Vibrant colours at the par 3 3rd Golf among the vineyards 6th Narrow entrance to the par 3 12th
At 6.45am I pull in to the car park at Chardonnay. I get my clubs and shoes and am introduced to my two playing partners who are from Japan, on a golf tour themselves and have already played at Pebble Beach. The couple don’t speak much English but we communicate through the universal language that is golf. Now a lot of people have preconceptions about the Japanese and slow play, but I’d like to put the record straight. We were the fourth group out and we waited on the American golfers in front of us on every tee, and by the time we finished the group behind were at least two holes back if not more.
I must admit it’s a breathtaking moment as we step onto the first tee. The sun is still rising and the mist lies low on the ground. With the course meandering through the vineyards of Napa, the colours were perfect: the green of the leaves and vineyards, brown of the trees and early-morning orange of the rising sun. It was one of Mother Nature’s special moments. When I say the course meanders through the vineyards, it truly does – golf and wine here in Napa are the perfect combination.
Like most courses in this part of the world you’re going to need a buggy and you’ll find most green fees do include the buggy hire. There is a lot of walking between holes but at least that gives you a chance to take your camera with you – something I’d definitely recommend because when the sun burns off the early morning mist, the vistas here are awe-inspiring.
The first thing you notice are the hole markers – here they use old wine barrels. There are five teeing options which are named Sovereign, Imperial, Double Magnum, Magnum and Bottle and each hole’s name continues that wine connection. The course was designed by Algie Pulley and opened for play in 1991. As the venue’s website reveals, there is a lot of wildlife on this track with bird species including hawks, kites, kestrels, hummingbirds and occasionally a golden eagle. There are also rabbits, squirrels, foxes and a bobcat family on the 16th hole which are great fun to watch.
The course is quite unique in that it has six par-4s, six par-3s and six par-5s. It’s a design philosophy that the great Severiano Ballesteros used as a template for some of his courses. There are some great par-3s on this course but the standout hole for me has to be the par-3 14th which is played from an elevated tee to the green that sits some 183 yards below in the middle of the grape vines. A quite stunning hole, as you should find out for yourself and relive over a chilled glass of the grape from which the course takes its name. Cheers.