Situated in the hills of Marin County, half an hour’s drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the course at Meadow Club is laid out within a glorious Bon Meadow property, where the waters of the Bon Tempe creek are brought into play from time to time.
Herbert Fowler and Vernon Macan were both approached to design a course within the rolling landscape above San Francisco a couple of years before Robert Hunter, the millionaire socialist, agent and publicist for Alister MacKenzie, secured his client’s first American commission.
Mike DeVries embarked on a new millennium project to restore the layout, taking six years to expand the greens to their original size, rework the bunkers to the style originally intended by their esteemed designer and manage the many trees that had been planted down the decades.
Today, the course extends to a modest 6,611 yards, with notable holes including the 420-yard left doglegged 7th and 450-yard 9th. Parallel par fives at the 544-yard 13th and 508-yard 15th share the same fairway bunkers and these two holes are separated by a lovely par three that plays across a pond at the picturesque 14th.
Mike DeVries kindly provided the following comments:
“We restored the golf course from 1999-2005 and since then have worked to preserve the golf course features while finishing some smaller projects that were left over due to budget or timing at the time.
Additional work includes adding “green” tees (even further than the forward tees), cart path realignment, some drainage/creek work, continued tree management (ongoing, but restricted due to local ordinances), and improvements to the practice facilities.
It is a true restoration of MacKenzie’s first design in the USA, and I was able to see where the original greensmix was located when we lifted sod up during the work.”
The first aspect that makes The Meadow Club an experience is the long and winding road that makes up the final two miles to the club. I actually believe that if they needed a final car chase scene in a future Bond movie the road heading to The Meadow Club would make for a worthy candidate for consideration.
When you finally arrive at The Meadow Club you are immediately smitten with the landscape. It was clearly chosen with a good deal of thought and was the first American design from the hands of the good doctor Alister MacKenzie in tandem with Robert Hunter. A subsequent updating of the course by Mike DeVries in recent years has clearly resurrected a number of key elements while adding a bit more on the challenge side.
The opening hole -- a gentle soft par-5 -- belies what will clearly intensify as soon as you reach the 2nd hole. So much of the depth of The Meadow Club is tied to the details of the various greensites -- they are equally confounding and always finicky about what approach shots will succeed.
Fairway widths at The Meadow Club are generous but be advised that proper playing angles are often needed if one has plans to get near the hole.
Mid-length par-4's can be especially hard to create but The Meadow Club features a few. The uphill par-4 3rd is simply brilliant. Generally played into the prevailing wind the hole is protected on the left by a single bunker and a number of trees insert themselves into the process for those who stray. The green is marvelously elevated with a bevy of movements that require a surgeon's touch in avoiding a quick three or even four-putt.
The outward half also supplies two muscular par-4's -- at the 6th and 7th -- both playing into the prevailing wind. At the former you must place a tee shot between trees on one side and a meandering creek that lies just to the right. The boomerang green is another standout with a series of different pin locations that mandate nothing less than your best effort.
At the latter you face a 436-yard hole which provides for a hidden creek that runs in a serpentine manner up the left side. Taking the challenge in clearing the hazard can mean a short play to the green but the more prudent play is to give it a wider berth. The green is also well situated just in front of a hillside and getting one's approach close to the hole is certainly an issue.
The closing hole on the front is a fine long par-4 of 464 yards with a drive zone that mandates nothing but the finest of plays. The green is equal to the task as it includes closely mown edges that will quickly propel one's errant approach to a position further away from the where the pin is located.
The inward half of holes is considerably shorter than the outward but there's enough diversity to keep matters interesting. The 10th thru 13th are merely good but the meter ramps up in a big time manner for the final five holes. The par-3 14th is absolutely white-knuckle time as you must clear a menacing frontal pond and often it means handling a cross wind too. The green is angled nicely and there's a bailout to the right although those opting for that route will be tested to escape with par.
The uphill dog-leg left par-5 15th is first rate. Long hitters can attack the left side but the approach is all uphill to a demanding green. Birdies are possible here -- they're just not handed out like candy on Halloween.
The short par-4 16th is another example of design genius. The green is elevated above the fairway and features a false front that repels anything but the surest of approaches.
The 17th is the classic penultimate hole. Playing back into the prevailing wind -- the tee shot is arguably the toughest at The Meadow Club. There's room but the visual dynamic from the tee can truly inhibit one's backswing. The green, like others at the course, is bedeviling. There's a major separation between the front area and the larger size rear area. When the pin is placed just on top of the second landing -- whether right or left -- the approach must be gauged with resolute skill.
The closing hole is a great counterpoint. Playing to a max of 363 yards the key is avoiding a narrow creek that winds its way down the right side. The hole does bend to the right and those who attack that side have to be totally confident in having sufficient club to carry the menace. The green is above the fairway and from the vantage of the approach provides little in terms of how deep the pin actually is located.
The Meadow Club is a quintessential member's club. Plenty of fun and interesting shots are constant items throughout the round. Power is welcomed at key times but it's not a mandated item as the course stresses placement at all times. Having a deft touch with various chips and pitches is a sine qua non requisite. The greens are equally puzzling and are quick to pounce upon the golfer possessing hands that shake rather than stroke with purpose. All of the aforementioned is adroitly handled by exceptionally talented superintendent Sean Tully and his talented team. The playing surfaces are in total alignment with what the architecture calls upon.
The classic architecture contributions from the 1920's still holds true for today. The array of details is ever present and the need for proper assessments is ongoing for players to demonstrate. When the sun begins to drop the illumination of the property is simply mesmerizing. You can easily imagine the well-heeled early members who made the trek from San Francisco to this beguiling property. Hats off to the club leadership in bringing on board Mike DeVries and ensuring that what MacKenzie and Hunter envisioned still resonates today.
by M. James Ward
From my last tour I would have to say Meadow Club served up one of the most pleasant surprises. I didn’t have it on the schedule and a good friend that worked on the renovation said I had to go. An old MacKenzie gem situated across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and high up in the hills, so close to such a thriving metropolis yet so secluded and peaceful. A truly idyllic setting full of wildlife, warm sun and a cool breeze, not too mention being completely empty during my visit. Restored back in 2000 by Mike Devries and wow, what a wonderful and thoughtful job he did.
It’s a great routing with some very quirky holes. The par 4, 4th hole tee is up above the 3rd green, the fairway of the 3rd and 4th are separated by a row of trees that stop just where the ideal line of play is, pretty much anything left of the line of trees running at a slight diagonal from left to right down the right side of the players field of vision. They push you to try and take as aggressive a line as possible to shorten up this hole. That combined with the height of the tee box and the fact the hole plays significantly down hill makes you feel like you really need to launch one to secure a good position for the approach. In fact, this is not really the case but it’s fun how it plays with your head. The tough par 4 7th hills is a dog leg left uphill with a wee burn winding it’s way diagonally through part of your landing zone. The trick is to cut the corner as much as possible but make sure you are short of the burn. The left over shot is a challenge and in typical MacKenzie fashion once you are at the green and look back all the hazards are perfectly camouflaged. In fact, that’s consistent throughout the course. On the back 9 it’s really the 2 shotters that stick out with a run of strong holes at the end. My favorite was the par 4, 16th – a short par 4 with an absolutely wonderful green complex with perfect bunkering. See photo above.
What a wonderful members course Meadow Club is, however, it’s strongly advised against having more than a couple post round drinks if you have to navigate your own way down the narrow winding road back into town.