Poppy Ridge Golf Course in Livermore maintains a Jones tradition of excellence in NoCal
- Ted Johnson
- Sep 21, 2011 12:00 AM ET
LIVERMORE, Calif -- One thing about the Northern California Golf Association: It knows how to keep things in the Jones family.
The opening of Poppy Ridge Golf Course in 1996 completed that family's golf triumvirate.
First came the semi-private Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach. When it was built in 1967, the Pebble Beach Co. agreed to allow 30 days of access for NCGA member tournaments. That the Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design cost $675,000 might represent the best value per hole in the United States.
Then came NCGA-owned Poppy Hills Golf Course, the first course built by a golf member organization in the U.S. and designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. It opened in 1986 and remains the only daily-fee course in the Del Monte Forest (nearby The Links at Spanish Bay, also part of the Pebble Beach Co., is classified as a resort course.)
Ten years later the NCGA became (and remains) the only member organization to open a second facility. Poppy Ridge sits in the savannah-covered hillsides near Livermore, about 50 miles southeast of San Francisco. To complete the family circle, Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones, Jr.'s brother, did the layout.
Due to its climate and topography, Poppy Ridge has a "heathland" feel compared to the Augusta-like look of Poppy Hills and Spyglass Hill. There was only one tree on the Poppy Ridge property at the time of construction (more have been planted), but the facility was designed to use the slopes and contours of this rolling land adjacent to large vineyards.
Poppy Ridge's Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Merlot nines pay homage to the local viticulture, and the routing is quite clever in that all three end in front of the statuesque Spanish-style clubhouse, whose veranda offers an expansive view of the Livermore Valley.
A glance to the eastern foothills reveals windmills, a hint that a strong breeze is a common afternoon experience. On many holes, understanding how to use the ground and the slopes becomes essential in scoring well. Yet the course is very friendly to beginners, though it has to be said that greenside bunkers can present quite difficult circumstances.
Instruction at Poppy Ridge Golf Course
Poppy Ridge's practice facilities are the best in the region. A large, grass hitting area includes a practice bunker with green, a large putting green and a chipping green. On the other side of the range another hitting station is meant for group lessons.
Poppy Ridge Golf Course: The verdict
Like most Jones designs, whether senior or sons, the bunkering at Poppy Ridge can be devilish. A cavern the size of a small pit mine guards the right side of the fairway on Chardonnay's par-4 sixth, an uphill 420-yarder. Not to be outdone, the greenside bunker protecting the right side of that green is deep enough to have an escalator.
Some of the bunkering is meant to be visually intimidating, such as the bunkers to the right of Zinfandel's par-5 fifth. Some is directional. Avoiding all reduces frustration by considerable amounts.
The holes are paired Chardonnay-Zinfandel, Zinfandel-Merlot and Merlot-Chardonnay. The site records about 60,000 rounds a year, but with 27 holes there isn't a feeling of being crowded. Each 18-hole combination has a slope rating of 138 from the back tees (7,000 yards), 133 from the blues (6,700) and 130 from the whites (6,250 or so).
The breakdown goes like this:
• Chardonnay has the best balance in that no holes are real easy, none too hard. The 560-yard par-5 fifth is the longest on the property and usually plays into the wind.
• Zinfandel has the toughest finishing hole, water on both par 3s and the best blend of long and short par 4s.
• Merlot has the easiest par 5s but also the toughest par 4s, including a maddening sixth (426 yards from the blues) that sits atop a plateau. A left-to-right crosswind makes this hole an easy double-bogey or worse.
"It's a very good course, no matter the rotation," said Mike Cowles of Walnut Creek, Calif. "And it's a good golf experience for the value."
Stay and play in Livermore
Livermore hotels include a Hampton Inn and Quality Inn, though in nearby Pleasanton there is a Hilton and a Marriott. There are more than 20 wineries in the southeast Livermore region near Poppy Hills, including Wente, Retzlaff and Murrietta's Well. Is there a better way to cap off a round of golf than sampling some of California's finest wines?
Many people travel to Pleasanton for its picturesque Main Street known for its many restaurants. For those who prefer unique Mexican food, however, Livermore's Los Vaqueros Grill on Vasco Road north of I-580 is quite memorable.
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