Mayacama: Golf heaven in California wine country

The exclusive destination club continues to invest in villas for members and guests to stay and play.
Mayacama's clubhouse sits on a hill overlooking the 18th green.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Arriving at the unmanned gate to enter Mayacama, I only see one thing - Hills!

They almost swallow you. They surround you. It's almost like driving through a vortex and landing somewhere back in time, long before Sonoma County became California wine country. As the gate opens, I enter a new world entirely. Paradise hasn't been lost. It's found right here ... for a fortunate few.

Jack Nicklaus built Mayacama's dramatic 6,785-yard layout in 2001, but this destination private club and community is experiencing a building boom of sorts. Four new three-bedroom villas called "residences" debuted last summer. The club will break ground on six more this spring. Once they are complete, the entire estate will boast 26 in total. The entire complex feels like a countryside Tuscan village.

Once members walk the course, which is mandatory, and wine and dine at the hilltop clubhouse, most should spend the night. The last thing any out-of-town member or guest should attempt is navigate winding, switchback roads in the dark. Best to crash in a well-appointed villa - like I did in August. To live this good life as a member, initiation fees start at $85,000.

Mayacama: The Course

The clubhouse at Mayacama sits on a hill overlooking the course.

Mayacama has a fearsome reputation as both a tough course and an even harder walk. Although both challenges are a bit overblown, those aforementioned hills are definitely a factor. Neither the walk - 8.04 miles according to my fitbit - nor the score I shot - high 80s, derailed by stupid lost-ball swings on the first two holes - felt overly deflating. In fact, the round was just about perfect once I settled in. From the 6,300-yard member tees, it's infinitely interesting with wild greens and surrounds.

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Nicklaus actually showed great restraint in his design, choosing my favored routing of five par 5s and five par 3s. There are more than a few forced carries over ravines and ponds, albeit nothing too drastic. The elevation changes are striking, especially off the skyward 15th tee. Unspoiled scenery unfolds as each new hole is revealed. Years from now, I'll recall the nerves I felt on the third tee trying to thread a 7 iron through a narrow chute in the trees toward a tiny green cut into a hillside. My caddie - required before 2 p.m. in peak season and noon in the offseason - probably saved me 4-5 strokes considering all the nuances in play.

Conditions were nothing less than impeccable.

Mayacama is building new villas, called residences, that are popular for members and guests who stay and play.

The same standard applies to the villas. Each offers 2,700 square feet of indoor and outdoor living. Two master suites, both accompanied by a private veranda, are separated by a central great room with a harvest dining table, kitchen home to a built-in grill and limestone fireplace. Guests can use the villa's dedicated golf cart to jet back and forth between the 40,000-square-foot clubhouse that serves as the gathering place.

A Mayacama Private Residence Club Membership offers a fractional ownership interest (1/10) with 28 nights guaranteed in one of the villas/residences or the 10 one-bedroom casitas on property, plus unlimited additional stays based on availability. There are also various homesites for sale within Mayacama for custom builds. For those with an unlimited budget, it would cost roughly $2.9 million to become a member and outright owner of a villa residence.

Mayacama: The Club Life

As good as the golf was, I think most members enjoy their time more hanging out on the clubhouse's refreshed outdoor sunset terrace. There they can savor the world's best wine, eat from a creative menu, soak up views to match and cozy up to outdoor fire pits. Three new vintner members has increased the total to 43 prestigious wine labels available at the club. Unique to Mayacama is a 3,500-square-foot, temperature-controlled wine cave that holds 500 wine lockers, where members can store their favorite bottles for a special occasion.

The sunset terrace is where members and guests gather for dinner and drinks in the evening.

The bar indoors where I enjoyed breakfast that morning has been remodeled as well. The clubhouse also houses a private spa, fitness center, game room, golf shop, meeting space and a wine grotto. Out front are bocce ball courts in an open-air courtyard. A pool with a snack bar and tennis court elsewhere entertains families with children and non-golfers. Two miles of hiking trails are of moderate difficulty.

Living in San Jose, I'm surrounded by clubs similar to Mayacama. There's Clear Creek Tahoe four hours east in Carson City, Nev., near Lake Tahoe and The Preserve an hour south on the Monterey Peninsula. I don't think it's a coincidence that cell phone service can be spotty at each off-the-beaten-path destination. It fosters a relaxed vibe and forces people to ignore emails and conference calls during their visits.

At Mayacama, all those hills provide the perfect barriers, cutting members and guests off from the demands of the modern world. Such isolation can be intoxicating. Enjoy another glass of wine or three.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Mayacama: Golf heaven in California wine country