By Jim Hammond
A Cable Car to the Land of the Stars
Published in New England Golf Monthly Magazine- Oct. 2005
The concierge at the Omni Hotel in San Francisco told me that a 3 day pass on the city transit system, including subways and the ever-popular cable cars, was only $20.00. When I told him that I enjoyed walking he reminded me that the city by the bay has 147 hills. Sold!
I arrived in San Francisco in mid-September ready to tour the hills, vineyards and golf courses of Northern California.
I spent a lot of time researching hotels, looking for a convenient location and a good size room. The rooms at the Omni average 350 square feet, with high ceilings and big closets.
It is located in the financial district that is busy during the day but quiets down after 5:00 P.M. If you wish to visit the Fisherman Wharf area, or catch a ferry to Alcatraz, you can catch a cable car that runs by the front door of the Omni Hotel.
But what makes the Omni special is the staff. When I asked about a good Chinese restaurant they mentioned a small place called the House of Nanking. There were about 15 tables and you were bumping elbows with your neighbor, but it was the best Asian food I have ever had in my life. And the total bill for dinner for me and my wife was $31.00.
Whenever I returned to the hotel, staff members welcomed me back asking me about my day, and inquiring if we needed any help concerning our evening plans.
For my first day on the links I visited the course at the Presidio, a national park located next to the Golden Gate Bridge. This land was originally an Army base established in 1846. In recent years the post was closed and now the land is a refuge for the people of San Francisco who can enjoy the 25 acres of hiking trails through forests of eucalyptus, pine and cypress trees. You can stroll on Crissy Beach or climb the stairs that lead to the Golden Gate Bridge for a view you will never forget.
Located in the heart of the Presidio is an 18 hole championship golf course. This public course has hills and tight fairways that meander through eucalyptus trees. Since it is the second oldest golf course west of the Mississippi River, Presidio may remind you of a traditional New England course. Except here you get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and if the morning fog has burned off you can catch some magnificent views of the city. It is only 6400 yards from the back tees but plays long if you don’t keep it in the short grass.
Greens fees vary from $112.00-$145.00 depending on the time and day of the week, but there are number of specials offered for twilight play.
After 4 days of exploring the many neighborhoods of San Francisco I headed north to the vineyards of Sonoma and Napa. I found Napa a little crowded and spent the majority of the time in Sonoma, which has dozens of wineries offering a broad variety of grapes and a more serene environment. Two of my favorites were the Francis Ford Coppola and the Jacuzzi Vineyards.
The Jacuzzi family left Italy in 1907 and settled in Northern California. They manufactured and sold water pumps to the farmers in the area. This eventually led to the development of the bubbling hot tub that has become known as the Jacuzzi; the perfect tool to relieve the aching backs of golfers everywhere.
The mustard-colored brick walls and red tile roofs are a re-creation of the Jacuzzi family home back in Italy. Be sure to climb the bell tower which gives a magnificent view of the vineyards and the surrounding hills. The reception area has two sections where you can enjoy some free samples. The room on the left offers a variety of wines, and the room to the right has a working olive oil press and an extraordinary selection of olive oil to be sampled.
I had two very different golf experiences in the Sonoma Valley. First I played at round at the Sonoma Golf Club which is located at the Fairmont Mission and Spa. Sonoma was designed by Sam Whiting, who also designed the famed Olympic Club.
It is also the home of the 2010 Champion’s Tour Charles Schwab Cup Championship. It has a good variety of holes that wander through the mountains and has views of the neighboring vineyards. There aren’t many trees but most holes have large bunkers that follow the roving terrain. It plays about 7100 yards from the back tees and there are a variety of special deals that include golf, lodging and spa treatments. Golfing in the shadows of the mountains, delicious wine and a good massage to loosen up the muscles. What a complete day.
I took a side trip to a town called Guerneville, about 40 miles north of Sonoma, and found a wonderful bed and breakfast called Applewood Inn. My room had a private courtyard complete with a fountain, and it included a superb breakfast in their restaurant.
In this town was a 9 hole golf course called Northwood. It was a delightful track that was carved out of a forest of towering redwood trees and only 2800 yards from the back tees. But the best thing was that the course was designed by Alister McKenzie. That’s right the same guy who designed Augusta for Bobby Jones. I never drove a ball down a fairway lined with redwoods before, but it was a lot of fun and with green fees of $22.00 for nine holes it was truly a bargain.
After a quick trip to Bodega Bay, the town where Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” was filmed, I drove back over the Golden Gate Bridge, and headed for Monterey.
I decided to stay at the Green Gables Inn in Pacific Grove. It is a wonderful Victorian B and B and is located directly across the street from Monterey Bay.
I found Monterey to be a very scenic town, but many of the stores sold cheap t-shirts and tacky souvenirs. But for a writer, visiting the area where John Steinbeck penned some of his most famous works made it worth the trip.
Carmel, on the other hand, was a village of high-end shops and specialty stores with world famous restaurants like The Mission Ranch, which is owned and operated by Clint Eastwood. A meal here is sure to make your day! Clint often stops by to play the piano in the restaurant and the food is delicious. You can also park your car in the center of Carmel and walk on the beach directly below the 8th, 9th, and 10th fairways of Pebble.
I had a 7:00 A.M tee time at the Mecca of all golf courses Pebble Beach, but I couldn’t wait. I paid a visit the night before and watched the last drops of sunlight cast long shadows over the 18th fairway. Order a drink from the tavern and sit on the balcony that overlooks the 18th green and reminisce about the legends who made golfing history at this spot.
The practice green at Pebble is surrounded by several shops offering golfing attire with the famous lone Cyprus logo, ranging in price from $40.00 to $250.00. Plus balls, tees, books, even a set of Bobby Jones hickory shafted clubs. I decided to spend my money on a caddie instead. Because the greens fees are so high ($495.00 cart included)
Most golfers decide against hiring a caddie. I think it is worth the extra $70.00. My caddie spent 19 years at Pebble Beach so his knowledge certainly added to the enjoyment of the round. He asked me what my average drive was and watched what clubs I used on the par 4 opening hole. The next 17 holes he would hand me a club and say “Hit your tee shot to that side of the fairway.” “Aim your putt 6 inches to the left and don’t give away the hole.” He never quoted me yardage and I never looked at what club he was handing me. And at the end of the day, this fourteen handicap golfer shot an 89.
Along the way he would tell me stories about playing in winter conditions at Pebble. At the 106 yard par 3 7th hole, he said “The winds were blowing at 55 miles per hour and Tom Kite needed a four iron to reach the green,” Or “ see that house there? That’s where Bing used to live.” And then there’s the course itself. It seems bigger than it looks on TV. The fairways are wide, but the bunkers are deep and the greens are very small. You tee off and then pause to look at the seals and whales playing in the waves. The par 4 389 yard 8th hole is one of the most memorable. You hit the tee shot up a hill and your second shot is over a cliff and down to a narrow green. Jack Nicklaus called it the best par 4 in the world.When you reach the 18th tee, a perfect place for a few photos, aim for the trees in the middle of the fairway. Then keep it right because the ocean and a 155 yard bunker guard the left side of the fairway. There are always a few guests from the lodge who wander down to look at the 18th green, so be sure to concentrate on the last shot and give the gallery a thrill.
It was my first trip to Northern California and I can’t wait to go back. The people were friendly, the scenery spectacular and the wine delicious. And the golf, well the name Pebble Beach says it all.
Jim Hammond has been a golf and travel writer for 21 years. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org