Bodega Harbor Golf Links: All That You Can Handle

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

BODEGA BAY, CA -- The California coast is riddled with wondrous spots where the meeting of land and sea create a sense of peace and tranquility that frees the soul. While the touristy trappings that detract from their surroundings have overrun some places, others seem to bask in their grasp of the past. Bodega Harbor, just 2 hours north of San Francisco, is just such a place.

This large natural port on the north coast has for decades been a prime center for commercial fishing and little has changed here over time. The languid waters in the protected harbor are in sharp contrast to the rough seas found just outside the channel. From this spot, small boats manned by persistent fishermen ply the waves in search of crab, Salmon, haddock, and Rock Fish. Many party boats take out thousands of outdoor enthusiasts for the unique experience of deep sea fishing in the cold, challenging waters of the Pacific

This serene spot has drawn many to the region, including film director Alfred Hitchcock who used the harbor and nearby town as the backdrop for his acclaimed film "The Birds" in 1962. There is no better testament to the continuity of this area than the many buildings that were backdrops in the film still stand today, including the school in the town of Bodega, and the piers of the Tides Restaurant where the famous attack scenes were filmed.

The step back to a slower time is a perfect respite from the hectic urban world. The crisp bite of the freshened seas breezes make this a perfect spot for the secluded winter golf escape. Bodega Harbour Golf Links clings to a hillside that runs to the edge of the dunes and will certainly challenge, confound, and entertain any golfer who makes the journey up the North Coast.

Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed this tricky golf course in two phases with the back nine opening in 1977 and the front nine added in 1984. The two nines have completely different feels to them but they blend together to create one of the most challenging 18 holes of golf to be found north of San Francisco.

The course plays to a par 70 and is only 6,267 yards long from the tips but when you add in the 250-foot climb in elevation, the heavy gray air and prevalent ocean breezes to the mix, this course will give you all that you can handle.

"This golf course's greatest attribute is its variety. There are so many different lies, weather factors, and undulations that every day is different here at Bodega," explained PGA Head Professional Bob Caldwell. "When you factor in the great views of the ocean that are found on every hole, it is easy to see how your concentration can slip while playing here."

The golf course is surrounded by 750 housing sites of the Bodega Harbour housing complex, but the careful control of design style that stresses low profile homes with natural weathered siding helps the complex to blend together in a uniform theme. You will notice the houses at first but it won't be long before the course will demand most of your attention.

Bodega Harbour Golf Links is one of the few courses where you have to talk about the back nine first because of the age difference between the nines. The rolling crest of this site allowed Trent Jones Jr. to design holes that are wide and inviting in a style so reminiscent of his father's work. The layout slowly climbs to the crest of the hill with a series par 4's that challenge you with uphill approach shots. Ocean views are found on every hole.

The 15th hole is a 510 yard par 5 that sets up with the ocean as a back drop. The wind can really add teeth to this short par 5. Jones Jr. did a nice touch of building up the green site of this hole so that the green looks as though it is hanging over the sea on your approach site.

From here you cross the road to a charming duo of holes. 16 and 17 are true links land holes that play to the edge of the sand dunes of the Pacific. The 16th is a clever 291-yard par 4. This is a drivable hole but the challenge is that a natural wetland separates the isolated tee with the fairway and green. The hole doglegs left and you have to decide how much of the wetland you are tempted to cut off with your drive. The wild dunes on the right side of the fairway add to the test.

The 17th hole is a 190 par three that asks the golfer to negotiate the wetland again in order to hit the smallish target on the other side. These two shots are the most memorable on the golf course. And they set you up for a finishing hole that will leave you wondering.

This finishing par 4 plays 405 yards from the white tees and 467 yards from the tips and is a blind tee shot. From the tee all you can see is the crest of the fairway, houses to the left and just trouble dropping off to the right. You have got to rip it down the left side as the fairway slopes to the right. Your second shot is from a downhill lie to a green that is nestled at the bottom of a ravine and protected by overhanging branches of pines to the left. This is one tough approach shot. Getting out with par here is a great accomplishment.

The front nine was added almost nine years later and the change in Robert Trent Jones Jr. design philosophy is very evident. By the time this nine was built he had lost much of his father's design influence and strove to create his own distinctive approach. These holes show radical mounding and very undulating greens that put a real premium on accuracy. Some of the radical movement was necessary because of the more sloping terrain, the lack of length causing a need to add more defensive features, and the fact that this was the era of designing the tough golf course.

The 4th and 5th holes carry the golfer to the highest point on the course and these holes have a wild feel to them, as there are no homes bordering them. The 4th is a 406-yard par 4 that climbs straight up the hill. Getting home in two shots here is a major accomplishment. The 5th is a par 5 that plays back down and is the most controversial hole on the course. The hole is a double dogleg that gets you guessing on how to play right form the tee. The tees were moved back on this hole a few years ago to improve the hole but it is still a tricky hole to figure how to play.

But from here you play towards the water with back-to-back par 3's and two tough undulating par 4's to finish. The overall experience at Bodega Harbour Golf Links is summed up by their slogan, "West of Scotland…North of Pebble Beach." This is a links course hard on the ocean that promises to be a memorable challenge.

There are several quaint lodges within the town of Bodega Harbor just right for a weekend getaway and there is no better way to end a day on the links than a seafood dinner on the wharf. Consider Bodega Harbour Golf Links and the North Coast as the prefect spot for the winter getaway.

DIRECTIONS - From San Francisco take Rte. 101 to Santa Rosa and go west on Highway 12 through Petaluma to Bodega. Turn right at junction of Hwy.1. Bodega Harbour Golf Links is on left side four miles from junction.

Doug Saunders, Contributor

Doug Saunders has covered more than 20 major championships and his unique perspectives on the game have appeared in numerous publications including Golf World, GolfWeek, Golf Course Management, Golf Course News, Golfdom, and the USGA Golf Journal. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, California Golf Writers, and the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association.

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