The name of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open venue, CordeValle, comes from the Spanish phrase el corazon del valle, or “heart of the valley.” Indeed, this tranquil and scenic Northern California resort course, located in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains just 30 minutes south of San Jose, will get right to the heart of determining a champion in July.
CordeValle’s Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course opened for play in 1999 and has already shown itself to be a worthy challenge. The USGA brought the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship here in 2013, which was also the last of four consecutive years that CordeValle hosted the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open. The PGA Cup, a team match-play event featuring top PGA professionals from the USA and Great Britain & Ireland, was contested here in 2011 and 2015.
Now, the world’s best female professionals and amateurs will get their shot as the 71st U.S. Women’s Open takes place here from July 7-10. It is the third U.S. Women’s Open ever held in California, with the last coming in 1982 at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento.
Competitors will find a fair and challenging layout routed across scenic former farmland and an adjacent vineyard.
“It’s easy to get lost in the beauty and serenity of CordeValle,” said the USGA’s Ben Kimball, the director of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship. “But rest assured this golf course will serve as a wonderful stage to help us find our next U.S. Women’s Open champion.”
One of the most notable aspects of CordeValle is the scenery, which will be immediately striking to the tens of thousands of spectators expected to watch in person and to the worldwide broadcast audience. Huge oaks and spruce trees line the property. They are impressive specimens – twisted and gnarled from an earlier age at CordeValle when farming was the main passion here.
The surrounding foothills are covered with a variety of native grasses and rock outcroppings that provide visual contrast and also create pathways for the wind, which can be vexing at times. They also provide a bit of an echo chamber for train whistles, which are a regular occurrence.
CordeValle is notable for its bunkers – 68 in all, covering 11.2 acres of the course. Many feature steep faces that result in at least a half-shot penalty for players who try to extricate themselves.
There will be a routing change to the course for the U.S. Women’s Open to ease crowd flow and allow for an easier two-tee start. The par 4 that usually plays as the fourth hole will become the first hole for the championship.
On these opening holes, players are confronted by spacious fairways, many bordering the Clos LaChance Winery. Water hazards are smartly integrated, as seen on the holes that will play as the par-3 eighth and par-5 ninth for the championship. The green complex on No. 8 is fairly tame on the left side, yet a small creek runs along the right edge of the bentgrass green, awaiting wayward tee shots. The same creek comes into play on the ninth, where it cuts into the fairway twice and forces players to think hard about strategy. Holes 10-18 are more integrated with the topography, and the nine starts with two long uphill par 4s dotted by dozens of bunkers. The par-4 13th hole plays directly into one of the hillsides, with the prevailing wind blowing over the landscape and rustling the nearby trees.
The par-5 18th hole has the makings for what might be an outstanding finish at the U.S. Women’s Open. Players begin from an elevated teeing ground, and in the distance they see a stream that crosses the fairway roughly 300 yards away. Beyond the creek, a large lake runs down the entire left side of fairway until it reaches the putting surface. The bravest players may be thinking about getting home in two shots here, but the water will factor into their decision.
Beyond being a worthy championship venue, CordeValle is also setting a sustainability example for its embrace of responsible course management practices. The resort has taken taken large swaths of previously maintained turf out of play.
“We just had a lot of green grass there, but it really was never in play,” said Michael Marion, CordeValle’s director of golf operations. “We took it out to save water and people didn’t even notice. It’s an acre here or there, but it all helps with water conservation, which is key in California.”
It’s another example of how this multi-faceted resort near the Silicon Valley is leading on many fronts as we approach the biggest championship in the women’s game. For tickets and more information on the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open, click here.
Art Stricklin is a freelance writer based in Texas.