Golf may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Mendocino area – rugged coastal scenery, crashing surf, and quaint seaside B & B’s are more commonly associated with the region than the ancient Scottish game. But if you are a golfer and you are heading up to Mendocino/Fort Bragg for a little North Coast downtime, there is a golf course in the area that makes it worth your while to toss your golf gear in the trunk along with your suitcase – the Little River Inn Golf Course.
Tucked behind the Little River Inn, which is located right on Highway 1, three miles south of Mendocino, the Little River Inn’s layout is a handsome 9-hole golf course that winds through the wooded mountainside behind the inn.
The Little River Inn Golf Course, like so much in American golf, owes its existence, indirectly, to Arnold Palmer. The inn’s owner, Ole Hervilla, was inspired to add a golf course to his resort after watching Palmer on TV in the mid-1950s. When consultations with a succession of golf course architects drew higher and higher estimates for the design and construction of a 9-hole layout in the wooded hills behind his inn, Hervilla took on the task himself. Working with local contractors, Hervilla laid out and built the course as a DIY job, opening for play in 1957.
The wooded setting of the Little River Inn course will remind Bay Area golfers of such local layouts as Boulder Creek Golf Club and Delaveaga, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and like those two courses, Little River Inn’s well-sized, but tree-lined, fairways place a premium on accuracy off the tee. The hilly location introduces a welcome variety, with some uphill reaches either off the tee or on approach shots, some holes with significant drops from tee to green, and some visually-intimidating carries across bush-filled ravines. Gas-powered golf carts are available, but not required, though it is worth noting that the hilly layout is a challenging walk.
The course can play as nine or eighteen holes, allowing the vacationing golfer the flexibility to get in a quick morning nine before a day of sightseeing in Mendocino or Fort Bragg, or a longer round on the full eighteen.
Two sets of tees, blue and white, lend variety to the second nine, and the second loop is also enhanced by the use of alternate greens on the par-3 seventh/sixteenth and the par-3/4 ninth/eighteenth holes. The sixteenth hole stretches to 203 yards from 141 when played as the seventh, and the finishing green for the eighteenth changes the hole from a 177-yard par-3 to a 273-yard par-4, stretching the back nine to par-36, for a full eighteen par of 71.
Two holes on the course are likely to stand out in your memory after a round:
The opening hole – a mildly uphill, straightaway par-4 that looks straightforward on paper, but features a blind tee shot to a slightly left-slanting fairway – with water left.
The par-5 fourth, which features a 150-yard-plus carry across a ravine to the fairway, is a hard-left dogleg which requires a high draw or a corner-hugging straight drive of 260-plus to leave a line-of-sight approach to the green. From a good position in the fairway your second shot is still 210-plus, uphill, to a green which is a good 50 to 60 feet above the corner of the fairway. The 4th hole plays as a par-4 from the red tees when played as #13, giving an 18-hole total of 70 from the reds.
Little River Inn features a fully-equipped pro shop, and a driving range and short-game practice area for your pre-round warm-up. Well-tended grounds, with some of the nicest greens you are likely to find on such a reasonably-priced course, make Little River Inn a delightful course to play for the vacationing golfer. With views of the Pacific competing for your attention with the wooded scenery around the course, Little River Inn is a fine complement to a North Coast vacation, and a great value as well, with a nine-hole rate of $25, $40 for the full eighteen.
Yardage: Blue/white tees – 2650/2808: 5458, Red tees – 2489/2511: 5000
Slope rating: Blue/white tees – 67.9/121, Red tees – 69.0/121
Green fees: 9 holes / 18 holes – $25 / $40
Motor Cart rental: $18 / $26
Pull Cart: $5 / $7
Club rental: $25
Twilight rates – 1 p.m. winter/2 p.m. summer: $20
Range: Small bucket – $4 Large bucket – $8
Pro Shop/Golf Course telephone: 707-937-5667