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    Must-Play Courses in Northern California

    2/8/2014 9:40:59 AM

    Between the iconic tourist stops, memorable scenery in both sun and fog, Giants games and some of the best wine and food in the world, golf is rarely a priority in Northern California.

    But it should be. The region produced major championship winners Johnny Miller, Ken Venturi, George Archer and Juli Inkster and has hosted four U.S. Opens.

    From the Pacific Coast to Lake Tahoe, the area has enough quality layouts that you should try and squeeze in at least 18 holes before the next tasting or photo opp.

    Courtesy of CordeValle. CordeValle is one of the best courses in California and hosts a PGA Tour event every year.

    Must-Play Courses

    CordeValle (cordevallegolf.com, 408-695-4500, $125-$295)

    Ranked No. 8 on Golf Magazine's Best Public Courses in the state, this beautiful 1999 Robert Trent Jones Jr. design has hosted a PGA Tour event for the past three years and does so again this October.

    Located 45 minutes south of the San Jose airport, the course is open to resort guests only and sits in a valley bordered by the Santa Cruz Mountains. A winery runs along the left side of the par-5 sixth, while the downhill par-4 17th offers memorable views of the rolling landscape.

    Check with the resort for golf package rates, especially during the high season from April through October.

    TPC Harding Park (tpc.com/tpc-harding-park, 415-664-4690, $155-$175)

    Long beloved as host of the annual San Francisco City Championship, this layout was given new life in 2004 with an extensive and much needed renovation spurred by being named a venue for multiple Tour events.

    The latter started in 2005 with the WGC American Express Championship (won by Tiger Woods) and continues this November with the Champions Tour season-ending Schwab Cup.

    After that event concludes, all 18 greens are expected to be regrassed, with temporary greens in use until that work is finished (expected by next April).

    New green fees that will go into effect during the project are expected to be announced this summer.

    What will remain unchanged is an impressive stretch of holes from the 13th through the 18th, each with views of Lake Merced (and from the 14th tee, a glimpse of the famed Olympic Club's distinctive clubhouse to the west). A rare forced carry off the tee comes on the dogleg left closing hole, which bends around the lake for 400 yards before finishing across from the two-story clubhouse.

    Saddle Creek (saddlecreek.com/golf-resort.html, 209-785-3700, $59-$105)

    This 1996 Carter Morrish design is located in the Sierra Foothills, two hours east of the Bay Area. Water is in play on more than half of the holes on the 6,826-yard layout. Accommodations are available in both a lodge and individual bungalows (one- and two-bedrooms), all within walking distance of the course, which is ranked 18th on Golf Magazine's Best Public Courses in California.

    Old Greenwood (golfintahoe.com/Old_Greenwood/, 530-550-7010, $100-$160)

    This Jack Nicklaus design 30 minutes southwest of Reno and just north of Lake Tahoe is actually a walkable 18 despite being in the mountains.

    Fairly flat overall, the front side may just have the better holes, including the par-5 sixth, a risk/reward situation thanks to a lake coming into play on approach shots. Ranked 19th on Golf Magazine's Best Public Courses in California, Old Greenwood also has two-, three- and four-bedroom accommodations overlooking the front nine.

    Package deals are available with Gray's Crossing, a nearby Peter Jacobsen design that is tighter off the tee and has flatter greens than Old Greenwood.

    Coyote Moon (coyotemoongolf.com, 530-587-0886, $95-$149)

    If you have never experienced a true mountain golf layout, this is a great introduction. No homes are on this well-maintained layout 12 miles north of Lake Tahoe.

    Opened in 2000, the Brad Bell design includes the 13th, a 200-yard par 3 that drops 80 feet from tee to green. Granite outcroppings and long-range views are part of the scenery, as is plenty of nature and wildlife. The playing season here usually lasts from mid-May through late October.

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