It’s All Downhill From Here

After an eventful Saturday playing in both Death Valley and Mammoth Lakes, Sunday found me working my way back home. Of course, I made a few golf stops along the way.

Coming from up in the beautiful mountains, things were downhill the rest of the way home (literally and figuratively).

The day did start off on a good note, though…

Bishop Country Club • Bishop, CA • 8/31/14

Being able to play the 9-hole Snowcreek course on Saturday evening freed me up to play Bishop Country Club nice and early to beat the “crowds” and get back on the road.

After calling in advance, I knew they generally didn’t start play until about 6:40 this time of year. I got there earlier than that. It was just me and two other guys (obviously regulars with their normal Sunday morning dawn patrol routine) waiting for the pro shop to open. The price was $52 with cart, though this would be an easy walking course, which was a $10 discount from the normal rate as an “early bird” special.

They let those guys go off first around 6:30 and I waited around for a little bit before they let me go off on my own. It didn’t take me too long to catch those guys and play through. On the back nine, I did run into another couple who had started play on #10, but they also let me through. The pace was ideal on my own.

If you’ve ever been through Bishop, you’ve seen the course right next to the 395 just south of town. For the most part, what you see is what you get. That is especially true on the front nine, which is quite flat and relatively wide open. There are a couple significant dogleg holes to mix things up a little, but plenty of room for error if you spray a drive. It’s solid, but honestly nothing too exciting.

I thought the back nine did get more interesting with some more hazards in play. It’s still pretty forgiving, but I felt some of the greens were much tougher to get at. There is a small creek that cuts in front of a few holes like numbers 11 and 18. It’s kind of hard to see (especially during the early morning shadows), but it makes those holes pretty tricky. There is a big water hazard that really comes into play on the 12th, though right now it is devoid of water. There were a few dried-out hazards here amidst the drought.

The 14th is a short and fun par-4 that is drivable for some. The green is well protected by a big bunker on the left and a tree on the right, so whether you lay up or go for it, it’s actually a pretty tough approach. And if you go long, there is nothing but trouble in the form of another big hazards. I would say “water hazard,” but it was also bone dry.

Perhaps the biggest appeal of Bishop is the nice setting. With the exception of a couple holes too close to the highway, the valley setting is cool. This was especially true first thing in the morning as the sun peeked out over the eastern mountains and illuminated the ones on the west nearer to the course. I think I got some of my best photos all year with some great lighting and angles here on such a crystal clear morning.

It also helped that the course was in pretty good shape overall. It was very green, but definitely too shaggy. You can tell they aerated the fairways and rough not too long ago as there are still some slight “dimples” throughout the turf that’s purposely kept a little longer until things heal up more. In another couple weeks, they’ll be able to cut the fairways down to a better length and they should be excellent.

The greens were also a bit slow and also seemed to be near the end of their recovery cycle from aeration. The bunkers were very wet and the sand was compacted, so it was hard to get a good judge on them in the morning. They still didn’t seem that great, but I am sure are much better when dried out later in the day.

Bishop Country Club is definitely worth playing, but it’s not a destination course on the level of Sierra Star. Even Snowcreek is a better course, but it gets a knock against it for being just a 9-hole layout. At least Bishop is a full-size course and there’s plenty to like about it. The staff was very friendly and the overall vibe there was a nice, relaxed locals feel. They said it usually never gets super busy, so it’s a welcome respite for us SoCal golfers used to battling the crowds on weekend mornings.

Some pictures from Bishop Country Club (8/31/14):





Bishop CC was definitely the highlight of the day, so I’ll give you a warning if you don’t feel compelled to keep reading. I ended up playing two more 9-hole courses on the day, starting another 40 miles south of Bishop in the rustic old town of Lone Pine…

Mt. Whitney Golf Club • Lone Pine, CA • 8/31/14

This won’t be a long review (well, by my standards anyway). Like Bishop, this course is also right there next to the 395 highway on a flat and pretty uninspiring piece of land.

That said, the setting here is also kind of interesting with the peak of Mt. Whitney in view on most every hole (hence the name) and other expansive views across the valley. Like I felt at Bishop, I found myself wishing there were some changes in elevation to offer even better views, but there just aren’t. There are a couple of slightly elevated points by the small clubhouse at Mt. Whitney GC, but nothing too dramatic.

