Sonoma: Golf and Wine Getaway

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa in Northern California’s Wine Country is not a golf resort, per se, but resort guests receive playing privileges at nearby Sonoma Golf Club, which hosted the Champions Tour’s season-ending Charles Schwab Championship from 2003-2009.

John Cook, who grew up in Rancho Palos Verdes, captured the title at Sonoma in 2009 and repeated in 2010 at Harding Park in San Francisco.

Designed by Sam Whiting of Olympic Club fame and opened in 1926, Sonoma Golf Club has been ranked as one of the best golf courses in California from the beginning.

Updated by Robert Muir Graves in 1991, this is a traditional golf course of the first order, featuring tall oaks and redwoods, gradual but no drastic elevation changes and subtle greens.

The course plays to 7,103 yards from the back tees, with a par of 72 and a slope of 132, and offers scenic views of the Mayacamas Mountains. The spectacular Spanish-style clubhouse opened in 2005.

Mike Kosak is the general manager.

Despite its storied history, Sonoma Golf Club is something of a secret golfing treasure, perhaps because it is tucked away in a sleepy corner the Wine Country.

Sam Snead often claimed it was his favorite course in the world, and he especially enjoyed the par-3, 219-yard seventh hole, which plays through a little hollow of ground surrounded by trees. There is a gully to the right, with oaks and two traps guarding the left side of a green that has several levels.

That’s the start of an exceptional three-hole windup to the front nine that includes the downhill 596-yard eighth, which features a hidden bunker on the right side of the driving area, and the 345-yard ninth, which plays uphill to a three-tiered green that is heavily bunkered.

The 557-yard 13th offers a chance for a birdie, but the critical second shot must steer clear of a lake on the right and two bunkers on the left.

Nos. 15 and 18, both doglegs right, are two of the best par 4s on the course.

The first measures 436 yards and requires two well-struck shots to get home, with trees down the right a real problem.

On the finishing hole, a bunker and line of trees make it problematic to cut the corner. The green, which slopes dramatically from back to front, is guarded by a creek that can’t be seen from the fairway.

Before and after the golf, pamper yourself at the the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.

With its elegant Spanish architecture that replicates the California Missions established by Franciscan Father Junipero Serra, the Inn has been a favorite of visitors to the Wine Country since it opened in 1927.

Native Americans discovered the natural underground hot mineral waters on the site hundreds of years ago, and Dr. T.M. Leavenworth, an eccentric San Francisco physician, was the first to commercially develop the hot springs in 1840.

In 1895, Captain H.E. Boyes, an enterprising young Englishman, acquired the property and struck 112-degree water at 70 feet while drilling a well. Within five years, he had built the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel on the site of the current property.

In 1923, a fire destroyed the hotel and most of Boyes Hot Springs, but out of the ashes rose the Sonoma Mission Inn. In 1980, a major renovation returned the Inn to its 1920s grandeur, and the Spa was added in 1981.

Renovations completed in 2000 included expansion of the Spa to 40,000 square feet. Guests can receive a myriad of body, facial, hair and other beauty treatments.

The Sonoma Mission Inn also offers biking, hiking and a full-service fitness center.

Dine just off the lobby in the Sante Restaurant, with its international reputation for the finest cuisine, or at The Big 3, owned by the Inn and located right outside the front gate, with its 50-year history of serving fine food in a casual atmosphere.

Several wine-tasting rooms are nearby, including the Mayo Family Winery in the town of Glen Ellen, where they say the ghost of Jack London resides. Also close is Kenwood Vineyards, which produces the unique Jack London series of wines from grapes grown in the red volcanic soil on the famed author’s ranch.

Also a short drive away is Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his classic thriller, “The Birds.”



–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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