Appeared in 2011 LINKS Premier Clubs
IT IS EASY ENOUGH to describe the features of Mayacama Golf Club. For one, the club is located about 60 miles north of San Francisco in the rolling, oak-studded hills of Sonoma County. It is a true player’s club, featuring a walking-only Jack Nicklaus-designed layout that tests all the shots and boasts arguably the purest greens on the West Coast.
Mayacama is also a wine connoisseur’s fantasy. In addition to counting more than 30 of America’s leading vintners among its members, the club regularly hosts tasting events that showcase some of the continent’s finest wines. Finally, the club’s seclusion provides its members a world-class retreat, replete with Mediterranean-style architecture and an array of amenities.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to experience the true sense of Mayacama without a visit. Because it is the club’s spirit, rather than its facilities, that gives the club its lofty status as one of the most coveted memberships in golf.
This spirit stems from Mayacama’s enthusiastic members and is now as much a part of the club’s identity as its idyllic setting, 675 acres in the heart of California’s legendary wine country. The spirit gives the club a sense of warmth and camaraderie that enhances every visit, whether it is the first or the hundredth.
Built on land formerly belonging to Peanuts creator and avid golfer Charles M. Schulz, Mayacama’s layout, which opened in 2001, takes full advantage of the site’s natural elevation changes, which add to the challenges of Nicklaus’ strategic propositions. Despite its modest length—about 6,800 yards—the course has a stern 153 Slope rating.
Although the fairways are generous, part of the course’s difficulty stems from the majestic oaks, which frequently come into play. They dictate shot placement off the tee and on second shots on par 5s; trying to overpower the holes is a losing tactic at Mayacama.
In addition, due to the cleverly tiered and contoured greens, there are few routine two-putt pars after hitting a green in regulation—itself no easy feat, thanks to the dramatic greenside bunkering and elusive putting surfaces that Nicklaus seamlessly integrated into the hillsides.
The variety of the landscape also heightens the golf experience. The front nine meanders through valleys, while many of the holes on the back nine are more wooded. All the holes, though, have one quality in common: pristine conditioning.
Thanks to the collective appreciation of the membership and the efforts of the staff, most notably that of Head Golf Professional Ted Antonopoulos, Mayacama possesses an atmosphere of pure golf that complements the quality of the course. The club has a strong caddie program, so members and guests can uphold one of golf’s longest-held traditions: walking.
There are no tee times, either; just show up and find a game—a great way to enjoy the club’s strong sense of community. The club also engenders fraternity through events like the club championship, member-guests and the “North and South,” a Ryder Cup-style match pitting a team from Northern California against a squad comprised of Southern California and national members.
Antonopoulos has set up interclub matches for both men and women against some of the most prestigious clubs both in the United States and abroad, and he also organizes annual pilgrimages to Great Britain and Ireland.
While members take golf seriously, they are just as passionate about Mayacama’s other raison d’être: wine. The club boasts 31 of the area’s renowned winemakers as Vintner Members, including Harlan Estate, Helen Turley, Kistler and Hundred Acre, and each contributes 25 cases of wine to the club every year.
The club’s 600 wine lockers—there are 240 golf lockers—in the large wine grotto under the 40,000-square-foot clubhouse illustrate the emphasis on wine. In addition to preferred access to (and large discounts on) some of the country’s most sought-after wines, members enjoy private-barrel tastings, vintner-hosted dinners and the annual Vintners’ Pour.
As with the golf, the best part of Mayacama’s wine program is the interaction it fosters. The stakes for golf matches often involve bottles of wine instead of cash, and members find that the sting of losing a nassau three ways is soothed when the victor shares a glass of his winnings, all the while sitting by the patio’s fire pit, which provides views of the surrounding Mayacama Mountains.
In addition to a very small number of traditional homes and homesites that are available for members to purchase, Mayacama offers a convenient, affordable Residence Club program. There are 31 casitas and villas for lodging members, who are entitled to 35 nights a year. Singles or couples can choose a casita, which range in size up to 840 square feet, while larger groups will find comfort in a villa, which measures 2,700 square feet, with three bedrooms.
The luxurious casitas and villas are built into the hillsides in tiers, giving the look and feel of a small Tuscan village. The accommodations are within walking distance of the clubhouse, which shares the Mediterranean-style architecture.
Once at the club’s hub, members can enjoy amenities like the spa, fitness center, swimming pool, tennis courts and a two-mile hiking trail, on which sightings of deer and wild turkeys are common. A camp program provides year-round activities for kids of all ages.
While many of Napa and Sonoma’s legendary restaurants are within a short drive, there is no need to leave the club for a delightful meal. Executive Chef Scott Pikey describes his cooking style as American, rooted in the traditions of France, Italy and Spain, using classic cooking techniques. His menu features wine-country fare made from the best locally grown seasonal produce, artisanal cheeses, organic meats and sustainably harvested fish.
But not all the meals at Mayacama are formal affairs. The membership gathers regularly for “crab feeds” and other festive repasts, served family style. Friends and families join together over great food and great wine.
These convivial events and activities reflect the spirit of Mayacama. There’s no pretension here, just friendly, welcoming people enjoying the very best that the twin lifestyles of golf and wine have to offer. And the only way to learn about it is to experience it for yourself.
A Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and an unmatched wine program begin the tale of this Northern California retreat, but the acclaimed club’s true story cannot be told without the warmth and camaraderie of its members
By: Tom Dellner