Just down the road from the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, The signs and cards hung from nearly every door, window and post along Sonoma’s historic town square: “Thank You First Responders.” “Love Our Firemen!” “Love Is Thicker Than Smoke.” God Bless The National Guard.”
Even as a fading whiff of smoke hung in the warm autumn air, the recovery in California’s Wine Country was well underway. Tourists were coming back slowly but surely. Pinot and Prosecco were on the pour at the dozens of wineries in and around the city center.
Back at the valley’s grand dame hotel, smiles were wide and business was brisk, even on a Monday in November. Less than a mile away the hotel’s partner course, Sonoma Golf Club, sprawled toward surrounding vineyards and pastures, lush and regal nearly 90 years after its birth. Designed by Sam Whiting of Olympic Club Lakes Course fame, it’s a place with deep, vintage tournament roots — including the Champions Tour’s season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship from 2003 to 2009 — and home to what was reportedly Sam Snead’s favorite par 3.
THE WINE KEEPS POURING
Six weeks after the worst wildfires in modern California history scorched the hills around Napa and Sonoma counties laid waste to thousands of homes and businesses and killed dozens of residents who cherished living in one of the Golden State’s most beautiful and delicious destinations, visitor traffic is getting back to normal.
Video Bonus: Grieve Family Winery
Steve Elkington visits his long time friend David Grieve and his wife Kathleen's compound in Sonoma, Ca to play golf and learn more about the intricacies of making fine wine.
While there’s no mistaking the black, bald scars where stands of coastal oak and verdant stretches of tall grass once stood, and the occasional glimpse of a burned-out barn is sobering, the Sonoma Valley’s vaunted vineyards emerged from the inferno intact. As fall deepened their small leaves blazed bright gold and orange in the slanting sun, the harvest and crush having been completed before the hot Diablo Winds whipped the fires into their three-plus days of fury. The tasting rooms are and were well-stocked with the fermented fruits of years past while the region’s many top-rated restaurants —including longtime Sonoma favorites like the country French showcase The Girl & The Fig and the more recently opened tapas titan Oso — are back at full speed, serving locally sourced, lovingly prepared fare that draws foodies from around the world.
PRIVATE GOLF FOR HOTEL GUESTS
For golfers, late fall brings more sunny days than not, temperatures in the 60s and 70s and fine course conditions. Those same favorable elements wend their way well into and through the winter months, though rain gear is a good idea. Sonoma Golf Club, which is private but available to Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn guests year-round, plays firm and fast over the summer months. Once the skies open to feed the rows of vines nearby, it’s easier to hold fairways that range from gently rolling to hilly, even on the tighter doglegs, and that’s a good thing because the rough can get thick and deep, turning the longer par 4s — holes 3, 5 and 6 on the front nine and 10, 12 and 15 on the back — into brutes if you stray from the short stuff. Even the tighter two-shotters like No. 11, one of the best holes on the course by any measure, are no bargain from the second cut. And the par 5s, including No. 8, a beautiful straightaway with a big sycamore blocking the approach on the left side, tend to be three-shot affairs for all but the biggest hitters.
But it’s on the par 3s where Sonoma Golf Club bares its biggest teeth. Only one of them stays under two bills from the tips while the shortest one at 136 yards from the blue tees, No. 17, serves up a green that cants seriously from back to front and left to right, with three of Whiting’s well-sculpted bunkers short of the green to keep things interesting. And that Slammin’ Sammy fave? No. 7, centerpiece of a strong front nine finishing stretch with a pretty, on-the-small-side green nestled among big oaks with a creek flanking its right edge. Before or after your round, a meal in the clubhouse grill should be on the agenda, and guests have their own locker rooms, too.
FROM PLAY TO STAY
Back at Sonoma Mission Inn you’ll find that certain Fairmont flair for amenities, comforts and flavors. Its Michelin-starred restaurant, Sante boasts more than 500 local wines, while the more casual bar-eatery 38° North Lounge serves breakfast and lunch as well as a limited dinner menu. Both are just off the hotel’s lovely lobby, with the resort itself ensconced in a leafy, cozy neighborhood just over a mile from the Sonoma town square.
The resort’s deluxe rooms and three levels of suites are spread among 10 buildings; the Mission Suites are truly extraordinary, with a sitting room with fireplace, large Jacuzzi tub and patio.
The Willow Stream Spa, which is included in the resort fee along with an in-room welcome bottle of wine, daily lobby wine tasting, docent-led daily hikes, access to the pool, unlimited basic internet and golf club storage, is the only such facility in the area built above its own mineral-rich water source — every soak and steam feels better than the last, and floating in the outdoor Watsu pool conjures a level of relaxation that evaporates all those memories of double bogeys and blown three-footers.
Add it all up, and Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is the perfect home base for a memorable, upscale couples’ Wine Country golf getaway. The fires changed many things, but they couldn’t touch the resort’s rich experience … or quench this lovely region’s resilient soul.