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Journey to the Garden of Youth

Plus: Wine and Picnics in Northern California

My recent golf trip began on a hashish-clouded Haight-Ashbury street corner during the Summer of Love, 1967. I remember an amplified sitar, the smell of incense and an encounter with some long-haired runaways from my part of the country, the Midwest. "'Frisco's far out," a gaunt Joni Mitchell type told me. "But we're just crashin' till we get a ride over the bridge. Wanna come?"

The bridge, of course, was the Golden Gate, and the lotus land to which she referred was the Imaginary Coast, comprising Marin and Sonoma counties and the redwood country to the north. I had never been across the bridge. I pictured what lay beyond as a place where hippies camped under tie-dyed tents, baking banana bread and making candles. Friends from high school were visiting my garage apartment in Palo Alto, and they gave me bent looks that night when I told them of the offer. "Oh, wow," one of them said. "You should have gone."

Their eagerness for experience dwarfed mine. I was something of a control freak--a cola drinker, a meat eater, a library drone in pursuit of a Stanford degree. Like Clinton, I didn't inhale. And so I missed a lot.

December 1997. The wheels of my rented Skylark went throp, throp, throp. Sunlight sparkled on San Francisco Bay. My golf clubs were in the trunk.

As trips go--and I assume the risk in using a word reminted in the sixties--thirty years is a personal best. I did spend a working weekend at Napa Valley's Silverado Resort a few years ago, and I am vaguely aware that the Nike Tour stopped at the Windsor Golf Club, north of Santa Rosa. But I didn't start thinking about the land over the bridge until a couple of years ago, when the USGA picked San Francisco's Olympic Club at Lakeside for this year's U.S. Open. My golf-industry pals started booking tee times at Pebble Beach, Spy- glass and other familiar shrines along the Monterey coast, a hundred miles or so to the south.

"What's to the north?" I asked a Bay Area golf writer.

"Grapes," he replied, but he named several esteemed if underutilized golf courses and then snagged my interest by dropping the name of Alister Mackenzie, the renowned designer of Augusta National and Cypress Point. "Mackenzie built a little nine-hole course up by the Russian River," he said. "I don't remember what it's called, but the ninth hole is a deadly number. It's a par five so tight you have to walk single file down the fairway or your shoulders scrape the sides of huge redwood trees."

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