|Charles Schwab Cup Championship has found a great home - 9/28/2004|
By George Fuller, PGA TOUR.COM Contributor
When director Chad Chatlos talks about the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the annual season-ending Champions Tour event held at the Sonoma Golf Club in October, he talks about the pairing of two very appealing elements: California's renowned Wine Country and the PGA TOUR.
But Chatlos sees the Charles Schwab Championship in bigger terms. "The way for this tournament to be successful," he says, "is for the entire San Francisco Bay Area to embrace it."
To this end, he has embarked upon a mission to bring together the movers and shakers of San Francisco's business community with those avid golf fans who will relish the opportunity to experience the charm of Sonoma while rooting for their favorite legends of the game.
"This tournament has something for everyone," Chatlos says. "There's so much to do out here. Kids 16 and under get in free, and we will have several clinics and other activities for them. A family of four can come out and enjoy a fun day at the tournament for less than $100. That's less than taking tem to the ball game."
Adults, meanwhile, will enjoy an on-course Wine Festival where they can taste selections from some of Sonoma and Napa's best wineries. Chateau St. Jean, Berringer, Chalk Hill and Ferrari-Carrano are among those who will be represented.
The Charles Schwab Cup Championship was first hosted by Sonoma Golf Club in 2003, producing an exciting win by Jim Thorpe over Tom Watson. It gathers the Champions Tour's top 30 money winners of the current season and the top 16 money winners of the year's Grand Champions competition (open to players 60 and older).
This year, among the players trying to dethrone Thorpe will be Hale Irwin, Gil Morgan, Craig Stadler, Tom Kite, Peter Jacobsen and Fuzzy Zoeller.
In addition to the fact that entry is limited to those who had strong seasons, one of the reasons the event is so popular is that this is the 30th and final event in the race for the Charles Schwab Cup, a season-long competition which awards $2.1 million in annunities to the top five points winners. Points are awarded weekly to the top-10 finishers in official Champions Tour money events.
In other words, to do well in Sonoma could mean quite a lot of bonus cash.
"That, and the fact that the players' wives love it here," Chatlos says.
Indeed, what's not to love? Many of the players and their families stay at the venerable Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. The recommended accomodations choice in the area, the Sonoma Mission Inn sits on a historic hot springs site that was first used by Native Americans who hundreds of years ago constructed a sweat lodge above the healing waters. Since te 1840s, when a hotel first opened here, Sonoma's famed hot springs have been a popular health retreat for San Franciscans looking to "take the waters." Architectually, the inn is a replica of a California mission. The classic property came under the nurturing wing of the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts two years ago. Ongoing improvements, upgrades and additions have brought new spirit to this special place.
Elegant rooms and suites reflect a French Provincial, wine-country theme. Tiled bathrooms, earthen pots and leather couches and chairs make the rooms quite comfortable, although players report their wives generally spend more time in the spa than anywhere else.
The beautiful domed spa building is stretched on two levels, AA spa boutique, spa cafe and lounge chairs found upstairs, while pools, locker rooms, eucalyptus steam room, 97-degree Roman bathing ritual tub, jacuzzi and relaxation area is located on the ground floor.
The spa offers standard treatments and more. Aromatherapy, stone, Thai, shiatsu and reflexology are included on the massage list. For a slightly different massage, aptrons can float in the Watsu pool for a treatment done "al fresco" in the 96-degree thermal mineral water.
A list of body wraps, scrubs, floatation treatments and recommended facials round out the list. No matter what treatments are selected, memories of this luxury spa will be lasting ones.
Aside from elegant accomodations and the popular spa, guests have the opportunity to sample Chef Bruno Tison's cuisine that is expertly paired with Sommelier Eric Henson's selections of wines in Sante, the inn's signature restaurant.
Tison's flexible menu allows diners to choose three or four courses from among a wide selection of foods, prepared with a light hand on the salt and spice jars, all the better for health reasons, but also to allow your wine selections to carry much of the flavor responsabilities. Favorites include the Spiced Rum Beef Short Ribs with Organic Trumpet Royale Mushrooms on the chef's tasting menu and the Assorted Sonoma Cheese Plate for a memorable item from the dessert menu.
The course over which the tournament is contested, Sonoma Golf Club, is a Golden Age, 1928 William "Willie" Watson and Sam Whiting design. Watson's other Bay Area designs, for which Whiting acted as co-designer and construction supervisor, also include the Olympic Club's Lake Course and Harding Park.
At Sonoma Golf Club, Watson and Whiting created a layout that doesn't make you tighten your golf glove and shoelaces to achieve extra length, but instead asks you to hit position tee shots to fairway landing zones and approach shots that come to rest on the correct quadrant of the big, click greens. Hundreds of mature oak and eucalyptus trees overhang the greens, fairways and tee boxes, and dozens of mainucred bunkersdot the landscape.
While Sonoma Golf Club may not ave the overall demands of the Olympic Club, for example, it does extract a toll on the par-3 holes -- three of which are longer than 200 yards -- where the size of the greens is a major factor.
In 2004, some new bunkers were added to the left side of No. 18 to prevent shortcutting the hole. the course has been lengthened in recent years, and will play just over 7,000 yards during the Charles Schwab Cup -- but the design is chiefly the same as it was when Watson and Whiting finished the project almost 80 years ago.
Tournament proceeds will benefit many Bay Area non-profits, including Valley of the Moon Boys & Girls Club, The First Tee of San Francisco, Sonoma Mentoring Alliance and the V Foundation Wine Celebration.
Anyone who has visited Sonoma in the past will remember its small-town charm and laid-back appeal. In contrast to its high-profile and more crowded neighbor Napa, Sonoma has once gone to great lengths to retain its mom-and-pop stores, its farming lifestyle and its resistance to growth. You won't find a Burger King or Chanel store here, residents like to point out.
That's just fine with Chatlos and the Charles Schwab Cup contestants. The town's character, they hope, paired with world-class golf and top-tier accomodations, is what will keep thw San Francisco Bay Area coming back for years.