San Geronimo Golf Course's beauty provides a peaceful taste of west Marin
SAN GERONIMO, Calif. -- A small sign board next to the first tee at San Geronimo Golf Course states that the facility uses only organic and natural fertilizers.
It is a subtle reminder that here, about 20 miles by car from the Golden Gate Bridge, you are in arguably one of the most eco-conscious regions in the world.
Organic and natural are not just labels but a way of life. For example, many of the restaurants in the posh Marin communities of Ross, Kentfield and Fairfax that you pass along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard en route to the golf course offer gluten-free menus. Here, recycling is not just encouraged but expected. Composting is almost a requirement to get along with the neighbors.
It can be assumed that golf here might not be a peak form of recreation, but San Geronimo has regularly been voted the best golf course in Marin County. It certainly provides a good taste of what people in West Marin like about the area.
Designed by Robert Muir Graves and opened in 1965, San Geronimo has distinct nines. The front plays in the middle of the valley and is bisected by Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, holes 1 and 9 on the north side, holes 2 through 8 on the south.
To get to the back nine you must climb a small ridge line behind the clubhouse to get to the elevated tee at No. 10. From there the course swoops through canyons and around creek beds, bringing you in close contact with what locals call "untouched open space."
This land doesn't look too much different when the Spanish explorers were traipsing around it about 300 years ago. Deer, fox, coyote and even mountain lion reside in the surrounding hillsides. In the dry months (May-October) the green fairways give a vernal contrast against the hills baked into russet dryness.
That's why you might want to stop and enjoy that feel on a hole like No. 14, a 388-yard par 4 that requires a blind tee shot over a marker in the fairway. From there the fairway falls down and to the left as the land slants right -- a "reverse camber" hole. A good drive leaves you in the middle of the fairway between thick stands of evergreen and oaks, the green complex set against a rising ridge. You are in open space, silence broken only by contact of club and ball.
Perhaps this is a good place to contrast the weather in Marin than what you can find in San Francisco, but 15 miles south as the crow flies from the course.
The surrounding coastal hills prevent the sea breezes that can bring fog and cool temperatures to the city from affecting San Geronimo. On a summer's day you can leave San Francisco in a 60-degree mist and get clear, blue skies and a beaming sun that makes the thermometer climb as much as 15 to 20 degrees higher.
There are homes surrounding the course, but it is still a "core" course. Other than the tunnel on the front nine, there are no streets to cross. By the time you finish 18 and make the climb back up the hill to the pro shop, you realize you are leaving a warm, peaceful, beautiful piece of land.
Golf instruction at San Geronimo
There is a small practice area for pitching and putting but the course does offer complete instruction through two teachers, Jim Murray and Will Karnofsky.
San Geronimo Golf Course: The verdict
Low-handicappers might look at San Geronimo's scorecard and see a layout of just over 6,800 yards from the tips and think about going low. Even on the flatter front nine, however, the greens contain plenty of slope, which can make putting tricky. There are holes to be had, to be sure. Middle- to high-handicappers can play the middle and front tees, but there are some forced carries that might lead some to over-estimate their abilities and thus get into trouble.
In that vein, San Geronimo requires more than one go-around to learn its secrets. It isn't punishing but restrictive. The 435-yard 11th comes to mind. A curling dogleg left, the tee shot has to stay well to the right side of the fairway for you to see the narrow opening over a creekbed lined by trees to see the tucked green.
But with that in mind it is possible to leave San Geronimo after the inaugural visit wanting to return for another try.
And there's always that peaceful 14th, no matter how difficult it can play.
Stay and play San Francisco
From San Francisco, it's an easy trip getting to San Geronimo Golf Course, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be quick. Traffic on Highway 101 over the Golden Gate and be sluggish. Once clear of that, 101 takes to Sir Francis Drake, which winds from the highway all the way to Highway 1 in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The locals call it SFDB, and it should stand for Slow For Daily Business through the Kentfield, Ross and other small communities. Saturdays and Sundays, in fact, offer as much congestion as work-day commute times, so it's best to plan ahead and take extra time to get to the course.
As for where to stay in the region, the city is ripped with hotels for most price needs, and, well, this is the culinary capital of the United States. It's almost impossible to find a bad meal. That's the good news. In some restaurants, however, you might have to refinance your house to afford it.