Variety is the spice of golf. No two courses are alike, and no two designers would ever look at the same landscape in the same way. It’s what makes the discovery process of golf travel so much fun — you never know what you’re going to find, which particular course architect is going to strike your fancy, which particular hole is going to be the one that turns a day of golf from mundane to memorable.
On Episode 114 of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast (presented by Alabama Tourism), co-hosts Darin Bunch and Mitch Laurance dive into a recent Kerouac-style one-man golf journey Darin made to the greater San Francisco Bay Area to experience the very different golf designs of Greg Norman, Mike Strantz and Alister MacKenzie (with a more recent assist from the team of Tom Doak and Jim Urbina).
At Wente Vineyards, Darin found an interesting Norman design laid over Northern California foothills and through vineyard-lined corridors — and a property that transcends golf with its standout food-and-beverage offerings (which makes sense because it’s a vineyard), popular summer concert series and even a few quite whimsical touches, including a cart-path ride reminiscent of San Francisco’s famed Lombard Street between the two nines. Located in Livermore, Wente is an ideal location for golfers traveling from the Central Valley who don’t want to battle Bay Area traffic to get in a round of golf, a great meal and delicious wine.
Wente Vineyards also plays host to the annual One-Stick Challenge benefiting the Tri-Valley First Tee program. Golfers from across the Bay Area gather each summer to tackle the golf course’s first seven holes using only one weapon of choice (Darin played with his multifunctional hickory Jigger and nearly won the net competition this year) while raising money for junior golf. For more information, visit tfttvonestick.org.
Round No. 2 of Darin’s Northern California threesome led him to explore another design from his favorite course architect — the late Mike Strantz, who passed away in 2005. Few golfers have probably heard of the private Silver Creek Valley Country club in San Jose, California, and even fewer realize Strantz in 2002 redesigned the course (originally built by Ted Robinson Sr. in 1992). What Darin found was a somewhat urban golf course to which Strantz had given new life with his artistic eye and whimsical style and his desire to add both strategy for the better player and playability for the everyday member (search YouTube for “Strantz Silver Creek Valley” for videos that provide insight into the mind of a master designer). The result is a non-stop joy ride for golfers — rollercoaster-drop tee shots, holes that play along ridges with expansive views, and Robinson water features that Strantz gave his own unique twist, especially the waterfall on the par-4 finishing hole atop of which Strantz added tee boxes to allow members to play it as a daunting water-carry 3-par or as a 19th hole. In a year in which Darin has had the privilege to play some very creative private-club layouts (Rolling Hills Country Club in Southern California, Bulls Bay in South Carolina), Silver Creek Valley is yet another example of a country club where the opportunity to play the golf course regularly would be a true honor.
The perfect ending to this Bay Area golf bonanza was a return to the historic Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, California. However, listeners will be interested (and perhaps horrified) to hear that for many years Darin resisted offers to play Pasatiempo a second time. And, yet, when he did finally make the trip to “give it a second shot,” Darin gained a completely new appreciation of Alister MacKenzie’s 1929 design (especially the genius bunkering and greens complexes) as well as the later restoration work by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina. During this segment of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast, co-host Mitch Laurance offers a brief history of Pasatiempo’s beginnings, including how 1921 U.S. Women’s Amateur Champion Marion Hollings was instrumental in getting the course built with the help of Dr. MacKenzie.
Three vastly different course designers. Three vastly different golf properties. And three more reasons why every golfer who has the chance to visit Northern California should explore the variety of golf the region has to offer.