie designed hidden bunkers,  sloping greens and the same shaping of natural contours he employed at his two most famous courses, St. Andres in Scotland and Augusta National in Georgia. Yes, that?St. Andrews and that Augusta.

Fees range between $20 and $45, depending on the season. PGA?Class-A pro Vern Ayres can fix all kinds of broken swings and is very adept at delivering a “gentle prod” to get rid of bad golf habits and lower a player’s average score.

Equally as old (1921) is Healdsburg’s Tayman Park, also a nine-hole layout that sits on the flank of Fitch Mountain. Golfers can be easily distracted by the vistas that overlook the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys with their green carpets of vineyards. Tayman is a local’s favorite,?but it is also situated within just a few miles of almost 100 winery tasting rooms. How convenient is that?

Rates range from $14 to $31, with lower junior rates also offered. Tayman’s Clubhouse is available for weddings, parties or benefit golf tournaments.
Nearby is the Windsor Golf Club, one of the county’s favorite courses, that attracts players from all over the Bay Area. The 6,650 yard, 18-hole layout was once on the Nike Pro circuit and the course record is still held by PGA?Pro John Daly.

The course features stands of mature valley oaks, two meandering creeks and some well-placed water hazards. Fees range from $23 to $56 with senior ($26) and junior ($10) discounts available. Charlie’s Grill at the golf course offers some of the best dining to be found at a golf course. Wedding and banquet facilities are also available. The course sits at the north end of the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport.

For families, beginners, or golfers on a tight schedule, Sebastopol Golf Course is a nine-hole executive course that is owned and operated by a local family that provides a true “family friendly”?experience. Rounds of golf average $20, with junior and senior discounts offered.

For a supreme golf experience, head to the ocean. Although very different in character, both The Links at Bodega Harbour and The Sea Ranch Golf Links are worthy of “destination golf.”

Bodega’s 18-hole course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and offers ocean views from every hole, with many elevation changes. Although just a par 70, this is a challenging course, often made more so by mid-day ocean winds. The classic final three holes are played across and through a saltwater marsh.

Weekday fees average $45 to $60 and weekend rounds cost $60 to $90. Carts are included. Golf Pro Bob Caldwell has been at the course for over a decade and is a wealth of local and regional golf knowledge. The Blue Water Bistro offers full service dining and killer ocean views.

Eighty minutes north rests the Sea Ranch course, a wilder, true Scottish links course, designed by Robert Muir Graves. The winding drive up Highway One is as breathtaking as it is long. Despite the trip, almost no golfer is ever satisfied with playing Sea Ranch just once; the experience is that unique. The course is part of the seaside, planned rural development of the same name, plotted out in the late 1960s.

The 18-hole layout also offers full-horizon ocean views from nearly every hole. The links’ design requires golfers to bring their best mental game?as strategy, club selection and accurate ball placement is required. Tee fees average $40 for weekdays and $60 on weekends. Carts are recommended but cost extra.

Like the golf course, all of Sea Ranch—the houses, vacation rental, recreation centers and bluff top trails—are designed to “sit lightly”?within the environment. The 12-mile long Sea Ranch development was once three historic sheep and cattle ranches. Just across Highway One's bridge over the Gualala River, sits the small town of Gualala, offering full services, dining and galleries.

In total, Sonoma County is home to 15 public courses and several more private courses. In other words, there’s plenty of golf to be “discovered”?here.

Area codes 707

The Links at Bodega Harbour
21301 Heron Dr.
Bodega Bay

Northwood Golf Club
19400 Hwy. 116
Monte Rio

The Sea Ranch Golf Links
42000 Coast Hwy. 1

Sebastopol Golf Course
2881 Scotts Right of Way?Sebastopol

Tayman Park
927 S. Fitch Mountain Rd.

Windsor Golf Club
1340 19th Hole Dr.

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