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A Place To Play Secret Jewel Amongst Towering Redwoods
Mary Burroughs / Bobbi Stewart

      Every golf course has its own character, be it a Scottish links style or a championship venue such as Augusta. There are risk - reward ones, beginner friendly, challenging… the list goes on and on. How about a course that presents a challenge, but yet is peaceful and tranquil? If that’s what you’re looking for, then Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s Northwood Golf Club in Monte Rio, California is the place to play! Carved out of a magnificent grove of towering redwood trees along the Russian River, this MacKenzie jewel is one that is enjoyed by golfers of all skill levels. In 1907 MacKenzie, who is considered one of the greatest golf course architects in the history of the game, designed his first course, the Alwoodey Golf Club in Leeds, England. He went on to design courses throughout the British Isles, then moved on to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. In 1926 he came to California and was involved in the completion and redesign of the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. He designed many of California’s top courses, including Cypress Point, The Meadow Club, Pasatiempo, Sharp Park, the MacKenzie Course at Haggin Oaks, and of course Northwood. In addition, he redesigned Pebble Beach in 1928 and collaborated with Bobby Jones, Jr., in designing Augusta National. Northwood’s General Manager Gaylord Schaap said that although there have been a couple of minor changes to the course, primarily shortening a couple of holes for road construction, it still plays much the same as when it opened in 1929, although the redwoods have grown quite a bit. While five of the holes do not have sand bunkers, grass bunkers are found on the 1st, 5th, 7th and 9th holes. Speculation has it that redwood trees were uprooted to both eliminate trouble spots and provide a challenge. Only one of the holes, the 3 par 8th, is not guarded by towering redwoods. If somehow an errant shot makes its way through the redwoods into an adjacent fairway, it is virtually impossible to get enough height with any club to carry over the trees, the majority being over 100 feet tall. All you can do is hope to find an opening through the trees allowing you to get back to your fairway. The 1st hole, a 293 yard dogleg left par 4, is a challenge. An errant tee shot to the right may find a clump of redwoods, creating a problem for the approach, too far left and you’re in the trees. A three wood, hybrid or long iron is the safe way to play it, as there is a fairway bunker about 225 yards out just past the start of the dogleg. Off the tee the 2nd hole, a 382 yard par 4, looks wide open and really inviting. Then you get to your ball for the 2nd shot and do a double take - you can barely see the top of the flag as about 25 yards from the green there is a down slope. Worse yet, at the start of the slope the right half of the fairway is nothing but redwoods, leaving a very narrow opening calling for pinpoint accuracy. Both the 3rd and 6th holes appear fairly easy, except for the narrow openings through a canopy of trees off the tee. If you’re off the tee OK, par or birdie is almost a given. G.M. Gaylord Schaap calls holes 7, 8 and 9 “Northwood’s Mini Amen Corner” because of their similarity to Augusta National’s three hole “Amen Corner,” where golfers finishing with a good score say “Amen” to themselves. PGA Head Professional Vern Ayers is very emphatic about #’s 7 and 9 being the most difficult holes on the course. #7, a 381 yard par 4 with a slight dogleg right, looks wide open from the tee. Play to the left center of the fairway and you’ll have a wide open 2nd shot. Too far right and you’ll have to bend your second shot around the redwoods. As for #9, a par 5 playing 532 from the back tee, Vern recommends playing it safe rather than going for it in 2. The elevated green is protected by a fairly deep swale in front, as well as redwoods to the right, demanding an accurate approach. Of course when you come off the 9th/18th green, you have to stop at the 19th hole. Enjoy a post round adult beverage on the Northwood Restaurant’s deck while replaying your round or watching players teeing off on #1, putting on #6 or hitting their tee shots on #7. Playing Northwood is a most enchanting experience! With the magnificent redwoods bordering the fairways, the tranquil setting and the friendly staff, you’ll soon understand why it is called the “Redwood Beauty, MacKenzie Challenge.” Plus, because of the setting amongst the towering redwoods players can enjoy two completely different golfing experiences there on the same day. That’s right, an early morning and a twilight one is something you have to experience, and will enjoy! Ranked as the #3 nine hole course in America by Golf World, Northwood is truly a must play course. Superintendent Ed Bale and his crew do an outstanding job in maintaining Northwood. The greens are always in great shape - if there might be a complaint it is that, in the interest of keeping a good pace of play, they run a little slow. Former PGA Tour player and current NBC golf announcer Roger Maltbie is often found playing Northwood. Seems he likes both the challenge and setting, making it a point to get in as many rounds as possible every year. When it first opened members of the Bohemian Club, whose Grove is adjacent to the course, were among the first to enjoy its beauty and challenge. Today, some 81 years later, club members are still playing the course. Yes, for a truly memorable golf outing you have to experience Northwood. Imagine a visit to the Sonoma County Wine Country that includes Eating, Playing and Staying… and of course wine tasting. Be it a long weekend or only one day visit, the Northwood Golf Club is a must play. Stay and play golf packages are available at the Fern Grove Cottages in Guerneville, one of the Russian River’s hidden jewels. Just a few minutes from the golf course, FernGrove offers many amenities, including a continental breakfast, wet bars and Wi-Fi. Call them toll free at 888-243-2674 or visit their website at For information on the Northwood Golf Club, including a brief history, visit their website at Starting times may be made on the website or by calling 707-865-1116. •

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