By David Jacobson Placer County is booming. You can hear the boom, literally, from the home construction sites near several tee boxes at The Lincoln Hills Club. You understand why the area is booming when you play Lincoln Hills and other area courses, such as Turkey Creek Golf Club and Whitney Oaks Golf Club. These three courses – beautiful and challenging in their own ways – provide accessible, affordable golf, especially relative to the Bay Area. For all the population growth in and around Sacramento – from retirees to Bay Area refugees to those drawn by the region’s increasing opportunities – the courses seem uncrowded and maintain a pleasant pace of play. Non-golfers in your crowd will enjoy the area’s excellent shopping, dining and historic attractions. But at these prices, and with this scenery, within minutes of Sacramento and less than two hours from San Francisco, you’ll be glad you’re a golfer. The Lincoln Hills Club
1005 Sun City Lane
Lincoln, CA 95648
Golf Shop 916/434-7450
Public, 27 holes.
From a hearty greeting at the bag drop to your last putt – which drops as attendants clean your clubs beside the 18th green in case you need a quick getaway – Lincoln Hills provides welcoming service. The wide, rolling fairways of the OB Sports-managed course also are welcoming, and you better find them. The rough is not overly penal, but it is rough.
Even on the first hole, the 18th handicap, you need to be in the fairway, and you need to stay right. On the second, a lake beckons, though it is more visual trouble than real danger.
The par-three fifth places a premium on club selection as you must carry water and avoid the bunker behind a tough two-tiered green. The middle holes feature granite boulders, which are not in play unless you bring them into play, and pretty rock landscaping around several of the tee-boxes.
Twelve is the signature hole, a downhill par three with a lake reflecting its surrounding trees to the right of the tiered green. The tee-boxes at twelve afford panoramic views of much of the rest of the course, including the ever-building Sun City Lincoln Hills retirement community.
This facility opened its first 18 holes, the Billy Casper/Greg Nash-designed Hills Course, in 1999. Nash alone designed the Orchard Course, which has nine holes open and the last nine to be completed this summer. After a day on The Hills, it’s no wonder why the facility is expanding to 36 holes and why the homes keep sprouting up. Turkey Creek Golf Club
1525 State Route 193
Lincoln, CA 95648
Golf Shop 916/434-9100
Public, 18 holes.
At Turkey Creek, your hearty greeting comes from the course’s namesake bird. A flock of turkeys lounging about the wooded area at the turnoff from Highway 193 marks the end of civilization as you know it.
Winding down the wooded quarter-mile road to the clubhouse, you feel yourself escaping the outside world. Over the next 18 holes you hear little but nature – woodpeckers, riffling creeks, doves, and of course, turkeys. The sights are stunning, from brave deer to a brazen four-foot bull snake on the fourth green to tree-framed fairways and greens. The scenery takes hold on the back nine of the Club Corp-managed course, but both sides offer plenty of golfing intrigue.
The second hole is a strong dogleg left that demands a tee shot on the right of the fairway to keep trees out of play as you approach a tiered, elevated green. The front quarter of the green is a slide. With the pin placed above the slide but below the top tier, your approach must land in the collection area to avoid a perilous downhill lag that can easily send you off the front of the green.
The third is a par-three with a forced water carry, and water across the fairway on the par-five fourth presents a lay-up-or-go-for-it choice. The highest-handicap hole is the fifth, a severe dogleg right with a bunker at the right elbow.
After a few holes of relative normalcy, nine is marked by several rusting antique farm implements strewn about the out-of-bounds areas. Ten will tempt big hitters to carry the lake fronting the green, while mortals will settle for a tricky third shot if they’re too far right due to a gigantic granite boulder on the edge of the lake.
Thirteen offers an elevated tee with a chute effect created by woods nearly the entire length of the hole and behind the green. Fourteen is a scenic par three with a creek in front, and again you breathe relatively easy from there until the titanic 18th.
