Northwood Golf Club: an intimidating nine through the redwoods

Will Baker

Nestled in the fog-shrouded Redwood groves of the Russian River Valley sits the Northwood Golf Club, a nine-hole public course designed by renowned course architect Alister MacKenzie. While most MacKenzie courses, like Augusta National and Cypress Point, are highly exclusive and out of reach for most golfers, Northwood offers the opportunity for a world-class golf experience at a price unmatched by any course of its caliber. Ranked as the third best nine-hole course in the United States by Golf Digest, adult golfers are only charged $32 and juniors (under 18) a generous $15.

The towering redwood trees of Northwood at the junction of the 3rd, 4th and 5th holes.

Northwood’s course design, which has the feel of an elegant country club, is an idyllic fit for the unmatched beauty of its surroundings. Northwood, unlike many cheaper public courses, does not feel cramped in its layout. While no single hole on the course is exceptionally long in distance, the tight fairways and looming redwoods make for daunting tee shots. The 382-yard second hole encompasses the Mackenzie-an spirit of Northwood with its redwood-lined fairway that dips down to a green shrouded by branches. If you aren’t careful, shots will be en route for the redwoods with a shuddering sound at impact, which has earned the course its local nickname “Knock-wood.” 

While it is certainly difficult to pick a hole at Northwood that is the singular hardest, six stood out to me as invoking the most fear. Throughout the first five holes, the key is to control the ball off the tee and keep the narrow approaches in the back of your mind. Hole six doubles down on this in the cruelest way possible. Only a 280-yard par 4, hole six dog legs slightly right to a green that sits in a ring of redwoods. Again

With the Russian River Valley’s redwood forests in the background, a golfer celebrates his tee shot on the par 3 eighth.

though, the tee shot is key to success. The back tees sit in between two lines of redwoods, leaving few options for where the drive can wander. Golfers will need to hit a lower iron that they can control well to avoid a ricochet tee shot that returns to their feet. Standing on the tee, it is impossible to not think of all the ways hole six can go wrong, a testament to the mind games that Northwood can play.

The most beautiful and awe-inspiring hole on the course is arguably the par 4 seventh. It sits in the middle of the course and is completely surrounded by redwoods, with no noticeable openings between the trees. The fairway seems to go with the grain of the monolithic trees, blending with the landscape. The putting surface is perched up from the fairway and the early afternoon light that hits it illuminates the bright grasses against the orange redwoods in a way that makes every penny spent on the green fee worth it.

The picturesque green on the 381 yard par 4 seventh.

While it has the design and feel of a top course, Northwood is not perfect in its entirety. Expect hardened sand in bunkers, unfixed pitch marks and uneven tee boxes covered with divots. But, the roughness around Northwood’s edges adds character to the course’s great bones. There is still a clear effort to maintain the course, with its nicely mowed fairway lines and cleanliness that show a sense of pride from Northwood’s staff. While Northwood isn’t the glitziest or best kept course by any means, the return-to-nature design makes it a destination for any golfer willing to travel to the heart of the Russian River Valley.