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About a month ago, I first heard about Aetna Springs Golf Course.  Some friends of mine were trying to get a group together to make the one hour drive to Pope Valley, near Napa in the Northern California wine country.  At first I didn’t pay the request much attention as my tastes in golf courses tend to differ from theirs but I figured it was worth a look.  Initial research revealed a course build in the 1880′s making it one of the oldest in the United States west of the Mississippi.  OK, now I’m listening.  A bit more research identified links between Tom Doak (minimalist designer of Pacific Dunes and Ballyneal, amongst others) and Aetna.  Apparently Doak was brought on for a full redesign in 2008.  Doak’s website describes the process of restoring many of the original hole routings while opting for smaller greens and narrower fairways given Aetna’s relatively short length (~6000 yards).

Now my interest is piqued.  Historic course, persimmon length, narrow fairways, small greens, Tom Doak redesign – I decide I want to play this course and sooner rather than later.  So I go to look for tee times and what do I find on the Aetna Springs website?  They are scheduled to play host to THE 2012 HICKORY OPEN in just four weeks!

The Hickory Open is held by the Shivas Irons Society, a California based group that takes motivation from the fictional golf pro of Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom.  Hickory clubs are being provided by Chris MacIntyre of Play Hickory Golf.  I’m really excited for this event as I’ve been eager to try my hand at hickory golf but always thought the events were more east-coast based.  In hindsight, this was because I was tracking the Society of Hickory Golfers events but wasn’t aware of the Shivas Irons Society events.   I think this will be the perfect opportunity to play my first hickory game at a great venue just an hour’s drive from my house.  I know now that the reasons I wasn’t aware of this course for so long were because A – it’s a nine hole track in the middle of nowhere and B – after the Doak redesign there were litigation problems (zoning disputes and whatnot) between Aetna Springs’ management and the local government.  Indeed, the course was on full stop for a couple years while the matters were settled.  In 2012 they re-opened but I think they are only open 3 or 4 days a week and they don’t actively promote through the usual advertising channels.

Since it is a 9-hole track so we’ll be going twice around.  The first time everybody will go hickory.  For the second nine we are free to play modern clubs or whatever we want.  I’ll be going with my standard steel shafted persimmon and forged blades.  It should provide a nice basis for comparison and an informed position from which to assess the quality of the course and my play.

If anybody has advice on how to practice for a hickory tournament without hickory clubs then please let me know.  I figure just slow things down and give the shaft time to work its magic.  Also, if any PGT or ABS members in California feel like meeting up for this event – the more the merrier!

Here are some old photos and new photos I found of the course and resort.



Old photos: Napa Valley Register

New photos: Terence Ford


2 Responses to “Aetna Springs with Hickory and Steel”

  1. Avatar of Blade Junkie Blade Junkie says:

    What a beautiful looking course Riley!

    Good luck with the tournament – you’ll have a brilliant time. Try and pick out a niblick with a bit of bounce/flange if you get the option. Most of them have really sharp leading edges which dig in more than anything you’ll have ever played, and give you quite a few fat shots and huge divots. In general, just swing really easy and remember Mad Mac’s tip sheet! Expect to miss a few short putts with the “butter knife” blade putters, and for bunker play don’t let your hands get above waist height on the follow through ;o)

  2. Avatar of freddiec freddiec says:

    Looks like a real gem of a course! Good luck and enjoy the Hickory event.

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