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Gold Country, A Northern California Club Crawl
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Tom Landers
 
By Tom Landers
Published on 10/26/2005
 
Gold Country, A Northern California Club Crawl

Gold Countryís Best
Our Club Crawl feature this issue presents Gold Countryís best as well as a trip down into the San Joaquin Valley for another fine test of golf.  With the high cost of travel these days, we simply cannot overlook the quality of courses here in our area, and featured in this issueís Club Crawl we show you perfect examples of the highest levels of quality the game might see.  If youíve not been to these lately, make sure you set the time aside and youíll be treated with the best service, food and drink, course conditions and amenities around.  Now, on to the courses . . .

Stevenson Ranch
Doug Burberry, PLGM Club Crawler
Stevenson Ranch Golf club
2700 North Van Clief
Stevenson, CA  95374
Golf Shop 209 668-8200
www.stevensonranch.com
Public, 18 holes.


Itís going to be a beautiful day.  Iíll knock you up at 9am (Iím English, by the way), to play some golf.  Iíve heard of Stevenson Ranch.  Letís go find it.  Itís a little oasis in the San Joaquin Valley know as the Savannah Course at Stevenson Ranch.  This little ďJewel of the ValleyĒ is an award winning course designed by John Harbottle III and George H. Kelley very much like the Scottish Links Courses I love to play.  It made me feel a little homesick.  I grew up playing golf in the south of England.  It reminded me of playing Mannings Heath in Sussex.  Both difficult, pleasing to the eye and the gung ho, go-for-it approach doesnít work well.  Youíll have to manage your game here, but its well worth the effort.  Each hole is a task in itself, and you may increase your handicap, believe me.

Letís start with the facilities.  The Savannah Course is the first course in California to attain ďSignatureĒ status with Audubon International for its dedication to environmental excellence, and was presented with the coveted Squaw Creek award by the California Golf Writers Association.  Itís one of the best maintained courses in the valley.  They have every thing a golfer needs: a great Pro Shop, excellent restaurant, accommodating staff along with affordable lodging.  The Stay and Play package is well worth considering.  While youíre there be sure to check out the John Jacobs Golf School. 

Weíre off.  Weíve come to the 4th hole.  They call it Eden, I prefer to call it Hell. A medium yardage, par 3, stepped with bunkers at the rear of green.  An imposing shot from the tee box, with a daunting task of crossing the water in front of you.  Ok, I slapped the ball like a wet cod and now Iím in the back bunker, hitting (ha ha) the green (yeah, right), watching my ball hit the green and scoot beyond into the bunker.  Now, chip shot out of the bunker.  It was, in my opinion, reasonable.  Only to see it roll off the green into the water beyond.  SlickÖyouíre killing me. 

Letís get to the end of the round. Iím not disregarding the other challenging holes, but Iím at the 17th and now more frustrated than belief.  A pretty looking hole.  Beware.  They call it a mild length par 4, but it turns into a long par 4 with the Delta wind in your face.  Take heed.  Itís aptly named Stevenson BurnÖand you will burn.

Savannah Course was a true delight to play, and a must play course.  The first time around it will eat your soul.  Iíve been fortunate to play courses all over the world, from  total sand courses in Australia, to the green, green grasses of Ireland and this definitely ranks at the top of my list.  Good luck, Chaps, youíll need it.

Saddle Creek
1001 Saddle Creek Road
Copperopolis, CA  95228
Golf Shop 209 785-3700
www.saddlecreek.com
Semi-private/Resort, 18 holes
Public play accepted.


Two of the most important traditions of golf Ė to be challenged by the course and inspired by the surroundings Ė are fulfilled magnificently at Saddle Creek Resort in Northern Californiaís gold country.  Framed by dramatic ridgelines with the towering Sierras in the distance, the Saddle Creek championship course offers five sets of tees, ranging from the PGA tees at 6,826 yards to the forward tees at 4,486 yards. Because there are no parallel fairways, each hole has its own identity.  Designed by Jay Moorish and Tad Buchanan, youíll be impressed by the layout.

