With all the restrictions for group gatherings and outdoor activities during the Covid-19 pandemic, the sport of golf has been a silver lining, having experienced a strong resurgence in participation due to sprawling, socially-distanced playing fields. Whether newcomers or seasoned veterans of the game, Marin County golfers are gifted with a treasure chest of nearby “safe” spaces, canvassing a variety of landscapes where they can tee it up to enjoy an outing with family and buddies. Where views are par for the course, here’s a glimpse at some of the region’s best public golf courses.
Peacock Gap GC (1960) was designed by William F. Bell and later renovated (early 2000’s) by Forrest Richardson. By blending the classic Bell bunker style with innovative green contours and new holes, including risk-reward par-4s, reachable par-5s and a par-3 that plays across a pond to a two-level green, the very walkable 6,261-yard layout offers golfers a solid variety of shot-making. Also on site is Marin County’s all-grass driving range, practice greens and chipping area.
Marin County’s oldest golf course, Mill Valley GC (1919), is a well-preserved nine-hole layout designed by Dad Clark, a greenskeeper and professional golfer. Beautifully tucked amongst 42 acres of hills, creeks, and mature redwoods this old-school golf experience will provide a satisfying challenge that will test every club in your bag throughout the 2,096-yard layout (2,116 yards/back nine). For a briefer golf fix, the par-3 Short Course was established as a course within a course.
Indian Valley GC (1958), Marin County’s most remote golf challenge, is enhanced by game-distracting scenery of protected farmland covering the rolling hills surrounding Stafford Lake. Steeped in its blue-collar roots with a family atmosphere, the 6,374-yard hidden gem yields a variety of 18 holes playing around woodlands and wetlands but, perhaps, the most unique feature of any golf course is the elevator for transporting energetic walkers up a steep grade from hole #13 to #14.
As a one-time host to several PGA Ben Hogan Tour and Nike Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour) tournaments, Windsor GC (1989) in Sonoma Wine Country is a challenging 6,599-yard layout uncluttered by neighboring homes that carves through a gently rolling landscape with a multitude of visual treats, including the club’s signature Silo, native oaks, and strategically-placed ponds.
Adjacent to the Russian River in Sonoma County, Northwood GC (1928) was designed by famed architect Alister MacKenzie (Meadow Club, Cypress Point, Augusta National) in collaboration with Robert Hunter, as a creation for the exclusive Bohemian Club. Now open to the public, the friendly staff is super welcoming at this picturesque 2,893-yard nine-hole course with narrow fairways weaving around strands of towering Redwoods.
Hugging Sonoma County’s coastline with spectacular Pacific Ocean views, The Links at Bodega Harbour (back nine, 1978/front nine, 1987) guarantees a happier birdie experience than Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds filmed nearby. With rolling hills and undulating greens dominating this Scottish-style links designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., the front nine is demanding with strategically-placed pot bunkers, while the back nine presents wider fairways and a dramatic three-hole finish.
Searching for an authentic wine country golf experience? Chardonnay GC (1986) serves up the quintessential tasting. Void of any private residences, golfers will need only avoid hitting their golf ball into the countless rows of Chardonnay, Merlot & Pinot Noir grapevines bordering the fairways. There are no wine sampling stations available on the 18-hole, 6,773-yard course but the layout does feature a unique blend of six par fives, six par fours, and six par threes.
Napa Valley’s renown wine country and 36 golf holes at the iconic Silverado Resort & Spa exemplify the consummate pairing. With two championship courses redesigned by World Golf Hall of Fame member and co-owner, Johnny Miller. Both offer an abundance of water and large greens, however, the 7,166-yard North Course, which hosts the annual Fortinet Championship, is longer and more straightforward than the hillier 6,612-yard South Course with less room for error. Don’t miss the famous “burger dog” available at the snack shack.
Surrounded by Monterey Cypress trees and Lake Merced, TPC Harding Park (1925) is where San Francisco-born golf legends Johnny Miller, Ken Venturi, and George Archer honed their game. Following a $16 million restoration project in 2002-03, the 6,845-yard treasure has hosted multiple pro tournaments, including the Presidents Cup (2005) and the 2020 PGA Championship. The Fleming 9 course (2,165 yards) was added in 1961 in the interior of the 18-hole layout.
Overlooking the gateway to San Francisco Bay, Presidio GC (1895) is the second oldest course west of the Mississippi. Before transitioning to a public course in 1995, play was restricted to military officers and the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and Dwight Eisenhower. The deceivingly long 6,481-yard hilly layout within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area meanders around Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees and is a mission worth undertaking.