Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park has aged beautifully to become one of the Napa Valley's fun plays
NAPA, Calif. -- During a round at Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park, I had the distinct feeling I had played something similar.
Twenty years ago, I was with my father on a golf trip to Ireland as part of an international father-son tournament. Headquarters for this weeklong event was Killarney and the courses we played included such great links as Ballybunion and Tralee. In contrast, Killarney's own course stood out.
Killarney, the locals raved, was a "classic parkland course," meaning that the holes played through rolling terrain dotted by large trees and small lakes and creeks.
And that fits Napa Golf Course perfectly.
"It's just a great parkland course," said Tom Sims, the head professional at Napa Golf Course. "Big trees, raised up greens, some elevation, some water. But it's pretty straightforward."
The course opened in 1968, the work of Jack Fleming and Bob Baldock, who have a legacy of courses all over the region. It's a "core" course configuration on the south end of Napa, with most of the famous wineries a few miles north. But this course has matured nicely to present a fun challenge for recreational and low-handicappers alike.
Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park: The verdict
It's refreshing to play a golf course with no homes bordering or separating holes, and it features short transitions from green to tee for an enjoyable walk. The routing is natural and follows the land, from tree-lined fairways on the east side to flatter, expansive holes to the west that include lakes.
From the black tees it almost reaches 6,700 yards, and that's plenty for just about everyone but an aspiring tour pro.
"The thing we have been noted for is we get rather wet," Sims said. "But with a dry winter like we've had this year, we're in good shape."
The day I played the ninth hole, a short par 4 near a lake, played as a par 3 because the fairway was too muddy.
Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park is a course that sees its clay-based soil hold moisture and reduce roll. Its raised greens, with decent but not overbearing bunkering, don't have any extreme movement in them, but they do possess some breaks.
It's a course where optimal drives not only have to stay in the fairway but also, on some holes, must be on the correct side to present the best opening to the pin. Some forced carries come into play but most of the water hazards are on the sides of the holes, which is why high-handicappers can find this course so enjoyable.
My favorite hole was the 10th, a 364-yarder from the blue tees that required a straight tee shot left of a large oak tree, to the right of which a water hazard cut into the fairway. The approach had to come from under the tree branches but reach a green sitting on a slight rise.
The course opened in the trees and then moved to the open flatlands on No. 3. The par-5 fifth emulates the railroad tracks on the left side, but the dogleg sixth turns around a lake.
After a medium-sized par 3, the eighth is a short par 5 that seems to invite long hitters to reach in two. But the second shot to the green must carry a lake. Layups for short hitters have to be in front of the lake, creating the longer approach.
That hole is a good example of how Napa Golf Course can be had by long hitters who keep the ball in the air. A big drive on the 18th, a 510-yard par-5 that doglegs left, presents a tempting go-for-the-green second shot with a hot fairway wood. A large oak tree and hazard guard the left side of the hole, a greenside bunker on the right of the small, raised green.
It's a shot we see the PGA Tour pros pull off week in and week out, and a good drive on this hole can give you that feeling of being like the big boys, at least during this walk in the park in Napa.
Golf instruction at Napa Golf Course
Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park includes a driving range on the interior part of the course, with holes No. 1 and No. 2 bordering it. But you don't notice it on the course. Sims gives lessons and the course is dotted with forward tees for juniors and beginners.
Stay and play in Napa
The Napa Valley averages about 100,000 visitors a week, making it one of California's leading tourist attractions. This course off the main street south of the central business district offers easy access to numerous hotels with varying price points as well as many highly rated restaurants. To name two: Bistro Don Giovanni for a traditional, continental Napa fare, and Downtown Joe's for simpler grill fare.