OUT ON THE Northern California coast, where the fog predictably rolls in late most afternoons, it is refreshing to find an unconventional golf resort looking for new ways to attract women golfers. Yesterday the Rock and I played 18 holes at the Little River Golf Course, which meant we went around the challenging, narrow, tree-filled nine-holer twice. Assistant manager Kathy Shepley greeted us, superintendent Terry Stratton zipped by when we were on the course to say hello (and hear our compliments on the pristine greens), and manager Justin Pyorre and director of golf Wayne Salyards joined us for an impromptu conversation after the round about attracting more women players.
THE RESORT ITSELF HAS PLENTY OF MALE AND FEMALE APPEAL. ITS CHARACTER CAN BE TRACED TO 1863, WHEN SILAS COOMBS BUILT THE FAMILY HOME HERE.
His great-great-granddaughter Cally Dym today runs the 65-room Little River Inn with a restaurant, spa and golf course, all of which her grandfather Ole founded in the 1940s as the Little River Inn. The family has continually upgraded the property, which is gorgeously landscaped and overlooks the rugged coastline below. Cally’s husband, Marc, is executive chef in the highly-rated restaurant. Mendocino, a cool town of Victorians, art galleries and restaurants is a 5-minute drive north, and San Francisco and Oakland are three hours south.
The Rock was disappointed at not having the Golf Channel, but the TVs here are small for good reason. It’s a destination for the romantic, for the active, for the lovers of nature. The best seat in the house is probably on your deck.
SO WHAT WOMAN WOULDN’T WANT TO VISIT THE LITTLE RIVER INN?
Yet play on the resort golf course does not approach the industry average of 20 percent women. “I’d say we’re probably more like 8 percent,” Kathy said.
Kathy and Justin have begun measures to change that. They got a women’s club going, and made the men’s club welcoming to women with a monthly co-ed barbecue. They’re starting a mentoring program because, notes Kathy, “Lessons are one thing, but there’s a lot more to getting comfortable on the golf course than just lessons.”
Even the superintendent is attuned to the mission. The forward tees measure 5,049 yards played twice (68.8 rating and 122 slope), but because of the damp air, hills and soft turf, they feel much longer than that. When I suggested to Terry that the opening hole might prove more welcoming with the tees moved up considerably so women can see the green, he instantly envisioned where to put those.
And there’s already a more forward set of tees newly installed at 3,938 yards (62.7 rating, 99 slope) — we noticed a trio of super-seniors enjoying those in front of us. With those options plus the challenge, the scenery, and the ever-changing weather conditions, I could play the course every day for a week and not get bored.
ONE OTHER AMENITY WON ME OVER AT THE LITTLE RIVER INN GOLF COURSE.
At the turn I went into the shop for a couple of bottles of water, and there in the beverage case I saw a half-bottle of Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc. Not one of those cheap little mini-bottles of some nondescript, mass-produced chardonnay that golf course beverage carts and airlines pass off as wine, but an actual half-bottle of a delicious and somewhat local nectar.
“You wouldn’t believe how many of those we sell,” Kathy said.
She sold at least one yesterday.
Golf packages for two start at $266 at the Little River Inn — but keep an eye out for some pal packages designed with a foursome of gal pals in mind. The Little River Inn’s women’s initiative is just getting started.