Although the sport of golf has waned somewhat in popularity in recent years and a course or two in the region has struggled to stay in business, Sonoma County’s golf scene is still seeing strong activity. Golfers are attracted to the affordable green fees here, as compared to most of the Bay Area, and to those endless fairways surrounded by dazzling coastal vistas and oak-studded hillsides.
Sonoma County’s mild climate makes for playable golf weather in nearly every week of the year on 14 long-established, well-maintained courses throughout the region, from the town of Sonoma to Santa Rosa, from Windsor to the coast. Among the wide variety of clubs, some offer tough challenges for the low-handicap, serious player, while most tracks are enjoyable for the average golfer, and some are good choices for beginners and kids.
Oakmont Golf Club in the Sonoma Valley sports two 18-holers: the 6,300-yard, championship West Course and the executive-length East Course. Anchoring the complex is the Quail Inn bar and restaurant with huge views of the fairways and the wall of Mayacmas Mountains, a panorama so impressive that many weddings and parties are held here. The pro shop overlooks a double- ended grass practice range and two putting greens, and offers instruction by PGA pros, from junior camps to clinics and private lessons.
You can play a round in a couple of hours on the East Course, one of the prettiest and most easily playable tracks in the county, where the deer roam beneath the old oaks and the willows and waterfowl paddle in the ponds. Smart players on the longer West Course aim for the center of the wide fairways, the better approach to those notoriously small greens.
A few miles west, on the southeast side of Santa Rosa, Matanzas Creek winds beneath oaks, redwoods and pines on Bennett Valley Golf Course, a 6,500-yard, city-operated course. PGA pros teach kids, teens and adults on the grass-teed driving range and practice putting green, offer private sessions and NIKE golf camps for ages 5 to 10 and adult clinics, including high-tech video and swing analysis. Open seven days a week, Legends is a lively sports bar and grill with big TVs, popular happy hours and live music on the patio on Friday nights all summer.
On the busy summertime schedule at Rohnert Park-based, city-owned Foxtail Golf Club are full-day golf camps for ages 10 to 15; PGA Junior League for ages 13 and under; and skills clinics for all ages. After warming up on the driving range and the chipping and putting practice areas, players head for the generous fairways and big greens of the South Course, while those seeking a tougher test play the 6,851-yard North Course, which was recently upgraded with new tees and bunkers and drainage improvement. An Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the club closely monitors wildlife habitat for its resident waterfowl and birds.
Wrapped with vineyards on the outskirts of Petaluma, on gently rolling terrain, Rooster Run Golf Club is famous for six lakes, ball-drowning creeks and an island green, plus dozens of willows, cottonwoods and oaks. In spite of the multiple water features and a reputation for windy days, the top-notch drainage on fairways and greens makes for good playing conditions all winter. From the adjacent airport, vintage aircraft come and go over the 7,000-yard track, which is complete with two putting greens, a short game area with a sand bunker and a grass-tee driving range. Twilight and super-twilight super- affordable green fees are offered late in the day, when breezes have died down and summer evenings are long. Kids under 18 play for $10 anytime.