Sonoma Golf Club: California Golf Course Review
27 Sep 2014
see also: Sonoma Golf Club, All Course Reviews

Sonoma Golf Club opened in 1928 and was immediately hailed as one of the top courses in Northern California.  Designed by Sam Whiting and Willie Watson, the course saw Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Harvey Ward and Ken Venturi walk it's fairways and greens.  It was Snead who may have bolstered the credibility of the course when he told then San Francisco Examiner sports reporter Art Rosenbaum that it was his favorite layout.

In recent years the club hosted the best players on the Champions Tour when it hosted the Charles Schwab Cup Championship from 2003 to 2009 when it saw great such as Tom Watson, Jim Thorpe and John Cook raise the trophy.  It was Watson who stated that the slick greens were as close to Augusta National in speed and condition as he had putted on.

Following are playing notes for Sonoma Golf Club. Stocker Cup players - you may want to print this out or save a link on your cell phone!


1st Hole - Par 4 - 386 yards

The first hole is a gentle starter.  Originally a dogleg right, the hole was changed to a dogleg left in 1991 during a renovation that saw the addition of a driving range.  Out of Bounds flanks the left side while a bunker protects the right hand portion of the fairway.  An imposing tree provides the most character off the tee.  The conservative play is a long iron or fairway wood hit towards the aiming bunker with a slight draw, while the aggressive play is a driver over the tree, leaving a short wedge approach.  The slopes away from the player in the back left portion, while the front portion slopes back-to-front.  All putts on the golf course break towards the back of the 2nd tee, or as local lore states "towards downtown Sonoma).

2nd Hole - Par 5 - 552 yards
The 2nd is a strong uphill par-5.  The prevailing wind will be into the player on this hole, making it nearly impossible to reach the green.  The long hitter will find their drive landing into an upslope, which will negate any roll.  The layup should avoid the bunker and tree to the left of the fairway.  The green slopes subtly from back to front with the back bunker being a spot to avoid at all costs.

3rd Hole - Par 4 - 409 yards

Somewhat of a sleeper hole, the 3rd hole has ruined many a round.  A straight hole with everything in front of the player, the right fairway bunker should be avoided off the tee as the lip can pose a problem and prevent the player from reaching the green.  The deep green is protected on the front left by a bunker and the majority of the right side by another bunker.

4th Hole - Par 3 - 204 yards

One of the most challenging holes on the Champions Tour, the 4th is a stern test.  Playing slightly uphill to a narrow and deep green.  Balls finding the array of bunkers that are on the right and left sides of the green will be difficult to get up and down, due to the shallowness of the green from that angle.  Hole locations can be tough with a flag back right being the toughest.  Beware of a front hole location as missing long almost always leads to bogey or worse.

5th Hole - Par 4 - 431 yards
The 5th is another strong par-4.  Bunkers protect the landing area on both the right and left side of the fairway.  A long drive will leave an approach to a large green that has several slopes stretching out from the bunkers that surround the green.  Aggressive play doesn't always pay off on this hole as long of the green sees out of bounds very close to the back of the green.

6th Hole - Par 4 - 417 yards

A medium length par-4, this hole often plays downwind.  A fairway bunker on the right and a hazard on the left are to be avoided.  Once the fairway has been found, the green slopes away from the player and is very deep.  Hole locations on the back 1/3 of the green can often see the ball release well past the flag and off the green.

7th Hole  - Par 3 - 219 yards
The signature hole at Sonoma Golf Club, the 7th is another strong par-3.  A creek runs the length of the right side of the hole while the green has 3 bunkers surrounding it.  A long iron or hybrid is most commonly needed to find the tricky green.  Once again, long is a bad decision as the green slopes away from the player.

8th Hole - Par 5 - 596 yards
The 8th hole is the longest on the course but benefits from playing downhill and often downwind.  The landing area is blind off the tee so players should aim at the tallest of the eucalyptus trees in the distance.  A fairway bunker on the top right portion of the fairway is shadowed by another fairway bunker in the right portion of the landing area.  Out of bounds and large eucalyptus trees flank the left side of the fairway.  A good drive might give the longer hitters the chance to go at the green in 2, but most will have to layup and avoid a fairway bunker on the right and a group of trees on the left.  The green has several small shelves which can make for tricky hole locations.

