Napa Valley calls oenophiles from all over the world to immerse themselves in all things wine. Tastings and tours abound with over 400 wineries to choose from. But aside from see, swirl, smell, sip and swallow – have you really gotten into the thick of it if you haven’t lost a Pro V1 or two in the vines?
Sitting at the edge of the valley, Chardonnay Golf Club offers golfers of all levels the opportunity to play in and around a functioning vineyard. No, there are no homes or patios to worry about here, slices will land in acres of Chardonnay, Merlot or Pinot Noir. Even if you manage to keep your ball on the fairway, it would still be impossible to forget you’re in wine country with a course that pays homage to it in more ways than its name. Each hole has its own title, think: Crush, Blend and Barrel, and marked on barrels you’ll find your yardages from Bottle (golds), Magnum (whites) and Double Magnum (greens) to Imperial (reds) and Sovereign (blacks).
Alas, you can’t ignore it and why would you want to? The vineyards come into play on nearly every hole at the par 72 course complimented by lakes and creeks. The scenery is probably different than any course you’ve played.
Speaking of creeks, the green at No. 1 is split by a creek, so you’ll want to make sure to carry your drive over it. From there you’re looking at a slight bend to the left. No. 3 is one to watch out for, a par 3 the course admits was designed to add a stroke or two to your score. The wind will be blowing right to left contradicting the green that angles left to right.
For General Manager Roger Billings, No. 5 is his favorite. “Although the shortest par 3 on the course, depending wind direction and the hole location it can be diabolical.” He’s not kidding. Tee boxes are located amid native area and walkers will be crossing a bridge over a small creek to get to the green.
Even the cart path can be tricky to follow with all the winding going on here but it’s nice to take a second and admire the creek below. You may even meet some of the locals – with several areas among the course designed as wildlife preserves, there are plenty of critters that call the course home. Bird species range from hawks to hummingbirds, rabbits and foxes.
No. 8 is the most popular on the course and we agree. Your tee shot will be determined by pin placement on this complex par 3. For pins placed on the lower tiers of the green, hit a fade toward the hole avoiding the bunkers on the right. Use the slope in the middle to draw the ball toward the hole if you’re looking at a pin placed on the left.
With a name like Grapes of Wrath you know you’re in for a challenge on No. 14. From the elevated tee you’ll have a great view of a hole that gives a new meaning to island green – it’s completely surrounded by vineyards. Having the opportunity to play the course in January, I can only imagine what it looks like when the flowers bloom. For Roger, “the best time to play is in the fall (August through October) during the ‘crush’ or vineyard harvest season when the aroma of the grape harvest is in the air.”
Though the pace rating is about 4:30, Roger adds there’s no need to rush. “Take your time, relax and enjoy your round, the wildlife on the course and the ambiance and views of the surrounding vineyards.” Sure, enjoy the view of the lower Napa Valley and Napa River estuary from the elevated tee on No. 16, but the wildlife he’s talking about here is a bobcat family so I’d suggest trying your best to keep it in bounds.
Chardonnay’s practice area is open to the public, an expansive area with multiple targets and room to hit every club in your bag. Travelers staying at one of Chardonnay’s hotel partners are also privy to preferred greens fees including priority scheduling on tee times reserved in advance.