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If You Play

All Sonoma County golf courses ask you to wear soft-spike golf shoes, although many junior and beginner players get away with low-top athletic shoes with tread. Push carts and power carts are available for rent at all of the clubs, with exceptions noted below; a bucket of balls for the practice range may be $4-$10. Allow 4.25 to 4.5 hours for an 18-hole round, and half that for 9 holes. Green fees vary as to time of day and day of the week, with highest rates on weekends; ask about late-afternoon “twilight” rates and resident rates. Fees for junior and senior golfers are lower, and most clubs offer annual memberships that include discounted rates. The green fee for the guest of a private club member varies with the type of membership. Fees noted below are for 18 holes.

Oakmont Golf Club
707-539-0415, www.oakmontgc.com. East Course $20-$54; West Course $20-$70.

Bennett Valley Golf Course
707-528-3673, www.bennettvalleygolf.com. $30-$43.

Foxtail Golf Club
707-584-7766, www.playfoxtail.com. North Course $44-$70; South Course $31 (rates include power cart).

Rooster Run Golf Club
707-778-1211, www.roosterrun.com. $33-$60.

Windsor Golf Club
707-838-7888, www.windsorgolf.com. $36-$59.

Links at Bodega Harbour
707-875-3538, www.bodegaharbourgolf.com. $60-$90 including power cart.

The Sea Ranch Golf Links
707-785-2468, www.searanchgolf.com. $57-$67.

Northwood Golf Club
707-865-1116, www.northwoodgolf.com. $37-$45.

Healdsburg Golf Club
707-433-4275, www.healdsburggolfclub.com. $22-$29.

Fairgrounds Golf Course
707-284-3520, www.fairgroundsgolfcourse.com. $18-$20 (push carts only to rent).

Fountaingrove Golf Club Santa Rosa
707-521-3207, www.fountaingrovegolf.com.

Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club
707-546-3485, www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/Santa-Rosa-Golf-Country-Club.

Mayacama Golf Club
707-569-2900, www.mayacama.com. No power carts; caddies required before 2 p.m.

Sonoma Golf Club
707-939-4100, www.sonomagolfclub.com. $225 for guests at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.

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.

Valley Courses

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.

Mid-county play

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.

A former stop on the PGA Nationwide Tour, and still a stiff challenge for the high handicapper, oak-studded Windsor Golf Club rolls gently along –– except for a few steep inclines –– around ponds and lakes, criss-crossing a reed-lined year-round creek. When the club hosted Nike Tour events, holes two and seven were ranked among the “Top 10 Most Difficult” on the tour. After working out on the grass-teed driving range, the chipping green and two putting greens and navigating 6,650 yards of narrow fairways, blind holes, elevation changes and more surprises, players relax for libations and lakeside views at Charlie’s restaurant and bar.

Coastal courses

An emerald-green, true Scottish links-style layout designed by Robert Trent Jones II –– with few trees, several seaside holes, and the quirks of the misty, sometimes windy, coastal climate ––The Links at Bodega Harbour combines ocean views from every hole with fiendishly rocking-and-rolling greens and some steep fairways. The line-up of gray houses along most fairways fades into the natural landscaping as players hunt for their balls in the prickly shrubbery and the billowy, high meadows, pulling out their phones and cameras for shots of the coastline. The view from nine is of the long curve of Doran Beach, facing the open ocean, with Bodega Bay and Bodega Head beyond.

On the last three holes, you abandon your power cart and grab a waiting pull-cart to get around a moody marsh awash in watery grasses, where herons and ducks lurk just over a high, grassy berm from the beach.

The Sea Ranch Golf Links Near Gualala, a lesser-known seaside gem designed by Robert Muir Graves, opened with nine holes in 1975. It nicely complements the adjacent Sea Ranch residential development, known for minimalist driftwood-hued houses tucked away in a rugged natural environment. The front nine holes wind through redwoods and grassy rough out to the coastline for big views and breezy afternoons. A second nine was added in 1995, creating a 6,649 yard stretch of rippling Scottish links-style landscape. A putting green, a pitching area and a grass driving range comprise the practice area.