9th Hole - Par 4 - 345 yards
A classic short par-4, the 9th gives the player the option to lay up short of the fairway bunker or hit driver over it, leaving a short pitch the green.  The 2nd shot plays uphill to a green that has 3 tiers.  If the hole location is in the front, it is best to be coming in from slightly further back in order to control the spin.  Two deep bunkers protect the front of the green, while another bunker sits towards the back right of the green.  This green can be very quick if putting down the tiers.


10th Hole - Par 4 - 425 yards
The 10th offers a great view from the elevated tee across the lake and down the expansive fairway.  A large oak tree hugs the left side of the fairway and balls that look to be missed to the right often find the fairway as it expands further than it looks.  The 2nd shot plays downhill to a tricky green that slopes away from the player.  The bunkers to the right of the green are very difficult to get up and down from.

11th Hole - Par 4 - 359 yards       
Another short par-4, the 11th plays straight uphill.  The tee shot should favor the right side of the fairway as it opens the green up.  3 bunkers sit on the left-side of the green while another hugs the right.  A very sloping green can be difficult, especially if the hole is in the front and the player has missed long.  Tom Kite once made eagle on this hole in back-to-back days during the Schwab Cup.

12th Hole - Par 4 - 427 yards
The 12th is one of the most underrated holes on the course.  A straight hole which often plays into the wind, the tee shot needs to avoid the bunker on the right side of the fairway.  The approach plays uphill and the green is one of the trickier on the course.  A large spine runs down the middle of the green and a false front will often see the ball roll back down the fairway.  Missing this green long is not an option as getting it up and down for par is rarely successful.

13th Hole - Par 5 - 587 yards
A reachable par-5, this is one of the best scoring options on the course.  The drive needs to favor the right side of the fairway, but avoid the fairway bunker and trees.  Tee-shots missed left usually kick further left and might not be found.  From the fairway, players can opt to challenge a green that is flat and tends to run away somewhat, or layup to a wedge yards avoiding the bunkers on the left and the water on the right.  This green is often misread.

14th Hole - Par 3 - 215 yards
A slightly downhill par-3, the 14th will see players have a long iron in hand to a large green.  The front hole locations are the easiest on this hole, while the back left can be difficult.  The green slopes away from the player in the back right portion.

15th Hole - Par 4 - 436 yards

Generally considered to be the toughest par-4 on the course, the 15th gives the player options off the tee.  The aggressive play is a driver over the trees on the right, cutting the corner and leaving a short iron approach.  The more conservative play is a fairway wood off the tee left of the trees and a long iron approach.  The native grass on the right should be avoided if a good score is to be had.

16th Hole - Par 5 - 541 yards

The downhill par-5 16th offers one of the tighter tee-shots on the course.  Players that can find the left portion of the fairway will be rewarded with a flat lie and a chance to attack the green in 2 shots.  The green slopes from back to front and is protected by several bunkers.  One of the best birdie opportunities on the course.

17th Hole - Par 3 - 142 yards
The only par-3 on the course that the player won't have a long iron in hand, the 17th poses a different kind of challenge.  The bunkers around the green are very difficult to get the ball up and down from, with balls often plugging.  A hole location back right generally plays 1 club longer and offers a shallow area of green to approach.

18th Hole - Par 4 - 412 yards

The closing hole once again offers the longer hitter a decision.  Take it over the fairway bunker on the right and have a short club to the green, or layup short and approach the green with a mid-iron.  Once the fairway has been found, the approach must avoid the overhanging tree on the left side of the green.  A severely sloping green in the front portion can lead to 3-putts if the flag is located there and the ball is missed long.  A small creek crosses in front of the green and can't be seen from the fairway.

- note: All images courtesy Sonoma Golf Club

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