The NCGA became the first regional golf association in the United States to own and operate two courses when it opened Poppy Ridge in Livermore in 1996.
Inspired by the successful opening of Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach 10 years earlier, the NCGA commissioned Golf Digest’s 1995 Architect of the Year Rees Jones to weave 27 holes through the vineyards of Livermore Valley.
Building a course near the East Bay also allowed the NCGA to serve the majority of its member base. Approximately 90,000 of the NCGA’s 150,000 members live within a 65-mile radius of Poppy Ridge.
“It was an opportunity to build something different,” Jones said. “Dad had the dunes at Spyglass Hill, (my brother) Bobby had the woods at Poppy Hills and I had the open site at Poppy Ridge. So it gave the NCGA an opportunity to have a different style golf course.”
Three nines as distinct as the grape varietals they are named after – Merlot, Chardonnay and Zinfandel – sweep through 3,000 acres of the toasted, savannah-covered hills that roll through Wine Country.
“It was a rugged piece of property,” Jones said. “It had fantastic views.”
But just one tree – a valley oak near the eighth hole of the Chardonnay nine.
“When you don’t have trees, you need something to define the shots,” Jones said. “You do that with contrasts of grasses. That’s really what the links look is all about, the brown hues versus the green. The native grasses were out there already, so we just incorporated what was natural, as my father and brother did on their sites.”
The fairways and greens pop from their golden surroundings, and vineyards just beyond the property provide a beautiful backdrop that can feel almost endless.
The routing at Poppy Ridge is clever in that all three nines close with a lakeside green in front of the majestic hacienda-style clubhouse. While the nines finish similarly, each is unique, as there is nearly 300 feet of elevation change between them.
Much of the Merlot nine is perched above the property, making it the most challenging and exposed in windy conditions. Zinfandel is flatter, and more trees come into play (nearly 400 were planted on the property when Poppy Ridge was built). It also has three lakes. Chardonnay is a combination of both topographies.