Course Review: Stone Tree Golf & the Stone Age…

I had a gift card for the Stone Tree Golf Club  (Novato, Calif.) and decided to give it a try the other day.   This is what would be considered a premium golf facility — at least the way it is priced:

Regular rounds run $85 with a bump up on Fridays to $95 and Weekends/Holidays running $120. Twilight starts at 2pm. Fees are $65/$75/$85. Super-Twilight runs $45.

The Good:

  • Holes 13 through 17 are, by far, the most challenging and fun I’ve ever had on a golf course. Plus, it is amazingly natureful.
  • Layout makes for ample mini-loop possibilities. Holes 1-6 are one loop. Holes 7-9 and 10-12 are mini 3-hole loops. And, as mentioned, 13-17 make a nice loop.


  • Stone Tree sets tee times 15 minutes apart. According to their website, the “Pace of Play” target is 15 minutes per hole or 4-1/2 hours per 18 holes. That’s with a cart. So with 15 minute start intervals, you shouldn’t run into another group if everyone keeps up the pace.

The Bad:

  • Extremely limited practice facilities. The practice facility consisted of some mats and nets, plus there was a putting green. The way the course is designed, you really need to be nice and warmed up with your timing figured out before you hit the first tee. Otherwise, you are sure to lose a sleeve or two of balls.
  • Expensive. A comparable course in the area is Hiddenbrooke Golf Club in Vallejo, Calif. Their rates are $65/$75/$95 for prime time (8 to noon) and then drop to $45/$50/$65 after 12 noon with another drop at 2pm. So playing at 3pm runs you $35/$40/$45. For that price you get a cart and RANGE BALLS! Yes, Hiddenbrooke has a natural grass warm-up facility.

The Ugly:applique

  • The Greens were in horrible shape — all patchy. They looked kind of like those applique stickers put on the bottom of the bathtub to keep from slipping. The course has an amazing design with a lot of undulations to the greens which would be challenging enough if the grass was in good shape. The condition was a source of frustration.
  • The “castle” of a club house facility. It is ostentatious and really purely exists for events (like weddings). It adds no value to the golfer experience and eats up valuable real estate that could be better used for — A PRACTICE FACILITY!


Others may second my emotion, or not. Many think it is too windy. It is windy pretty much everywhere I’ve played in the Bay Area so that didn’t bother me.


Now let’s address my experience with the personnel.

The Pro Shop attendant who booked my tee time seemed appalled that I was so enthusiastic about getting out on the course with nobody around me so I could play fast. “That’s not good for us,” he said.

The starter/bag drop attendant didn’t seem too thrilled that I was opting to walk while my playing partner took the cart. And he was completely surly when I spoke to him after going to the 1st tee and seeing a group of four putting on the first hole. We had been told the course was wide open and nobody had started for the last hour. When I asked, he said tersely, “That’s the 3:20″ group.” I held up my watch, which showed 2:50 pointing out our booked 3pm start time. He said, terse tone again, “Nobody was playing and they didn’t want to wait.” Subtitled, that translates to “Tough S#$%.” It is amazing how you are treated after they get your money. I’ll admit I let that exchange get to me and it took a while for me to get my rhythm out on the course.

On the managing expectation level, they get poor grades.


Stone Tree is a very challenging course. You can read the description on the website, but nothing prepares you for what you will encounter. It is the type of course you need to play several times to get a true feel for how to manage your way around the course. With that in mind, and in response to the glum Pro Shop guy, here are a few unsolicited suggestions:

  1. Offer to rent GPS devices, either in the cart or hand held. That way golfers know what to expect (bunkers, creeks, etc.).
  2. Make up for the lack of warm-up facilities by offering complimentary golf balls (a sleeve or two). This can be done cost-effectively if they work with a company like that offers quality used golf balls. I put my good balls back in my bag and played ones I’ve found just so I didn’t feel so horrible about missing a fairway or hitting into a creek that I didn’t know existed.
  3. Offer some creative packages, like a 3-pack or 6-pack that encourages return play at a discount. I very much wanted to revisit some holes –altering my approach — to see if the results differ. But I won’t do it at rack rate prices.
  4. Offer creative packages (Part 2) — What I’d love is some sort of loop-oriented package. For example, play Holes 13-17 repeatedly for one visit. That might be tough to manage, however if GPS options are available, the starter and pro shop folks would know where golfers are.
  5. For extra credit, they need to seriously reconsider the warm-up area. There has to be a way to carve out some more space to accommodate the need for loosening up.


Conclusion: When I step back and think about Stone Tree and other golf facilities like it that I have played in the last few years, I can’t help but think that golf as an industry is stuck in a time warp (Stone Age?!). The business plan is the same, year after year, even though rounds played are down and a new generation of athletic golfers is potentially emerging. I use the word “potentially” because those of us who are athletic and have played our share of Tiger Woods Golf on an Xbox and/or Playstation, have no patience for:

  • Slow play
  • Inadequate facilities
  • Poor user experience(s)

We like challenges, we like flexibility and we are willing to pay for a quality experience.

Golf really needs to enter the new millennium and follow the lead of tech companies, like Apple, who focus on the user experience.

It’s time to shutter the ornate, castle-like clubhouse structures and put money into improving the facilities that actually lead to better performances.  At minimum, spend some time revisiting the business model and making some adjustments. Getting more satisfied, repeat customers who’ll pay a premium is probably better than the old school, antiquated way the business is being run.



StoneTree Golf Club
9 StoneTree Lane
Novato, CA 94945
Phone: 415-209-6090

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  1. Scott Ostler talked about the “Playstation generation” in a story about Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

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