Courses / Travel

U.S. Women’s Open visits CordeValle, marks long-overdue return to the Golden State

2016 - A view of hole no. 17 at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif.
2016 - A view of hole no. 17 at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif. (Golfweek/Tracy Wilcox)

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – It was three years ago – May 15, 2013, to be exact – that Bill Murphy was scuffling through the first few holes here at CordeValle Golf Club. On the sixth hole, a potentially reachable par 5, Murphy had an inspiration. He called Clos LaChance Winery, which he founded, and placed an order – an emergency wine, if you will.

Then, like an angel from above, his daughter Kristin walked down the hill from Clos LaChance, just a lob wedge removed from the sixth green, bearing a glass of Chardonnay.

Refreshed, Murphy stepped onto the seventh tee, 155 yards to a front left pin, pulled a 7-iron and jarred it for his lone hole-in-one.

Is it a coincidence that he aced the seventh after a glass of wine? He thinks not.

“The wine definitely improved my attitude and disposition,” Murphy said.

So let’s stipulate before we go any further: Good wine promotes good golf. The world’s best female golfers might want to remember that when they arrive here at Rosewood CordeValle to play the U.S. Women’s Open on July 7-10.

CordeValle initially was conceived as a private club for Silicon Valley. The Robert Trent Jones Jr. design opened in 1999, and, with a modified business plan, a resort was built soon thereafter. For the past decade, this boutique property has been operated by Rosewood Hotels and Resorts.

Rosewood CordeValle is located 30 miles south of San Jose, in what has been known for the past century as Hayes Valley in recognition of Frank Hayes, the farmer who used to tend the land, including the vineyards, in the early 20th century.

These days it stands as proof that a resort doesn’t need an oceanfront to have a memorable setting. The 45 spacious guest rooms, complete with fireplaces and bathrooms the size of a San Francisco studio apartment, line the hillside, overlooking the course and the golden hills that frame it. There are few more peaceful settings to wake up to, and few better ways to follow an afternoon round than by sitting on the veranda of the One Iron Bar as the sun sets behind the hills near Clos LaChance.

San Martin sits in the heart of “America’s Salad Bowl,” so named because it produces much of the nation’s fruit and vegetables. When your backyard garden can produce pretty much anything your guests could ever desire, that’s a competitive advantage, and CordeValle seizes upon it with local ingredients presented simply and elegantly.

“Food is medicine” is how Chris Vigilante, the resort’s food and beverage manager, describes his philosophy. “The more real the food is, the better it is for you.”

Clos LaChance is prominent among the resort’s expansive wine offerings. Murphy launched the business during his 30-year career with Hewlett-Packard, then retired in 2000 and turned his full attention to winemaking.

“It was time for me to be repotted,” he said.

If you’re going to be repotted, where better to do it than on this fertile land? Winemaking has long been a part of the culture here; Murphy notes that centuries ago missionaries planted vines through the valley as they moved north.

He got the idea to do the same thing, but needed good land for his vineyards.

“You can make lousy wine out of great grapes,” he reasoned, “but you can’t make great wine out of lousy grapes.”

So Murphy hit upon a novel idea: He formed a company to plant, maintain and harvest vineyards at some 50 private residences in the region. He offered to pay cash to the landowners, but found that most of them wanted to be paid in wine. It makes sense if you think about it. If you had guests for dinner, wouldn’t you want to pour wine made from your private vineyard and served in bottles bearing your family label?

When Murphy decided to make it a full-fledged business, he needed more land. By happy coincidence, CordeValle’s developer needed an agricultural component. Clos LaChance opened above the sixth green in 2002.

Though the resort and winery are separately owned, they maintain a close relationship, with the winery effectively serving as an amenity for CordeValle’s guests.

During the Women’s Open, Clos LaChance figures to be a particularly festive place to watch the tournament or take a break from walking the course. Spectators will be able to go there for food and drink, with TVs showing the coverage.

This being a national championship, things don’t figure to be so cushy for the players.

2016 - A view of CordeValle from the Clos LaChance winery in San Martin, Calif. / Golfweek/Tracy Wilcox

Remarkably, this will be just the third time in the 71-year history of the Women’s Open that the U.S. Golf Association has taken the championship to California, and the first time since 1982. In CordeValle, the USGA chose a course that produced some fireworks when the PGA Tour’s former Open visited in 2010-13, and could do the same in July.

The USGA’s Ben Kimball, who runs the tournament, noted that the par 5s will play relatively short, but “the teeth in the golf course is the really strong par 4s in the middle of both sides.”

For operational ease, holes 1-3 will become Nos. 7-9 for the championship. So the opening two holes – Nos. 4 and 5 for members – are medium to long par 4s, played into a westerly breeze, that could present an immediate challenge.

Kimball said the USGA is intrigued by a design that will allow players to bounce the ball into some of the longer par 4s. That also might be necessary to attack pins on the par-3 fourth (No. 7 for members) and 12th.

“We’re trying to set it up so it’s not a long-hitters’ golf course,” Kimball said. “The architecture allows us to bring the field tighter together on that front.”

One of the wild cards will be the fifth (No. 8 for members) that the USGA will have the option of setting up as an all-carry, drivable par 4. Kimball said that if the USGA uses the forward tee, it probably won’t be until the weekend because of concerns about play backing up on the hole.

Though that might be the best birdie opportunity on the course, there’s certain to be some anguish along the way. It is, after all, a Women’s Open.

If the women find themselves struggling early in the round, they might want to borrow a cue from Murphy and ring up to Clos LaChance for some midround refreshments.

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