A new era for Napa Valley's venerable Silverado Resort

By Ted Johnson, Contributor

NAPA, Calif. -- The Silverado Resort is entering a new era.

Silverado Resort
Silverado Resort in Napa, California.
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The venerable Napa Valley retreat came under new ownership in 2010, which includes golf analyst and former PGA Tour star Johnny Miller (a local resident) as well as Roger Kent and Tim Wall from Rug Doctor.

A new management company has been hired to go along with a new executive chef. Miller, of course, has already left his mark by remodeling greens and tees on the venerable North Course, a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design of 1950s vintage regarded as the toughest of the two resort golf layouts.

Since it opened, the Silverado Resort has always had two markets in mind. Its conference rooms and golf courses made it appealing for business gatherings. The amenities include 13 tennis courts, 10 swimming pools and a large, modern spa that likes to promote its golf-centric massages, which include the use of a real golf ball during the treatment.

That appeals to the business client, but it has to be said that the 415 guest rooms range from standard one-bed settings to mini-suites that include up to three bedrooms. Along with wood burning fireplaces, they feature kitchens, dining rooms and patios or balconies, making them perfect for the golf groups or vacationing families.

Silverado Resort: Launch pad into Napa Valley's charms

Thousands of visitors trek into the Napa Valley every weekend, a pleasure-centric migration that accounts for more than $1 billion spent annually in the region's resorts, wineries, restaurants and boutiques.

Of course, the wineries are the predominate draw, but it seems safe to say that no area in the world has paired food and wine like the Napa Valley. Yountville, for example, is a gentrified town 10 miles from Silverado that features first-rate restaurants like Bottega, French Laundry, Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty.

Renowned chef Thomas Keller owns French Laundry, regarded by "foodies" as the 1927 Yankees of restaurants, and reservations have to be made months in advance.

Just a few miles up Highway 29 in Oakville, the same can be said for Press, another high-end restaurant next to Dean & Deluca's, a deli and store that serves as the vortex in all things Napa -- cheeses, unique deli selections, wine and gifts.

Across the road is the Sattui Winery and its expansive grounds that on weekends serve as the picnic grounds for hundreds under the large oaks.

Golf at Silverado Resort

The North Course at Silverado was the first to open in 1955, and Jones, Sr. redesigned it in 1966 while also adding the South Course (with son Robert Trent Jones, Jr. helping). PGA Tour pros found the North Course plenty tough during their annual visits from 1977-80 in the Kaiser International Open.

While the easier and shorter South Course at Silverado served as the resort course, the North was reserved as the private members' layout. Large oaks line many of the fairways, which Miller widened, and since it sits in the floor of a small valley there is little elevation change in the holes. Distance helps but the greens were in excellent shape. Firm and speedy, their deceptive breaks produced some "oh God" moments.

By adding some 200 yards in distance, Miller brought more bunkers into play for today's game. But watch out for his "ghost" bunkers like those found on the 18th. From the fairway they appear to guard the front left of the green but in fact sit about 10 yards short, leaving a deep cavern from bunker mound to greenside edge. In other words, know your distances.

The South Course, site of the Transamerica Open on the Champions Tour from 1989-2002, is shorter and not as compelling. It, too, has very little elevation change. Miller is reported to be licking his chops to get in and remodel that layout as well, though the owners may put that off for a while to see how the resort does in today's economy.

Silverado Resort: The near future

The location and the physical beauty of its setting make Silverado the region's enduring large-scale resort. But as seen in its Southern-style main building that dates to the 1870s (built by a former general, John Henry Franklin Miller), the challenges are clear.

It is a resort with nearly 50 years under its belt, and the ownership group is gearing to keep the dust off Silverado's image. Meanwhile, the booming Napa Valley offers plenty of competition for the leisure dollar.

One step was the hiring of Executive Chef Jeffrey Jake, a Napa native, to provide "fresh and local" fare, which is almost a northern California "must have" for high-end eateries. The Royal Oak serves as the main dining room and will exhibit the full fare of Jake's influences, but his hand will be found in the Patio Terrace off the Main Lounge as well as The Grill Lounge next to the golf pro shop.

Though more changes may be on the board, the setting and the amenities make Silverado Resort a compelling choice to sample the best of Napa Valley, whether it be collecting the latest releases in cabernet sauvignon or just trying to record a few birdies.

-- Golf course images courtesy of Joann Dost/Silverado Resort

Ted JohnsonTed Johnson, Contributor

Ted Johnson has been writing about golf for more than 25 years. Having traveled the world with his clubs, he counts himself lucky to have played Cypress Point, but Turnberry’s Ailsa, Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in Australia and Ireland’s Royal County Down tend to rotate as favorites. And then there was the trip to Vietnam, where he found himself in Vung Tao and his luggage in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why to this day he carries a toothbrush in his golf bag.

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