The course’s signature hole forces a water carry off the tee, bends left with a bunker at the right elbow, and then dares another carry on the second shot over a boulder-strewn quarry lake flanked by fiery foliage. No matter what this course, especially the 18th, does to your ego, you can’t help but enjoy your round. Whitney Oaks Golf Club
2305 Clubhouse Drive
Rocklin, CA 95765
Golf Shop 916/632-8333
Public, 18 holes
Troon Golf’s reputation for tough challenges lives on. Even playing the gray tees, at 6,322 yards, is challenging at the Johnny Miller-designed track.
The first hole is straightforward enough and gives you a break if you can take the hill down the right side. The tiered green is fast but fair. The second forces an approach over wetlands to a shallow undulating green. The fourth hole, aptly named “Rock,” has a massive granite boulder on the left edge of the green that plays havoc with your visualization off the tee.
The fifth is the number-one handicap hole, named “Wee Burn” in the Troon tradition of homage to golf’s Scottish origins. A left-center tee shot is the only way to gain clear access to the green, and even then wetlands to the right of the green remain a threat.
Big hitters can drive the 10th with little to fear but bunkers guarding the front. The par-five 11th is a challenge for all players. Trees line a rolling fairway that gives few clues, even with a detailed yardage book, as to the best shot, so use care. Play your second down the right fairway and your third shot is over another rock outcropping; try to draw your second left of the rocks, and you’re flirting with the woods.
To the left of the 11th green stands Whitney’s Tomb, final resting place of Rocklin’s founder, whom you just might want to join in eternity, depending how the 11th treats you.
Fourteen, seventeen and eighteen are all forced-carry tee shots over scrublands or wetlands. The carries are not long, but they are visually intimidating, and they come at the end of what can be a psychologically grueling round.
All told, these three Placer Valley courses provide such a variety of golf challenges, environments and amenities that you may find yourself drawn repeatedly to the outskirts of Sacramento. And bring that booming driver. DarkHorse Golf Club
13450 Combie Road
Auburn, CA 95602
Designed by Keith Foster and playing from four sets of tees for the men and three sets of tees for the women, DarkHorse will stun you with its natural beauty. Recognized by many top golf publications as being one of the country’s best courses, it doesn’t disappoint. Rankings of 7th best California course and 85th best in the nation, you’ll quickly appreciate the natural watercourses, abundant wildlife, and holes of golf framed by pine and oak trees.
What all this means is this is simply not a grip it and rip it style of golf at DarkHorse. Strategy, shot-making and risk/reward scenarios will envelope your round here. Take for example, the first hole. A Par 4 playing as a slight dogleg right that appears routine but can be difficult. If you’re long out of the tee box you need to pay particular attention to the small creek that runs across the fairway just within distance on the right and allowing more room as it makes its way across the fairway as it moves to the left of the fairway. Hole number four is a Par 5 playing pretty wide open from the tee box – except for the creek and pond on the right and bunker in play on the left.
Don’t worry though, plenty of landing room for your drive. Then, you may need to deal with a huge oak tree, should your fairway shot leak out to the right of the hole coming into the green from the fairway. Even though Hole 6 is a medium length Par 3 and the number thirteen handicap hole on the course, it can create trouble. The prevailing wind will cause you to think hard about your club selection, as once your ball is up in the air, its path maybe altered by the breeze that blows from green to tee. You can’t be shot on this hole, there’s a bunker protecting it as well, then if long – you’re in the trees.
One of my personal favorites is the seventh hole. A Par 5 with plenty of challenge. Just hit a nice clean tee shot, and then brave yourself to try to hit this green in two or to play it safe with a lay-up. Another favorite is number eleven – a double dogleg Par 5. A tee shot that bends from right to left is the perfect play from the box, then either try to hit this green in two with a fairway shot that bends from left to right, or play it safe with a lay up that will allow you to have a good look at the flagstick. Hole 14 is a short Par 4 that either plays with a long iron from the tee box or, for the aggressive player hitting the driver well, this could be a fun risk/reward hole for you. Plenty of trouble out there with bunkers and water on the right, so use care.
The finishing hole at DarkHorse is a Par 5 dogleg left that looks narrower from the tee box than it actually is. Once on the fairway, you have to choose between trying to reach the green (about 250 yards away) and playing a lay up shot. If the wind is up, that lay up is looking pretty good about now. After you’ve finished your round hopefully you’ll look back upon your decisions on the course and feel as good about playing this course as I did!
