Any road to my heart is paved with golf and wine, and perhaps the easiest road to take is the one leading to the Silverado Resort in Napa. Silverado’s North Course is a great course in the heart of California’s wine country and, for my money, is one of the best golf getaways in California outside of Monterey.
Silverado is also hosting the Safeway Open this week, the PGA Tour’s opening event of the wraparound calendar.
Even more exciting is that the Safeway Open marks the re-return of TIGER WOODS! If you’re watching the tourney on TV, or if you ever plan to visit Silverado, here’s everything you need to know.
The Silverado Resort is in the heart of Napa Valley, about an hour-and-a-half drive northeast of San Francisco. There are two courses at the Silverado Resort: the North Course, which this review is about, and the less-renowned South Course, which I’ve never played but have heard is a good course in its own right.
The North Course was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Just a few years ago, it underwent an extensive renovation led by Johnny Miller, who I think did a magnificent job at turning the course into one of the best public tracks in Northern California.
Golf is expensive at Silverado. The course is only open to members and resort guests. For guests, a weekend package to stay at the resort and play golf can cost close to $1,000. But the facilities are A+…there’s a great practice area and some excellent 19th hole options.
What’s good about Silverado?
The layout: Silverado has a thoughtful layout that turns a dull piece of land into an interesting golf course. Although the property is confined and pretty flat, it is cleverly routed (especially on the front nine), and the bunkering is equal parts beautiful and strategic. There are also countless aged oak trees throughout the course that give it a unique Northern California charm. All told, the course is challenging, but not too difficult. It’s the kind of course where single-digit handicappers will have a hard time getting birdies, but also hard time doing worse than a bogey.
The bunkering: The bunkering goes hand-in-hand with the layout, but I thought the bunkering was so exceptional that it deserved its own section. Almost every hole has several sprawling bunkers that are reminiscent of an old George Thomas layout (like Stanford of Bel-Air). Not only are they gorgeous, but they are smartly designed to make several holes much more interesting than they otherwise would be.
The location: Silverado is in the heart of Napa Valley, which itself is the heart of California’s wine country. The weather is magnificent, and there are more great wineries than I can count within a short radius of Silverado.
What’s bad about Silverado?
The price: Silverado is a semi-private club and is quite expensive for resort guests. Now, with that said, I prefer Silverado to a similar expensive golf getaway about 100 miles to the south, CordeValle. Silverado is in a better location and a better overall experience.
The layout, maybe?: Wait, didn’t I just applaud the layout? Yes, but the layout has its limits. Particularly on the back-nine, some of Silverado’s holes have a back-and-forth feel that can make it seem like you are playing the same hole more than once. And, as much as I love the aged trees, there are a few spots where they are a little overgrown and more of a nuisance than they should be.
Here are my thoughts about many of the holes at Silverado. I’ve provided yardages for the 7,171 yard pro tees (74.3/135) that will be used at the Safeway Open, and also from the 6,793 yard blue tees (72.6/133), which are the longest set of tees guests can use.
First hole, 436/432 yards: The par-4 first is a slight dogleg to the right with a pretty generous fairway. The green is flat but protected by a couple of bunkers in front. A solid hole to ease you into your round.
Fourth hole, 407/378 yards: The fourth is not just the best hole at Silverado, but one of the best par-4s in Northern California. Though it’s a short par-4, there is no easy option off the tee. The hole doglegs to the left with a reversed-cambered fairway that slopes to the right. Taking driver creates the risk of a tee shot running through the fairway. But laying back brings some trees on the left side into play that, while picturesque, will be in the way of an approach shot from the left side of the hole. But the best part of the fourth is the green, which is out of this world. It’s a wide and shallow kidney-shaped green with a big hump in the middle and a couple of deep bunkers in front. It’s critical to not only hit the green on an approach, but hit the correct side of it.
Fifth hole, 538/536 yards: Another phenomenal hole. The par-5 fifth is a double dogleg that bends to the right off tee, then back to the left toward the green. The hole is short enough to be reached in two, but anyone attempting to reach the green will have to bend the approach around a small pine tree that is inconveniently placed in a direct line between the middle of fairway and green. Those choosing to layup should favor the right side of the fairway for a good angle, but will need to avoid a long stretch of bunkers.
8th hole, 347/344 yards: Don’t let the yardage fool you…this short par-4 is tough. It’s uphill with a tight fairway. The right side is best off the tee as a lot of trees and out-of-bounds lurk along the left. Because the hole is steeply uphill close to the green, it’s tough to gauge the distance on an approach shot, even from a short distance.
9th hole, 557/521 yards: Some more impressive bunkering turns the par-5 ninth from a good hole to a great hole. The hole has one of the only elevated tees on the course and doglegs to the left. In front of the center of the green is a single bunker that gives the hole its character. Pin on the left side of the green? Layup to the left so you don’t have to carry the bunker on the approach shot. Pin on the right? Layup to the right for the same reason. Pin in the center? The approach will be tough from anywhere. It’s a simple green design but one that I’m surprised isn’t used more.
11th hole, 182/174 yards: This scenic par-3 requires a carry over a small pond. The back part of the green is on a small upper-tier that makes the hole a tough par with a back pin location.
13th hole, 417/413 yards: From the fairway, it looks like there is a large bunker right in front of the green. In fact, the bunker ends about 15 yards in front of the green, so it’s not a problem to carry. But unsuspecting golfers may still be psyched out. Another example of some clever bunkering.
17th hole, 375/355 yards: Like the eighth, the par-4 17th is a short dogleg to the left but a tough hole. It might be tempting to lay back off the tee, but you MUST get a tee shot out far enough to get around the dogleg to have a clear shot at the green. Otherwise, you’ll be blocked by some massive pine trees (or maybe cedars?) on the left side of the hole. The green is undulating and there’s a deep bunker in front of it.
18th hole, 575/539 yards: After the difficult 17th, the par-5 18th offers a good chance to finish with a birdie. The hole is straight, and although there are several bunkers surrounding the green, there is plenty of room in front to chase up an approach shot.
Miscellaneous thoughts – Napa wine!
I’ve been to more wineries in Napa than I can count, which is still probably less than one percent of all the wineries in the area. The one recommendation I have is to visit McKenzie-Mueller, which is in the Carneros region of Napa. While most wineries are slowly getting taken over by larger companies, McKenzie-Mueller remains family owned and operated. Most (maybe all?) of their wines come from estate grown grapes and are made unfiltered. They taste great, age well, and are reasonably priced. The family is incredibly friendly too.
Silverado is a great golf course and an awesome experience. If cost isn’t an issue, it’s definitely worth a visit when in Napa.
Design: A-. The designers got the most out of the property.
Condition: A. Almost perfect.
Enjoyability: A. A weekend of wine and golf? Count me in!
Value: B+. Expensive, but worth it for a special getaway.
Overall grade: A-.