Poppy Ridge Golf Course: Serious golf in Livermore
LIVERMORE, Calif. - Located in the foothills just west of the Altamont Pass, Poppy Ridge Golf Course is a delightful challenge, and it provides an outstandingly unique view of Mt. Diablo.
If you can find the San Ramon Valley through which Route 680 travels north and south, just get to 580 east and take it past Livermore. Take the Greenville Road exit and travel south for a few miles.
I had a chance to talk with Robert Erler, permanent staff at Poppy Ridge G.C. He was very informative. This course is the sister course to the Poppy Hills PGA course in Pebble Beach and the second course belonging to the Northern California Golf Association.
Because of the discounts offered here for NCGA members and because of the outstanding layout of the three nine hole courses, I would recommend a membership to anyone interested in playing serious golf.
Celebrities passing through often play at this course. This morning Raymond Chester was playing the course. Athletes from local teams such as the Warriors, the 49ers, and the Raiders often play here.
All three nines are rated the same. They each range from 3,500 yards to 3,600 yards. Slope from the blues is 131. Robert believes that the Merlot course is the most difficult. We were playing on a Thursday morning, which is the day they cut the grass on the driving range making it not available until 11 a.m.
According to Robert, "The course drains quite well, providing good rolls. The greens are always fast and true and very difficult to read. You have to walk around to get a good read especially with some of the pin placements. With a maintained rough at about 2 inches, there is unmaintained grass which has been overseeded with fescue."
"Poppy Ridge is one of the best drained course around. We can have a torrential downpour and still play." Robert failed to mention that even with all of that drainage there are a few mud holes to circumvent.
Designed by Rees Jones, the 1995 Golf Digest Architect of the year, Poppy Ridge Golf Course was opened in October of 1996.
We've all become familiar with Black Hawk, the community, through some of the more famous residences, such as Jose Conseco. Black Hawk is a wealthy, gated community just outside of San Ramon.
But I personally had never seen an actual black hawk until I played Poppy Ridge Golf Course. It seems there are a few of them there. They ride the warm air off the foothills.
On this particular Thursday, my playing partner and I joined up with a father/son team who were familiar with the course and provided two serious enhancements: On the one hand they were happy to give us hints concerning concealed greens, etc. And on the other hand they were both so much better than us they were an inspiration. Hope springs eternal.
We played Poppy Ridge Golf Course's Merlot nine first. It's touted to be the most difficult because of the wind. When we arrived it was a still day on the ground although cumulus clouds sailed overhead as though commuting to a meeting where perhaps they dole out the rain.
The first hole of the Merlot was very difficult. A-391 yard, par 4 over the rough, up hill between high banks and into and out of a kind of S curve up to a well protected green. I only mention this hole because it was quite difficult and turned out to be typical.
When you drive off the tee, you have a very narrow fairway between three sand traps on the right and hillside on the left. At the widest spot it is probably 30 yards across, the size of a good green. But here you are with your driver. I should have used my five iron. Hell, I should have used my five iron all day.
Then as you approach the green, you realize that Robert is right. You have to consider the putt(s) carefully, but I found that really didn't make any difference for me. I should have practiced putting before I started. Regrets, I have a few.
But no regrets about the course. The course is fantastic. At one point I found myself up on the side of a very steep hill where my ball landed off the tee, (still hadn't used my 5 iron), and from there I had a good look at the pin 150 yards away. And I suddenly felt the way you do sometimes...this was great and could only get better even if I'm on the side of this hill and will probably take ouch-bogey to finish up. I knew this course would never bore me. And it never did.
From the Merlot we went to Poppy Ridge Golf Course's Chardonnay nine which appeared to be more benign, but wasn't. Water or sand or creeks or bogs or trees or shrubs or fences or whatever...here on the Chardonnay...Mt Diablo comes in to play.
It looms like a giant golf God overlooking every stroke you make or miss. It weights the sky and the landscape seeming to make things tilt in its direction, especially golf balls.
My brother says golf is a game of focus. I say, yeah, but focus on what? Here lies the rub and the Chardonnay -- like any good wine -- will help heighten the experience. The 8th hole is the signature hole and is the only hole with a native tree.
All the rest of the trees have been planted three or four years ago and leave a lot of room for growth. As you stand at the tee, here is what you see: To your left is a very steep cliff, to your right a high hill. In front a deep rough gully to shoot over. The fairway, if you can call it that, goes straight uphill and is guarded on the right by a plethora of sand traps.
On the left of the fairway there is nothing but blue sky... same for the back of it. The green cannot be seen. If you can drive your ball 150 yards on to the fairway, avoid the sand traps, stay away from the cliffs and the falling hillside on the left and back, you still don't know where the green is except that it must be at the top of the hill. Focus? Focus on what?
If we hadn't had the father/son team to help and weren't willing to gallop to the top of the hill to see where the green was, we would have played by instinct and tried to place the ball on a green we supposed resided at the top. I only mention this hole because once again it is typical of the degree of difficulty associated with Chardonnay.
Across the way four or five miles from these heights, famous Altamont windmills lazily turn in the breeze driven by the same warm air assumedly that the black hawks depend upon. Between us and those windmills there are miles of vineyards with the winter post and wire stitched in patterns across softly undulating hills... unlike anything else.
Poppy Ridge facilities are first class and housed in Spanish Hacienda style buildings with thick walls and floors rich with hardwood and tile.
Employees are gracious and friendly, the golf carts are new and speedy, and the location is stunning. But nothing really compares to hitting your ball onto a fairway under the Buddha-like ambivalence of Mt. Diablo.