Enjoying the amazing vistas of Bodega Harbor
What was our last of 28 golf reviews in Arizona and California proved to be one of the most unique, interesting, challenging ,and at times perplexing, golf experiences I’ve ever had. Before making the short drive from our RV site a few miles away, I called the pro shop to secure an earlier tee time. I was offered two earlier times by Brian who couldn’t have been more cooperative, friendly and accommodating. Also, he explained where to conveniently park our RV when we arrived.
Upon arrival and parking out of the way, we were immediately greeted by Rich who pulled a power cart right up next to The Golfmobile. I handed him both sets of clubs which he strapped on for me and left us to drive away in the cart. It was a busy morning with many people milling about and lining up in the pro shop. A Saturday morning business group was getting ready to tee off so it was all go, go, go.
The same friendly fellow who had fielded my call earlier, Brian Forbes, was the very kind man now standing behind the pro shop counter. After some friendly conversation, with 3 or 4 very patient guys standing behind me, we went out to warm up. Brian like many passionate people working in the golf industry is a very positive and important aspect of your golf day at Bodega Harbour. There was no visible range and now Rich approached me to say we were on the tee in 10 minutes. It would be the 2 practice swing, no stretch start; and it showed.
Before that slightly embarrassing display occurred, Rich introduced me to Rick Surlow, one of the golfers following in the groups behind us. He also handed me one of the publications that Rick Surlow publishes: The Golf Guide. This is one of my favorite print publications and I was already familiar with it. Pick one up when traveling in the US, they are one of the most portable, comprehensive and easy to read booklets and a nice enhancement to my in-depth reviews here on www.canadiangolfer.com.
Chatting with Rick had eaten into my warm up time, but it was worth the sacrifice in getting to know him. Now, in front of about 15 awaiting golfers that would be following us, I sashayed up to the tee box. At 6,200 yards from the back tees it’s not overly long and even at 60 I can still get it out there so I was tipping it out at Bodega. Other than putting, my most confident shot is anything hit with my driver, even off the fairway. Also, when I’m on, I love an audience.
With the very basic instruction from the personable starter, Carter, of “just hit it down the middle” I looked at a fairway that went straight uphill, sloped in what seemed 5 directions and flanked by beautiful, modern homes. Add the 36F degree temperature, a 20 mile an hour wind and 5 layers of clothing and I was ready to go. Go in the rough actually. I hit the worst drive of the 2 months we had been away followed by an almost identical provisional. A few of the onlookers consoled me, as golfers do. It was light hearted enough for me not to want to air mail my $500 driver into the ocean, which looked like it was reachable. Now, it was Myra’s turn. She is the opposite of me – possessing no ego and not of the “hey watch me” club of which I am President. Admittedly, she is quite nervous on the first tee box even when it’s just me and her, let alone now with about 20 onlookers. My little golf star with one practice swing, gets up, takes a deep breath and “boink” (that’s the sound her Rogue driver makes) nails one nice and high right down the middle. Note to self: Watching your wife pure one after you hit a low screaming duck hook is wonderful and a relief too.
It might be hard to believe, but from 3 inches of thick grass 5 feet in bounds I hit three more shots uphill to get on and rolled in a 30-footer for a bogey. Comical really, but I’ll take it. It didn’t take long to see this course was designed by one of my all time favorite designers, the team at Robert Trent Jones Jr. Golf. The occasional pot bunkers, wide landing areas and rolling mounded fairways complimented with expansive smooth rolling bent grass greens, truly a high-end design. The layout is a slightly unusual one. The course initially climbs severely to start which culminates with your putt on the Par 4 4th, then takes you on a downward intensely demanding Par 5 5th hole. The aforementioned hole, the 4th, is easily the hardest hole on the course; not only to play but to maneuver yourself along. A right to left huge side hill slope to an elevated green makes it play like a Par 5 and bogey is a very acceptable score.
It’s here on this hole that I personally would have never endorsed adding the words “The Links at” in naming the course. I lived in St. Andrews, Scotland and played almost every links course in Fife county, Scotland as well as 20 more along the northeast coast of Scotland and England over a 6-year period. Technically “Links” in golfing terms means “by the sea”, but it also evokes the true image of what links golf is, typically flat, running parallel to the sea or ocean perhaps with sand dunes between the course and the water. These technicalities don’t diminish your day in the least at Bodega Harbour. I know the course was not named in a way to confuse the golfing community. However, I do believe that Old Tom Morris, the grandfather of links golf, would roll over in his grave.
However, a near hole in one at the Par 3 6th and a remarkable birdie 2 on the uphill 200-yard Par 3 12th were two shots that made me forget about the few minor oddities of the course .The back nine has quite a different feel than the front and from 1978 to 1987 it was initially the front and only nine here. I would think that after some successful marketing and a commitment from the developers to those people building such lovely homes that the feasibility of a second nine was cemented. When it was completed the new nine was now the front nine.
This is why you might notice like I did a fairly noticeable difference in the style of the 2 nines. For the first 6 holes of the back nine Hole 10 – 15, it’s fairly wide open and very playable. You then come to the 16th and experience something which is totally unique. The 16th and 17th do not allow for power carts and the 2-hole walk is a nice break with that complimentary pull carts are left at the 16th tee. You do, however, have to leave your power cart and whatever belongings it holds there while you play the drivable Par 4 16th over the marsh and the knee knocking tight Par 3 17th. Set amongst marshlands, the walk was a welcome break. After playing these two holes, you return to your power cart to play the very demanding Par 4 18th. It’s a beast of a hole from the back tees and my choice of threading a 3 wood through a narrow 15-yard gap downhill between 2 stands of trees on my second shot to the green was a poor one. It’s one of the many reasons I have to play this course again without the distractions of a camera and a clipboard along with a little more awareness of course management. For example, I think playing hole 18 as a par 5 and settling for bogey all day long would be reasonable. A round in the 70’s was in the cards until I played the last 2 holes, double, triple and finished 11 over for an 81. An early afternoon tee time in October is already in the works along with a more committed warm up. The Links at Bodega Harbour is a test; a test of your skill and your concentration. The view is breathtaking and a beautiful distraction.
Come play it as the staff, the view and the course have one thing in common, they are all worth experiencing.