Weíre on the First Tee Ė time to play!  The first hole eases you into play off the tee with a nice wide fairway.  This Par 4 measures 329 from the Whites and 384 from the Blue Tees.  The Black Tees are at 397.  The bunker in the fairway is about 250 out from the whites, so big hitters need to be aware of this.  There are two greenside bunkers on the front left edge, and itís much better to miss either long or short, than left or right.  I have to say, the second hole might very well be one of my favorite Par 4ís in Northern California.  At just under 400 yards from the Whites itís tough as nails.  First, you have to decide just how much you want to bite off from the tee box, as this dogleg right is guarded by water all down the right hand side.  But itís not just the water you need to clear on the right, there are also bunkers in play just inside the edge of the water up onto the fairway.  Now, letís just say that you hit this fairway and are ready for your approach into the green Ė pull that trusty long iron out of your bag because itís probably about 185 to the hole, uphill, and can play into the wind, so club-up accordingly.  A triangular shaped green, itís protected by bunkers both front right and rear, so get this one in your sights and let it fly.  When you walk off this green youíll be wondering if you just left a Par 5 - not a Par 4!

Weíve made our way to the eighth hole.  A Par 5 of 506 from the Blues.  Although all the holes at Saddle Creek seem like Signature holes, this one stands above the others from the sheer beauty of the surroundings and panoramic vistas.  For the most part, itís a three shot hole getting to the green as water runs to the right of the fairway, then fronts the green.  Anything short from the fairway and youíre wet. 

Weíll make the turn and itís on to number ten, an uphill Par 4 of 368 from the Whites.  The tee shot looks longer than it really is, so just aim for the center.  Just like number 2 is one of my favorite Par 4ís, number thirteen is one of my favorite Par 5ís.  Downhill out of the tee box, then uphill into the green.  The fairway is wide and forgiving from the box, but then it tightens like a noose, so use caution if trying to hit this in two.  Now, as if I donít have enough things to say about this course, the fourteenth hole, a Par 3 of 224 from the Blues is one tough hole.  Yardage aside, the green slopes from right to left, thereís water on the left hand side, two bunkers guarding the front and left sides of the green, one up front on the right and one behind for good measure!  Visually, itís a stunning hole Ė just stay focused and youíll do fine. 

While the fifteenth hole might be the easiest hole on the course, donít let your guard down.  Number sixteen is rated the second toughest hole on the course.  17 is another favorite, as the wooden fence around back of the green provides a bit of a frame for the views of the hillsides behind it.  Well, weíve finished up with 18, a Par 5 with water all down the right side and plenty of bunkers along the way.  Itís time to cool off in the Club House.
Many of us might be fans of a good hotdog at the turn, but by the time the round is over you prefer some type of meal that truly satisfies your hunger and your senses.  Chef Whipple is a ďchefís chef.Ē  A Master at his craft, the Captain of the Ship Ė he creates some of the finest meals anywhere in the state Ė if not the country!  Iím not just saying that, wait until you try the food.  Even the old stand-by of the hamburger Ė he creates it with the finest Angus beef in the country.  After youíve cooled off and had possibly one of the finest meals ever, your enjoyment of this facility continues with the beautiful accommodations.  Finely appointed and furnished, the Bungalows are a great choice if you wish to spend the night.  The sky was clear and the air so crisp and clean as I walked from the restaurant to my bungalow, that I looked up and saw this huge bank of stars and said to myself, ďthatís what the Milky Way looks like!Ē 

I was speaking with Bill Troyanoski, the GM at Saddle Creek, and we agreed that itís really the people that make a difference between just average and outstanding.  Bill brings an impeccable resume to The Resort and along with Chef Whipple and the entire staff at Saddle Creek, youíll come to appreciate the passion and caring they have for this beautiful place on earth and how they work hard to make sure you have an outstanding experience at Saddle Creek!  The surrounding community is also changing with the development of a town called Copper Village.  The town will have a small-town feel with a touch of sophistication.  Itís boutiques, antique stores, art galleries and restaurants will feel as if theyíve always been there.  Copper Village and the new Copper Lake Inn and Spa are just two of the many exciting new additions planned for the future of Saddle Creek Resort.

Greenhorn Creek Resort
711 McCauley Ranch Road
Angels Camp, CA  95222
Golf Shop 209 736-8111
www.greenhorncreek.com
Resort, 18 holes.
Public play accepted.