The iconic 19th and early 20th century architect, Alister MacKenzie, designed Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Northwood Golf Course just outside of Guerneville. Subject to the somewhat unpredictable coastal climate, it was originally built in 1928 for the exclusive Bohemian Club. Today, it remains one of MacKenzie’s most unforgettable nine-hole layouts as it rambles on narrow fairways between rows of 150-foot-tall redwoods –– listen for the bonk of your ball on the tree trunks, and look for two bears behind the seventh green. Some say the 532-yard, skinny, up-and-down finishing hole is the toughest in the county.

During the summer, those mysterious Bohemian Club members are often seen in the morning mists, skulking around the fairways or the bar at Northwood Restaurant, a rustic lodge serving comfort food such as shakes, burgers and hearty breakfasts.

Fair weather fairways

Beloved by beginners and by players with limited time (or limited golfing ability), Healdsburg Golf Club at Tayman Park is the county’s oldest course, opened in 1921 a few blocks from Healdsburg’s historic downtown plaza. With views of Dry Creek Valley to the west and majestic Fitch Mountain to the east, the club has a three-tiered, covered practice range and two putting greens. Rolling hills and some elevation gain define the track; side-hill skills come in handy and careful approach shots to tiny greens. A beer, a burger and a nice view of the town are on the menu at the 19th Hole Sports Bar.

Perfect for kids, beginners, or for a quick round, Fairgrounds Golf Course lies flat in the middle of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds racetrack. Those in the know show up at the opening bell at 6:30 a.m. to get in nine in less than two hours, while the 9 p.m. closing time enables several hours of pre-sunset play in the summer. Learning to play is the priority at Junior Golf Camp, at clinics all summer on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, and on the multi- station, covered driving range and putting and chipping greens. It’s just $6 to $9 for juniors, from $10 for seniors and $13 to $20 for everyone else.

The fortunate few

Only reciprocal membership at your own private golf club, or an invitation from a good friend who’s a member, will get you on any one these three exclusive courses. Usually, your Director of Golf will need to call ahead to make the tee time arrangement on your behalf.

Voted “Best Golf Course” by North Bay biz, and featured as one of Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play,” Fountaingrove Golf Club Santa Rosa is a Ted Robinson-designed test of uphill, downhill and side-hill. The course lies in a valley studded with live oaks and redwoods. Elevated tees are helpful on a front nine that climbs steadily, while, menaced by water features and strategically located trees, the nine tightens up considerably. In the three-story clubhouse, Bogey’s Bar & Grill is popular for bistro-style fare and big-screen TV viewing.

A pretty parkland track designed by a protégé of Alister MacKenzie, 6,712-yard Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club is part of the ClubCorp network of more than 300 clubs with reciprocal access; members of other private clubs also are welcome with a call from their head pro. Major improvements are either completed or underway, from the driving range, putting and chipping greens, and 100-yard practice hole to the course itself, known for wide fairways and a battalion of swooping willows trees and towering redwoods. Tuckered players meet in the bar and restaurant of the luxurious clubhouse and patio overlooking the 18th green.

Near Healdsburg in a magical hidden valley, caddies guide players at Mayacama Golf Club along a meandering, rising and falling layout carved from an oak forest and challenged by lakes, vast wetlands, oceans of native grasses, elevated tees, and perfect, fast greens. Golf Digest has called this Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course one of the “Top 100 Courses in America,” while Forbes magazine listed Mayacama as one of the “12 Best Private Golf Communities.” Tee times are not necessary, but a call from your private club’s Director of Golf is required.

Opened in 1928 and now updated to 21st-century standards, and with a whopping-spectacular new clubhouse, Sonoma Golf Club hosted the Charles Schwab Cup Championship for several years. Members of other private clubs and guests of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa are the lucky players beneath the long arms of ancient oaks and amid lakes and ponds, and sometimes in deep bunkers. Holding the golfer’s attention for over 7,100 yards are several par-3 holes over 200 yards, some reachable par-5 holes, and a grand finishing hole with a stretched-out dogleg and an unmissable fairway bunker before a green flanked by huge oaks and a creek.

Karen Misuraca is a freelance writer and founder of DeepCultureTravel.com.

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