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January 22, 2014

About Town: Mike McDonnell


Meadowood Napa Valley Head Croquet Professional Mike McDonnell swears that the key to his winning technique can be attributed to what he calls the “walk and stalk.” He says players need to walk along the line on the lawn where they would like the ball to roll before actually hitting it. Such tips come from a lifetime of playing the sport. Mike, who grew up in Southern California, learned to play croquet at age 5 on his family’s Pacific Palisades home court. His father, Croquet Hall of Famer Tom McDonnell—introduced to the sport by producer Sam Goldwyn—frequently assembled an array of players and actors for competitions during weekends and holidays. Years later, at the family’s St. Helena home court, Bill Harlan and Tom hatched a plan to create a lawn on the Meadowood property in time to host the U.S. Croquet Championships in 1986. Meanwhile, Mike continued to compete but also pursued a music career, playing bass for Maynard Ferguson and directing music for Tom Jones. But Mike eventually returned home in 1996. In 2010, Harlan appointed him to oversee the Jerry Stark Memorial Croquet Lawns at Meadowood. Away from the mallets and balls, Mike continues to play professionally with Chris Hayes of Huey Lewis and the News. When he’s not dressed in croquet whites or tuning his guitars, Mike can be found at his favorite haunts, on mountain trails in wine country, or at local hotspots in the Bay Area.

by Ellie June

SONOMA COUNTY AIRPORT I love to fly, so when the weather permits, I’ll take off at dawn and soar over the valley. I leave from Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport. Dawn flights are picture perfect. Or, I’ll catch a sight-seeing flight with friends at Sonoma Helicopters.

DILLON BEACH When I’m not working or recording music in my studio, I love taking my cow dog Martin to Dillon Beach, located at the mouth of Tomales Bay, just south of Bodega Bay and let him run around. It’s a great spot to let your dog run off-leash since it’s privately owned.

OAT HILL MINE TRAILHEAD One of my favorite hiking spots, Oat Hill Mine Trailhead, is in Calistoga. The views up high in the palisades are just spectacular since you are actually over Calistoga. Also, Mount St. Helena is a beautiful hike.

THE SPA AT MEADOWOOD I get a great workout at Meadowood in St. Helena, followed by breakfast at The Grill. I have to admit that I have a severe weakness for the fluffy pancakes, even after a workout. They are so good!

RUTHERFORD GRILL There are so many amazing dining options in the Napa Valley that choosing one can be a challenge. The Rutherford Grill in Rutherford is very high on my list, the grilled artichoke appetizer there is simply amazing.

YOSHI’S and LA CONDESSA My favorite place for live music and jazz is Yoshi’s in San Francisco on Fillmore Street. A little closer to home, La Condessa in St Helena is the best place for a top shelf margarita and live jazz.

FISHER VINEYARDS Exploring wineries is always a fun activity. My favorite is Fisher Vineyards up in the Mayacamas Mountains just west of St. Helena. The Coach Insignia Cabernet is divine, and the setting is breathtaking.

CROQUET Late afternoons often lead to croquet whites and bubbles on the lawns at Meadowood. A civilized game of croquet with a glass of Schramsberg is the ultimate wind down.

CAMEO CINEMA This is my favorite place to see a movie in St. Helena. Where else can you enjoy a bite of popcorn while watching the latest release in a seat built for two? It’s a really lovely theater.

Pictured: Mike McDonnell
Photo courtesy of Meadowood

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