My dilemma is, every time I’m allowed to experience a private golf club, typically, I recall what the legendary comic Groucho Marx is credited to have once proclaimed, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Well, one visit to the Mayacama Club promptly put an end to that notion. By the time I was reluctantly obligated to abandon one of the club’s nine beautifully appointed, spacious one-bedroom casitas (also seven 3-bedroom villas on property) following my one-night sojourn, I was humoring myself trying to strategize a scheme to secure permanent residence and enroll in the elite membership.
The concept of golf and wine being synonymous with the “good life” is widely recognized, however, with support from a 2001 vintage Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course and 35 world-class vintner members representing some of most exclusive Napa and Sonoma wineries, Mayacama has set an extraordinarily high bar as a premier playground to drive a golf ball and pop a cork.
The only occasional quandary for members at this wine country Shangri-la is which activity takes precedence? Not in any way whatsoever to diminish the significant value of 18 fairways and greens created by arguably the game’s greatest-ever golfer, Mayacama can, perhaps, be categorized as an extravagant wine club that includes a golf course amenity paired with an oenophile’s dream 19th hole.
“With wine appreciation continuing to skyrocket, especially California varietals, and with the changes in the golf business during the last 15 years, when people look at joining a place like Mayacama, golf isn’t always at the top of their list,” explains Jonathan Wilhelm who, along with his father David and his partners, purchased 675 acres covering the club’s namesake mountains from Marv Soiland and Peanuts cartoonist, Charles Schulz, to develop the club in 1999. “Prospective members usually ask what else we offer for families and wives beyond just having a great golf experience. While we do provide plenty along those lines, we find our clientele is interested in understanding the wine program, what’s happening around Sonoma County and what Mayacama does within our community is equally important to having a great golf experience.”
Following a tranquil ten-minute drive heading west from the frenzied pace of Highway 101 in Santa Rosa and passing through the guarded entry, it is immediately visible how Mayacama blends into the soft rolling, oak-studded hills as if it’s existed for centuries. Now, after aging for nearly 15 years, a thriving 480-member roster has access to a home away from home to take advantage of 5-star resort amenities including a spa, tennis, swimming, bocce and hiking trails to view Sonoma County’s serene vistas.
“With the rising strength of the Bay Area economy, we’re witnessing a lot more family activity, especially from the younger generation, who may not necessarily have time because of work commitments to invest in a $3-$5 million home but rather, the means to invest in a private residence club that offers a place to stay for a few days and take advantage of all we have here, including our junior camp for member’s kids,” says Wilhelm.
During the initial stages of Mayacama, joining was a no-brainer for one of the very first vintner members, Tor Kenward, an executive with Beringer Vineyards for 27 years before founding (2001) TOR Kenward Family Wines in St. Helena. As a self-afflicted golfaholic, the game was assuredly a driving force to Kenward’s enrollment but it’s been the seductive wine country lifestyle culture of the club that’s kept him hooked and relishing every opportunity to drive over the hill from Napa Valley.
“Golf is so much like winemaking and fly fishing, which I also love, that once I get into it, I find the time spent playing just vanishes,” Kenward revealed. “It’s like magic time when I get to disappear and then return to the real world after having had a great mind laundry. I discovered this at Mayacama and it’s changed my life and introduced me to many incredible people by playing together or enjoying great conversation at the 19th hole. And as a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon guy, I can even get my covert Pinot fix, a favorite in Sonoma. One has to love a club that panders to your idiosyncrasies.”
Mayacama does not fall short in that department. But in the end, the wine experience is at the heart of the secluded mountaintop retreat and whether one is a vintner, golf or social member, topping the menu of perks for every member is a private wine locker located in the 3,000-square-foot cellar underneath the grandiose Tuscan-inspired clubhouse overlooking Nicklaus’ creation. With 500 individual compartments, each with enough space to occupy up to 50 bottles, this temperature-controlled room is ground zero for one of the world’s preeminent private club wine list that includes hard-to-get vintages from the vintner members, as well as rare wines from around the world.
It’s a collection that attracts a wealth of attention among members and at a club with a stimulating atmosphere of camaraderie it is common practice for one member to deliver a half-empty bottle to another’s dining table – not a chance that was happening with a 2013 TOR Melanson Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon my host contributed to dinner! Vintner golf members like Kenward can also sample a variety of coveted wines by participating in the weekly skins game. The only exception with this competition is the winner donates the wine.
“Regardless of the outcome, they are a great group to hang with, even if they do drink more Pinot than Cab,” says Kenward.
With such a strong reverence for fine wines, one of the most anticipated cork-popping events of the year at Mayacama occurs when all 35 vintner members, each of whom are obligated to provide a barrel equivalent of their own wines annually, gather for an all-day tasting when all club members can indulge in exclusive vintages from the likes of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Hundred Acre, The Duncan Family, Silver Oak, Miner, or Adamvs Winery complimented by seasonal cuisine prepared by Executive Chef Scott Pikey.
This vintage lineup certainly offers all the ingredients of a wine connoisseur’s bucket list and when affiliated with a golf course that can easily drive anyone to drink, Mayacama provides the ultimate slice of heaven in Sonoma Wine Country. NVL