If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dear Joe, A friend from Nashua, N.H. recently moved to Petaluma, Calif. Seven of us are going to visit him and try to play four rounds. We’re thinking of playing Presidio and a few others just north of San Francisco. Any reasonably priced ($50-$75) courses in the area you might recommend? Dick Bresnahan Wilmington, Mass. You’ll have to make the moody, fog- and cypress-enshrouded Presidio (415-561-4661, presidiogolf.com) your splurge, as it runs non-residents $125-$145 to ride, $112-$132 to walk. After 2:30, it’s $85-$105, until April 18, when twilight time changes to 3:00 p.m.
My best advice is to take the short drive to the Bodega Bay (pictured) along the coast and tackle the Links at Bodega Harbour ($45-$90; 707-875-3538, bodegaharbourgolf.com). This recently refurbished Robert Trent Jones Jr. design still sports some funky holes, notably the weird, wild, downhill par-5 5th, but the improved conditioning, eye-catching sea views and a handful of truly memorable tests make this worth the journey, especially for the after 2 pm rate of $75.
Closer to Petaluma is Stone Tree ($85-$120; 415-209-6090, stonetreegolf.com) in Novato, a collaborative design effort spearheaded by Johnny Miller that features a flattish, hazard-filled front nine followed by a narrow, hilly back nine framed by oaks. Throughout are heavily contoured greens that get more three-puttable as the day (and afternoon breezes) advance. Often frustrating, but never boring, Stone Tree offers a twilight (after 2 pm) rate of $65 Monday through Thursday, up to $85 on the weekend.
Finally, check out one of the Bay Area’s best values, Peacock Gap ($35-$75) in nearby San Rafael, a mature 52-year layout under new ownership. Short on overall length at 6,261 yards, this Billy Bell Jr. design was renovated by Forrest Richardson in 2007, helping to restore—and enhance—its classic virtues, from bunker shapes to strategy. Peacock Gap’s tranquil nature and low price tag ($35 to walk, Monday through Thursday, $25 after 2 p.m.) makes this a fun, scenic and affordable experience. Dear Joe, I am planning a week-long trip to Washington D.C. this spring to golf with my son. We are looking for quality courses that won’t break our budget. We will have a rented vehicle, but as he lives in Crystal City, Virginia, we would like to play closer to his area. Any ideas about the D.C. area? Mitch Josephs Des Moines, Ia. Crystal City is nestled into the Arlington area, so you’ll be surrounded by quality military courses—if you’re connected, past or present. If not, head west to 1757 Golf Club ($55-$95; 703-444-0901, 1757golfclub.com), which sits only four miles from Dulles Airport. What awaits is a superb practice facility, a solid mix of open and wooded holes and a value price tag, provided you play Monday through Thursday, where it’s $65, or $55 after 12 noon, $49 if you’ve over 60 years old.
For the maximum D.C. experience, albeit one with few frills, try East Potomac Park’s Blue course ($27-$45; 202-554-7660, golfdc.com), an ancient muni that eases over mostly open, flat terrain with a smattering of trees sprinkled throughout. Sufficiently long to test most players at 6,600 yards, the prime attractions at the Blue aren’t memorable individual holes, but rather its miniscule green fees ($31 to walk on the weekend, $17 for seniors over 60 during the week) and its overwhelming sense of place, including views of the Washington Monument throughout the round. Two shortish nine-holers, the White and the Red, complete the offerings at East Potomac.
Perhaps the best course within striking distance is Westfields ($89-$109; 703-631-3300, westfieldsgolf.com) in Clifton, roughly 18 miles south of Dulles International Airport. This beautiful, forested Fred Couples creation sports a scorecard-wrecking slope of 139 from the tips, thanks to a multitude of trees, bunkers and water hazards. You do pay for the quality service and conditioning, but if you wait until 2 p.m. to play, you’ll fork over $59 during the week, $69 Friday through Sunday. Take it From Joe: Arizona’s Quintero is a Desert Must-Play There are two ways to look at Arizona’s Quintero: On the one hand, it’s yet another victim of the Arizona real estate bust. On the other hand, the economic downturn has opened its doors for a public peek. With the guard gates temporarily ajar, Quintero qualifies easily as one of the best desert courses you can play. My advice: play it.
It’s that good.
Admittedly, this 2002 Rees Jones design on the outskirts of Peoria, on the farthest edge of northwest Phoenix, isn’t exactly “public” golf. It remains a private club whose real estate never blossomed, whose clubhouse never appeared and whose vision of a 36-hole layout, with a Greg Norman 18 long in the planning stages, remains a dream deferred. Nevertheless, to keep some cash coming in, the club now permits limited outside play. It’s a fairly spartan operation, but the service is stellar. They’re not moping. They’re happy to have you.
Quintero is draped over a stunning carpet of lush desert, with nearly every fairway bracketed by thorny plants, trees and cacti. Critics point not only to the layout’s lack of walkability, but also to its lack of playability, due to the difficulty in recovering if you miss fairways that some consider too narrow. The truth is that the fairways mostly enjoy sufficient width—though to be fair, if you’re off-line, you’re screwed. Nonetheless, the flawlessly conditioned green complexes are surprisingly benign, and the bunkering is proportional to the shots values, perhaps no surprise, since architect Jones has always favored fairness over quirk. More of a detriment to me is the ballyhooed set of par-3s, which while undeniably spectacular, deliver yardages and shot demands that are too similar and the artificiality of the fairway traps, where on so many occasions, there should have been more effort expended to transition them into the native desert.
That said, Quintero is one of the more dramatic, scenic and fun-to-play trophy courses in the Greater Phoenix area. With 150 feet of elevation change, incredible mountain/cactus vistas, firm, fast putting surfaces, and memorable, mostly isolated individual holes such as the downhill 219-yard, par-3 6th and the uphill 552-yard, par-5 14th, Quintero is worth the half-tank of gas from North Scottsdale. Quintero Golf & Country Club ($150-$200—though substantially less in summer; 928-501-1500, quinterogolf.com)
(Photo: The New Links at Bodega Harbour)