Being one of the oldest and prettiest nine-hole layouts in the western United States has made Aetna Springs Golf Course worth the occasional 30- to 60-minute drive from St. Helena or Napa, or as a side trip for those visiting the Napa Valley from elsewhere in the world.
Unfortunately for the 125-year-old facility in Pope Valley, set between rolling vineyards with mountain views, those visits have become too occasional for the owners – the Dallas Police and Fire Department Pension Fund – to keep it open past Sunday.
“There’s a new prospective owner,” Aetna Springs Director of Operations David Cage said Friday afternoon. “He hasn’t purchased it yet, but he’s in the process of doing due diligence – and I heard he’s just going to build home sites around here.”
Cage said he was informed of this weekend’s closure only a week and a half ago, and has been telling golfers about it when they’ve called to make tee times.
Ironically, it’s led to a boost in business.
“We’ve been really busy this week, everybody trying to get their last round in,” he said at noon Friday. “We have over 30 people right now, and tomorrow’s going to be very busy and I’m sure Sunday will be even busier.”
Cage said about 4,800 rounds were played in all of 2017 – which works out to 13 a day. Despite reasonable rates, the course averaged only about 20 weekday rounds a day during the week and 25 to 35 during weekends this past summer, he said, and those rounds started dropping come September.
“It’s very sad,” Cage said. “It’s such a great little golf course with beautiful scenery. People have come from all over the world to play it. It’s a shame it’s in such a remote location. It’s hard to get to for most folks. I think that’s the drawback of the facility.”
The course was closed in 2007 while it was revamped by famed golf course architect Tom Doak and while a new clubhouse was built. It was ranked No. 4 among the country’s nine-holers by Golf Digest in 2010.
There has been debate as to whether is Aetna Springs is the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi River, as its website claims. If one requires the course to have been continuously operating since its opening date, or have been nine or 18 holes since then, Aetna Springs would not be the oldest.
It had only five holes when it opened in 1891 and didn’t become a nine-holer until 1893, a year after Gearhart Golf Links on the Oregon coast opened with nine.
But most would agree it’s hardly modern with its minimalist design and the way each hole is different from the next, making it a unique experience those who have played it are sure to miss.
Sunday will be a sad day for Cage, who can immediately go over the most minute detail of every hole at Aetna Springs when asked about it. An employee of Troon Golf and Club Management, he said he’s “exploring a couple of opportunities with them in other parts of the country.”
Asked if there’s any chance the course will survive, Cage said “I don’t believe so, unless this deal falls through. (It’s too hard for an owner to) continuously every month write a check to keep it going.”