Remember too that Jim West heads up the DarkHorse Academy, offering a full service, state-of-the-art Golf Academy with many different learning levels offering private, semi-private and group lessons. The Academy has 25 grass hitting stations, target greens, fairway and greenside bunker practice areas, and an uneven lie area in order to help you with all facets of the game. They also provide certified and professional fittings so you can get custom fit you for your next set of clubs right on site!
Playing about 7,100 yards from the tips, this course offers as much as you can bite off. If you’ve played it before, be sure to get back and see how it’s maturing. If you have not played DarkHorse, be sure to put it on the top of your “must-play” list and call for a tee time soon! The Ridge
2020 Golf Course Road
Auburn, CA 95602
Public, 18 holes
Designed by Robert Trent Jones II, the Ridge plays from five sets of tees offering challenging play for all skill levels and is adapted to natural landforms like rock outcroppings, rambling creeks, and stately oaks. The rich and rugged terrain of the landscape is an ideal and scenic backdrop for 18 holes of championship play. In Auburn - and just a few short miles outside of Sacramento – it’s a course that’s well worth the drive from anywhere in northern CA, you’re sure to enjoy every hole of play here.
The course measures 6,734 from the back tees with a Par of 71. Before your round starts, you can warm up at the full length practice range with multiple targets and grass tees, then get the putter hot by dropping by the practice putting green just prior to the start of your round.
Some courses sort of ease you into play. Not necessarily the case at The Ridge. Your day on the course starts out with the longest Par 4 on the course - 433 yards from the tips and uphill. It’s rated as the most difficult hole on the course and a safe drive on the left to left center of the fairway tends to give the best look into the green. Number two is a Par 5 that features a downhill tee shot with an approach shot into a green protected by water on the right.
The fourth hole is one of those severe dogleg holes that can be really fun to play. Ranked as the number three handicap hole on the course, it’s 408 from the Gold tees. A tee shot of 225 to 250 seems to be the best play from the tee, then you face an uphill shot into this green that’s on your left hand side up over on the hill. The front edge of the green is protected by a bunker and rock outcroppings so should you fall short on your approach be prepared, you may be penalized. Then the green itself is three tiered, so position is everything on this hole.
Number nine is a Par 5 that plays downhill and into the wind. Rip it from the tee box to set up your approach into the green – if you can navigate the breeze and the water to the left of the green, otherwise play a safe lay-up shot to be certain you take the water out of play, two putt and you’ll walk away with a par on the number five handicap hole of the course. Twelve is a Par three – all carry - to a sloped green that can play tough.
The last four holes are a fantastic set of finishers that can either pummel you or make you feel pretty good. Fifteen is a Par five with strategically placed bunkers waiting to swallow up golf balls and also has trees that overhang the fairway, should you end up either left or right of the fairway. Sixteen is a Par 4 that requires a pin-pointed tee shot in order to give you any chance of safely hitting this green in regulation.
The last Par three at The Ridge is the seventeenth hole – downhill from the tee with water on the right and two bunkers protecting the green. Finally you get to the finisher, the eighteenth hole. The prevailing wind can blow from left to right and from the tee box you have a couple options, so depending on how reliable you’ve been to this point with the big stick, either bite off most of the hole with your driver or play a bit safer by playing a fairway metal or long iron tee shot onto this fairway. Of course my predictable fade took me over to the first cut just off the right edge of the fairway on this hole. The green on eighteen gives you a chance to finish up strong, as it’s pretty generous in size but does have some undulations to be aware of.
Now it’s time to cool off and tally up the score. Head up to The Ridge Bar & Grill or the other offering to satisfy your appetite, the casual dining of Lanterns restaurant. A tasty menu awaits and the friendly staff is ready to bring your favorite libations.
Now remember, The Ridge also hosts the LPGA TOUR’s Longs Drugs Challenge in the fall.
Be sure to visit www.lonsdrugschallenge.com get all the tournament details. It’s during the first week of October and is a great event!