Robert Trent Jones II and Mother Nature have teamed up to create one of Northern Californiaís finest golf experiences. Meandering effortlessly through the stunning Sierra Nevada foothills, youíll discover 18 holes of championship golf with five sets of tees ranging from 4,882 to 6,749 yards that make Greenhorn Creek Resort both challenging and enjoyable.  The elevation at Greenhorn Creek is a bit higher than several of the surrounding courses so the weather seems to be less extreme in the summer making for an enjoyable day of play.  With GPS on the carts and hole-by-hole descriptions on the scorecard, youíll be ready for action once you hit the first tee.  I like the tightness of the feel on about half of the tee boxes at Greenhorn Creek, and the greens roll true and fast.  It seems the greens have more tilt than slope, so be careful to view the overall look of the green before deciding on your line when putting.

On to the course - The first hole measures 403 yards from the Gold Tees, 369 from the Blues and 343 from the Whites and starts out playing a slight dogleg right Ė which should favor my ďpowerĒ fade.  The fairway slopes off a bit from right to left so just keep it in play and youíll be fine on this hole.  Holes three, four and five really give you a good idea as to whatís in store at this course.  Three is a short Par 3 measuring 157 from the back tees and has a small green as the target.  Although you cannot see the right side it is far more forgiving than the left, so if you miss, miss it right!  Four is a short, dogleg right Par 5 at just 494 from the back tees.  Donít let the yardage fool you however, as the tee shot needs to be short to avoid the rock wall and oaks crossing the fairway.  You can jump on your second shot here as this is a possible birdie hole.  The fifth hole has water all along the right hand side so this one played tough on my power fade Ė in fact at this point, the power was waning . . .

I thought Iíd be rejuvenated on number six, as I saw Par 3 coming up on the scorecard, then the yardage of 213 from the Goldís had me scratching my head thinking, ďthis course is playing pretty darn tough!Ē  I managed to hit the green and two-putt, so my confidence was back.  Onward! 

I made the turn and now Iím staring out of the tee box on number eleven, a long Par 4 at 460 yards from the Gold tees, and seeing a huge oak tree slightly left on the fairway.  The tip on the scorecard says to play it right of the tree, so thatís my shot.  Although I hit the fairway, the approach is long and testy and I missed the green short and right.  Letís just say I had a lot of trouble on this hole, posting a double bogey (IĎd rather not re-live the agony).  Thirteen is a short Par 3 playing 136 from the Whites, downhill and guarded by water right front and bunkers behind.  The trick here is pulling the right club out of the bag for the elevation change.  The scorecard tip on this hole suggests one to two clubs less Ė I think itís better to just play it two clubs less, unless the wind is blowing.  Youíll also enjoy the scenic view from the tee on this hole.  The reservoir is visible in the distance and itís really a very picturesque hole. 

Fourteen is a dogleg left at 415 from the Blue tees.  Playing tight out of the tee and requiring a pin-point placement of the tee shot for the best approach, try to feather in a draw for the best set-up on the approach into this green.  Fifteen is another long Par # at 188 from the Gold tees.  It can play tricky if the wind is up. 

Sixteen has a new home off on the left that is rumored to be the vacation home of one of San Franciscoís television news anchormen.  The home is out of play from the tee (which is good, since I didnít realize how open the fairway is on the right because of the trees blocking the view into the fairway from the tee box), but because I ended up left, I had to punch out of the trees.  Where is that power fade when I need it?

Eighteen is a great finisher.  It challenges you to pull all the strength you have in both your play and decision-making.  The fairway is easy enough to hit, itís the second shot that challenges you.  The Par 5 at 475 plays into the wind and the shallow green is protected by water front and bunkers to the rear.  I thought I might give it a rip with a fairway metal until consulting my two playing partners, Bert & Chris (both of whom play the course at least weekly and are locals).  They were great at reminding me of the rear pin placement and the strong breeze coming at us which would most assuredly cause my ball to fall short and therefore become wet.  I listened to their wisdom (first time for everything, right?), laid it up, hit the green in regulation and walked off two putts later with my par and a fantastic round under my belt. 

Greenhorn Creek really has something for everyone:  A challenging golf course, terrific dining, comfortable cottages and a soothing spa.  And remember, the foothills and Angels Camp provide opportunities to explore away from the course.  Some of the sights include shops, restaurants and art galleries in nearby Angels Camp, Murphys, Columbia and Sonora.  Enjoy the rich history and all that the outdoors has to offer with hiking, biking, boating, rafting, fishing, skiing, and more!