California's Mayacama features gorgeous greens plus the best wine list on the planet, courtesy of its cult vintner members.
(Fortune Magazine) -- Professional golfers and hackers alike try all sorts of unusual things to avoid the dreaded three-putt: cross-handed grips, staggered stances, elongated putters. Jayson Woodbridge has his own trick. He swings with one hand.
The approach doesn't help his score, but it has an ulterior benefit. "How else are you going to putt when you're holding a glass of wine?" he says during a recent round, sinking a five-footer with a puckish grin.
Welcome to Mayacama, the seven-year-old Jack Nicklaus-designed treasure of a golf course and country club at the base of the mountain range that divides Northern California's Napa and Sonoma counties. Recessions are tough on any recreational club, but in this business as in all others, it helps to have a unique sell. And for anyone whose passions include golf and wine, Mayacama is mecca.
Built on land purchased from legendary cartoonist Charles Schulz in 1999, the club attracts the celebrities of the wine world with its unique vintner-member program. To qualify, vintners, who make up 31 of the club's 430 regular members, need to produce wines scoring north of 92 points from Robert Parker or Wine Spectator. In exchange for a vastly reduced membership fee, they agree to host winemaker dinners and tastings and provide a barrel of the latest vintage at cost.
Woodbridge, the owner and winemaker of Hundred Acre & Layer Cake, is the latest vintner to sign on. Others include wine legends Bart Araujo, Bill Harlan, and Helen Turley, of Araujo, Harlan Estates, and Marcassin, respectively.
One of the hottest winemakers around, Ehren Jordan, of Failla and Turley, is also a member and playing in today's foursome, along with managing partner Jonathan Wilhelm. There isn't much open space left in wine country, so walking among a sprawling 675-acre expanse feels like a true escape. Jordan, an avid pilot, is known to fly to Oregon's Bandon Dunes for a day of golf, but Mayacama is a lot closer to home. Not to mention the caddy here is happy to lug a couple of bottles of DuMol chardonnay along with two sets of clubs. Says Jordan: "I like to prune the vineyards about now, but there's no urgency to that. This is a great opportunity to just refresh, and renew yourself."
Of course the real purpose of the vintner program is to attract run-of-the-mill members - i.e., anyone willing to pay an initiation fee of as much as $250,000 for unlimited golf, as well as a wine list featuring impossible-to-get bottles at unbeatable prices.
As for the golf, Mayacama consistently ranks among Golf Digest's top 100 U.S. courses. But that's not doing the experience justice. There are no tee times at Mayacama, and looking out across the serene course, it's easy to understand why. In three rounds I encountered a half-dozen or so other foursomes, total.
The course favors a left-to-right fade, as Nicklaus tracks often do. Not to mention a strong liver and a fair dose of humility. "Did you know Mayacama is an old Indian word?" jokes vintner member Tor Kenward of Tor Kenward Family Wines. "It means double bogey."
Mayacama's first appeal is golf. But wine runs a close second. The prices might not seem like bargains to the average duffer, but these wines are either impossible to get or otherwise sell for multiples in Bay Area restaurants. Three highlights from Mayacama's wine list:
2004 Harlan Estate, Napa Valley (98 points, Robert Parker): If you could get on the allocation list (you can't), this wine would cost $600 a bottle. Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco sells it for $1,500. Thanks to the club's relationship with original vintner member Bill Harlan, it's $510 at Mayacama.
2003 Araujo Estate Wines, Eisele Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (98 points, Robert Parker): Eisele Vineyard has produced some of the country's best cabernet for 40 years. Made by vintner member Bart Araujo, this bottle sells for $580 at Gary Danko but is only $255 at Mayacama.
2005 Hundred Acre, Ark, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (98 points, Robert Parker): Critical darling and self-taught winemaker Jayson Woodbridge is Mayacama's newest vintner member. This bottle sells for $540 at San Francisco's Fifth Floor and $250 at Mayacama.