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This is not a golf resort, per se, but guests at the Sonoma Mission Inn receive playing privileges at nearby Sonoma Golf Club, which was host to the Champions Tour's season-ending Charles Schwab Championship from 2003 to 2009.

Designed by Sam Whiting of Olympic Club fame and opened in 1926, Sonoma Golf Club has long been ranked as one of the best golf courses in California from the beginning.

Updated by Robert Muir Graves in 1991, this is a traditional golf course of the first order, featuring tall oaks and redwoods, gradual but no drastic elevation changes and subtle greens.

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The course plays to 7,103 yards from the back tees, with a par of 72 and a slope of 132, and offers scenic views of the Mayacamas Mountains. The spectacular Spanish-style clubhouse opened in 2005.

Despite its storied history, Sonoma Golf Club is something of a secret golfing treasure, perhaps because it is tucked away in a sleepy corner of Northern California's Wine Country.

Sam Snead often claimed it was his favorite course in the world and he especially enjoyed the par-3, 219-yard seventh hole, which plays through a little hollow of ground surrounded by trees. There is a gully to the right, and oaks and two traps guard the left side of a green that has several levels.

That's the start of an exceptional three-hole windup to the front nine that includes the downhill 596-yard eighth, which features a hidden bunker on the right side of the driving area, and the 345-yard ninth, which plays uphill to a three-tiered green that is heavily bunkered.

The 557-yard 13th offers a chance for a birdie, but the critical second shot must steer clear of a lake on the right and two bunkers on the left.

Nos. 15 and 18, both doglegs right, are two of the best par 4s on the course.

The first measures 436 yards and requires two well-struck shots to get home, with trees down the right a real problem.

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On the finishing hole, a bunker and line of trees make it problematic to cut the corner. The green, which slopes dramatically from back to front, is guarded by a creek that can't be seen from the fairway.

(Eagle Vines Golf Club)

OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Eagle Vines Golf Club in neighboring Napa is part of a 45-hole complex that includes Chardonnay Golf club. The three nines -- the Lakes, Meadows and Vineyards -- meander through the vineyards at Chardonnay, which will become a private course once it reaches its membership goal.

Silverado Resort in Napa, which hosted the PGA Tour in years past, offers the challenging 6,700-yard South Course, and the more forgiving North Course, which measures 6,500 yards.

Not far away are the Links at Bodega Harbour in Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his classic thriller, "The Birds,"

WHERE TO STAY: The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, with its elegant Spanish architecture that replicates the California Missions established by Franciscan Father Junipero Serra, has been a favorite of visitors to Northern California's Wine Country since it opened in 1927.

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Native Americans discovered the natural underground hot mineral waters on the site hundreds of years ago and Dr. T.M. Leavenworth, an eccentric San Francisco physician, was the first to commercially develop the hot springs in 1840.

In 1895, Captain H.E. Boyes, an enterprising young Englishman, acquired the property and struck 112-degree water at 70 feet while drilling a well. Within five years, he had built the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel on the site of the current property.

In 1923, a fire destroyed the hotel and most of Boyes Hot Springs, but out of the ashes rose the Sonoma Mission Inn. In 1980, a major renovation returned the Inn to its 1920s grandeur, and the Spa was added in 1981.

Renovations completed in 2000 included expansion of the Spa to 40,000-square- feet, where guests can receive a myriad of body, facial, hair and other beauty treatments.

The Sonoma Mission Inn also offers biking, hiking and a full-service fitness center. Dine just off the lobby in the Sante Restaurant, with its international reputation for the finest in cuisine, or at The Big 3, owned by the Inn and located right outside the front gate, with its 50-year history of serving fine food in a casual atmosphere.

Several tasting rooms are nearby, including the Mayo Family Winery in the town of Glen Ellen, where they say the ghost of Jack London resides. Also close is Kenwood Vineyards, which produces the unique Jack London series of wines from grapes grown in the red volcanic soil on the famed author's ranch.

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