Spotlight on Clear Lake: Mother Nature Shines at Northern California Vacation Spot

By Tom LaMarre, Contributor

KELSEYVILLE, CA -- Mark Wotherspoon played on the Golden State Tour with Duffy Waldorf and Dennis Paulson several years ago.

While Waldorf and Paulson went on to success on the PGA Tour, Wotherspoon became a club professional and for the last 10 years has dedicated himself to the revitalization of Buckingham Golf and Country Club on the shores of Clear Lake, one of Northern California's most popular vacation spots.

"You could hardly tell the difference between the fairways and the greens, or the rough for that matter, when I first came here," said Wotherspoon, who formerly worked at Calimesa Country Club in Southern California and hopes to rejoin Waldorf and Paulson in eight years on the PGA Senior Tour.

"You couldn't help but notice the natural surroundings and that it was a nice design, it just needed some care. I came from the Desert Section of the PGA in Southern California, so I know what a resort course is supposed to be like.

"We added 11 new tees, 13 bunkers, three water hazards and just got the course into shape. And we always have the best greens in Lake County."

Buckingham and the Clear Lake Riviera Yacht and Golf Club work closely with the Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa, the biggest resort on the lake, which has become one of the most successful small concert promoters in the country.

Acts such as Huey Lewis and the News, Vince Gill, Don Henley, Journey, Brooks and Dunn, Eddie Money, Survivor, Linda Ronstadt, Ray Charles, Heart, the Doobie Brothers, Tim McGraw, Foreigner, Olivia Newton-John, Lyle Lovett and Michael Bolton perform dinner shows in the summer at the 5,000-seat Konocti Field Amphitheater and year-round in the Joe Mazzola Classic Concert Showroom.

"We don't do nostalgia shows, it's classic rock, and we have the biggest country stars," said Greg Bennett, general manager of the Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa, which offers 250 rooms ranging from economical to Jacuzzi suites with fireplaces. "We book A- and B-level acts that still have draw.”

"Our clientele come for a variety of water sports and for the shows. Some like to play golf, including performers like Vince Gill and Willie Nelson. We even have a miniature golf course on the property. And every August, we partner with Buckingham for the Pepsi Celebrity Quarterback Shootout."

Joe Montana, Deacon Jones, Paul Hornung and eight other members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are among the 22 former NFL greats scheduled to play in the sixth annual Shootout on Aug. 23-24.

An impressive collection of autographed game jerseys hang in the Konocti Lounge, representing players who have played in past Shootouts, including Montana, Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Tony Dorsett, Kenny Stabler, John Brodie, Daryle Lamonica, Bart Starr and more.

"It's a very cool two-day event," Bennett said. "We have the course roped off, just like on TV and we draw about 10,000 people each day. Mark Wotherspoon has been a good friend and Buckingham a great partner for the event."

Buckingham is located about a mile from the resort at the base of 4,200-foot Mt. Konocti, a dormant volcano which created the peninsula on which the course is located when it erupted about eight million years ago.

The explosion was so powerful that volcanic ash from Mt. Konocti has been found as far away as New York. At least one winery in Lake County credits the volcanic ash in the earth for helping it grow the perfect grape.

The volcanic field also has produced the many geysers and hot springs in the area, in addition to scattering large rocks around Buckingham, providing some unusual hazards on the golf course.

"Mother Nature created an incredible natural setting for a golf course," said Wotherspoon, who grew up in Southern California and attended the University of San Diego. "I had been coming here since I was about 8, when I first heard the story about Mt. Konocti erupting.”

"People love to play through the pines and around the oaks. We're open 12 months a year even though we get a lot of rain and a little snow in the winter. But the weather is great for about nine months."

Buckingham and the Clear Lake Riviera are both nine-hole courses, but alternate tees help them play almost like 18-hole layouts. And we're not talking about a few yards. In some cases, a hole can play much differently the second time around.

At Buckingham, for example, the third hole is a 160-yard par-three, but when you play it as No. 12, it's a risk/reward 258-yard par four. And the ninth hole, a 532-yard par five, doubles as the challenging, par-four 464-yard finishing hole.

"We've tried to be creative," Wotherspoon said.

Especially on the eighth hole, a par four that can play as long as 460 yards along Little Borax Lake to the left and has been lengthened to a 507-yard par five when you play it as No. 17.