Otherwise, this is a 9-hole regulation length course at a par of 36. It is a pretty basic and straightforward layout that doesn’t offer too much of interest. It will satisfy your urge to knock some little white balls around (or yellow if that’s your thing nowadays) and caters to a pretty undiscerning local crowd, so it is what it is. It doesn’t claim to be anything special and it doesn’t need to be.

The price was $25, which included a cart. They didn’t even offer me a walking option, so I don’t know if that would have saved me a few bucks or not. It would be an easy one to walk. I did see a sign out front promoting a $40 “play all day” price, which would certainly be worth it if you wanted to spend a good chunk of your day here to play as many holes as you want.

The course was in mediocre condition at best. Again, about what I would expect from a course of this caliber. It plays fine enough, though the further you stray from the fairways the more sketchy things will get. The bunkers were terrible. I will say that. But the fairways were manageable and the greens were fairly decent. Those are the things that matter most.

Unless you are in Lone Pine with nothing else to do or are on some sort of silly quest like me to play everything you can, there’s no real need to play this course. It’s fine for what it is, but for us out-of-towners, it’s worth driving a little further to Bishop or Mammoth for a better golf experience.

Some pictures from Mt. Whitney Golf Club (8/31/14):

After finishing at Mt. Whitney, I called around to some military and private courses throughout Kern and San Bernardino Counties to try and get on another full-size course in the afternoon. I didn’t have any luck being Labor Day weekend, so I went with my back-up plan…

Kern Valley Golf Course • Kernville, CA • 8/31/14

Note: This course is now closed.

I’ve played many “out of the way” courses in my lifetime, and often that’s how I’ve found some great hidden gems. Sadly, Kern Valley is not one of those. It’s barely worth a five-minute drive if you are already in the area, let alone driving an hour out of the way for.

One of the reasons I did choose to play it on this trip is that I figured out it was actually closer to the 395 highway than the 99 in Bakersfield. It’s not by much, but it did seem like the best time to try it since I had a ton of daylight and was in no huge rush to get back home.

If you don’t know where Kernville is, I don’t blame you. It is out there. It’s off the 178 highway east of Bakersfield, up in the beginning of Sequoia National Forest. It’s near Lake Isabella and is a fairly popular recreation area along the Kern River. As I drove out to the course, I did drive through the small town of Kernville, which had plenty of activity going on. There was a little Labor Day festival and I could see plenty of river rats getting ready to enjoy an afternoon on water.

With all these factors, you can see why I might think the course could be a bit of a hidden gem. It’s in an interesting setting, but that’s about the best thing it has going for it.

Like Mt. Whitney, Kern Valley is also a regulation-length 9-hole course with a par of 36. This one differs a little bit in that they have different sets of tees for front and back play. The difference isn’t really significant, but I guess just enough to mix things up for those playing 18.

The layout is pretty boiler plate. Not bad, but not terribly interesting. The facilities are run down and the course is not in god condition right now. There are a lot of bare patches that are just plain dirt. Where there is grass, it’s pretty patchy and inconsistent. The greens are suffering in drought conditions as a lot of the outer edges are completely dried out and cracked up. The bunkers were decent, and I’ll give them credit there, but that’s probably the least important thing to maintain.

The price was $28 with a cart. Again, this would be an easy course to walk and save a few bucks, but I was pretty beat by this time on the trip, so I decided to take it easy. There were some folks out there that day, so I joined up with another single on the 2nd hole and we had fun. The temperature was a little warm in the 90s, but the wind was absolutely howling in this little canyon.

With so much loose dirt and dust flying around, anything into the wind was brutal. The way the course is set up in the canyon, holes tend to either play directly upwind or downwind, so it is definitely a big factor here in the afternoon and I’m sure that doesn’t help in maintaining the conditions.

If the course were in great shape, that would help because like I said, the setting is kind of cool with some nice visual surroundings. However, even at its best I wouldn’t say the course is worth driving so far out of the way for. It’s solely a place for the locals to enjoy along with any river/lake visitors looking to squeeze a quick round of golf in. Considering the next nearest courses are about an hour away, I suppose it’s better than nothing…just barely.

Some pictures from Kern Valley Golf Course (8/31/14):

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