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|You drop off your golf cart before playing the 16th and 17th holes at The Links at Bodega Harbour. (Courtesy of New Links at Bodega Harbour)|
BODEGA BAY, Calif. -- The most memorable moment at The Links at Bodega Harbour comes at the fifth tee, a quirky par 5 that requires a precise but measured tee shot on this double-dogleg hole that winds down the hills overlooking Bodega Bay.
On many links golf courses it is common to have a par 5 that requires something other than a driver off the tee, and for those who don't pay attention the penalty often is -- a penalty.
But on the fifth the view can distract one's attention. The town of Bodega Bay sits in the distance. Located about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is something of an untouched fishing village whose population of 1,000 is oriented on tourism and escapism that is available along the Sonoma County coast.
The sweep of the bay and the harbor bracket the town, and the Pacific looms just beyond. The panorama comes from an elevation of about 500 feet, and there the difference from a Scottish or Irish links becomes obvious.
Generally, links courses around the world are, by dint of their location next to the sea, relatively flat. Their defense comes in quirky bunkering amid mounds and hollows that require precision and some luck when managing the ball toward the hole.
The Links at Bodega Harbour, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., opened in the late 1970s and became an 18-hole course in 1987 with the addition of what is now the front nine. Both sides play along hillsides, but the front nine also includes links bunkering and lots of mounds. These features are more severe on the front, as are the elevation changes.
Consider that on the front nine many approach shots have to factor in uphill, downhill or side-hill lies due to the mounds to elevated or recessed greens. And the putting surfaces along these hillsides have decided and deceptive slope, making for ticklish putts going downhill and tough judgment on side-hill breaks.
Part of the experience of playing The Links at Bodega Harbour is getting there. The quickest way from San Francisco is Highway 101 north to Petaluma, and the East Washington exit heads west all the way to the course. The 30-mile, two-lane stretch from freeway to bag drop meanders through rolling hillsides, apple orchards, pasture and dairy farms before finding the bay.
As such, The Links at Bodega Harbour often serves as a starting point for excursions up the northern California coast. A noted tourist spot is in nearby Bodega, a small stop inland from the course that has the famous church used in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."
Once on the golf course, natural beauty and stunning vistas dominate the experience, which can take away good scoring because precision and a good touch on and around the greens are required.
"There's a premium on getting the ball in the fairways," said Paul Pettigrew of Auburn, Calif., who has played the course several times. "And the greens can get difficult. But the course conditions are much better. And the views are just wonderful. It's a good experience all told."
It's a course that requires plenty of play to reveal its secrets, and there are locals and second-home residents who play frequently. But this public course can't be judged on quality of shots so much as the views and its shot values.
At the 16th and 17th holes, for example, you drop off your cart and take pull-carts (or just a few clubs in hand) as you walk a short par 4 and a medium-length par 3 over and around a seaside meadow just a dune away from the bay. At just less than 300 yards, the 16th begs hitters to gun for the green. The 175-yard 17th requires another tee shot over wetlands to the narrow green bordered by trees on the right and wetlands left.
From there it is back on the buggy and up to the 18th, a long par 4 with a second shot that again descends toward the bay. It's a fun way to finish on a course that shows off its natural beauty. There's a good chance you'll point out the amazing vistas more often than birdies on your scorecard.
Rustic charm is the predominate theme to Bodega Bay, where restaurants (fresh-off-the-boat seafood) and hotels are plentiful. Next to the course is the Bodega Bay Lodge, which offers stay-and-play packages. Less than 20 miles to the northeast is the small town of Occidental, which features charming hotels and restaurants, including the Union Hotel and its famous traditional Italian family meals.
January 4, 2012
Ted Johnson has been writing about golf for more than 25 years. Having traveled the world with his clubs, he counts himself lucky to have played Cypress Point, but Turnberry’s Ailsa, Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in Australia and Ireland’s Royal County Down tend to rotate as favorites. And then there was the trip to Vietnam, where he found himself in Vung Tao and his luggage in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why to this day he carries a toothbrush in his golf bag.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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