In this case, a new green has been added beyond the original on a sliver of land that wanders out into the lake.

"The peninsula has always been there and we were looking at it and trying to decide what to do for several years," Wotherspoon said. "We finally put in the new green about a year and a half ago, and everybody loves the hole.”

"It's very difficult and risky to try to reach the green in two and even the third shot can be difficult visually because the green looks very narrow from the fairway. It’s the most difficult hole on the back side."

Over at Clear Lake Riviera, golfers are treated to some of the most spectacular views of Clear Lake from nearly every hole, and several dramatic elevation drops on this unique, hilly course.

The course plays only 5,608 yards from the back tees, but don’t be deceived.

“The distance is not that great but this is a very challenging course, especially the first few times you play it," said Bob McDonald, handicap and rules chairman at Clear Lake Riviera Yacht and Golf Club, which also has a six-hole par-three course. "That's because it’s tight and it’s hilly."

The first problem that confronts the golfer is his initial shot on the opening hole, a 276-yard par four where the green sits approximately 100 yards below the tee and the fairway narrows to about 40 yards at the bottom of the hill, with out of bounds on both sides.

The opposite problem exists on the 366-yard ninth hole, which plays 366 yards up the other side of the same hill and is the most difficult hole on the course.

“The first hole can be tough because it is so narrow and you can get wind there because it is unprotected," McDonald said. “The ninth hole plays much longer than the yardage because it is straight uphill. Most people have to play it as a three-shot hole."

The 373-yard second hole requires a blind tee shot over a ridge to a green far below, with the slope of the fairway taking every ball to the left. When you return to play this as No. 11, it is a 512-yard par five with the tee shot directly uphill to a plateau fairway and the second shot over the ridge toward the green.

Perhaps the most dramatic hole on the course is the downhill 271-yard fourth, which provides the golfer with a spectacular view of Lower Lake and a chance to drive the green from a plateau tee on the side of a rocky ridge to a postage stamp green. This hole doubles as the 211-yard 13th.

"Some players can reach the green (on the par four) but it’s a risky shot," McDonald said. "That's a pretty small green and it gets real narrow down there with out of bounds on the left and right. It's a pretty easy par four if you just hit it down there in front of the green and knock it on with a wedge."

For golfers who want an 18-hole challenge, it’s only a 25-minute drive to Hidden Valley Lake Golf and Country Club, five miles north of Middletown, which advertises itself as the only 18-hole championship course in Lake County.

The highlight of this 6,667-yard course, designed by William F. Bell and opened in 1970, is the 389-yard 15th hole, where the tee sits 200 feet above the fairway and offers views of Mt. Saint Helena and the Sutter Home Vineyards

"It's not very far, so we do get people who want to play a full course coming down from Clear Lake," said Andy Gonzazlez, head pro at Hidden Valley Lake.

When you are finished with golf, tennis or any of the water sports at Clear Lake, you can head for the Dancing Springs Spa at the Konocti Harbor Resort for a massage, body or skin-care treatment, plus it has a full-service salon and fitness center.

Make dinner reservations at the sporty Tee Room overlooking Little Borax Lake at Buckingham Golf and Country Club or the Clear Lake Riviera Bar and Restaurant, which has a panoramic view of Clear Lake, which is 19 miles long and nine miles across at its widest point.

And don’t miss the Classic Rock Caf at Konocti Harbor Resort, where the walls are adorned with rock and roll memorabilia, and the placemats are old record album covers.

Konocti is the place for old volcanic rocks and old rockers.

Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa
8727 Soda Bay Road
Kelseyville, CA 95451
Phone: (880) 660-LAKE

Buckingham Golf and Country Club
2855 Eastlake Drive
Kelseyville, CA 95451
Phone: (707) 279-4863

Clear Lake Riviera Yacht and Golf Club
10200 Fairway Drive
Kelseyville, CA 95451
Phone: (707) 277-7129

Hidden Valley Lake Golf Club
19210 Hartman Road
Middletown, CA 96451
Phone: (707) 987-3035

Tom LaMarre, Contributor

Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor in California for parts of five decades, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Mark Wotherspoon

    SammyJo wrote on: Jul 14, 2009

    Mark did NOT grow up in SoCal! He was born and raised in Fortuna, CA and moved to San Diego for college. I don't know who checked facts for this article or if he is claiming to be from SoCal.