Christmas in Norcal, Part 1: Lincoln Hills Golf Club

As has become tradition for my small family, my dad, brother and I all decided to meet up for a brief Christmas weekend in a neutral location in Northern California. The last couple years, we were up in Corning, but this year we’re staying in Rocklin (just northeast of Sacramento along the I-80).

The bad news is that the massive casino here (Thunder Valley) hasn’t been treating me too kindly. The good news is there’s a lot more golf courses to choose from, so I’ve been able to add some new ones to the list.

Heavy rains have been pounding Northern California for several weeks, but this weekend’s forecast was nice. The only problem with that is it usually means frost delays each morning. Because of that, I won’t play 36 every day, but I was able to play twice on Christmas Day…

Lincoln Hills Golf Club • Lincoln, CA • 12/25/14

My brother and I had booked a tee time on the other course (Hills) for the afternoon, which I was told is generally consider the better of the two. However, I was still curious about Orchard. I saw an early tee time (7:29) available on GolfNow for $39.99 and I went for it.

Orchard Course

As feared, there was a frost delay in the morning, so it wasn’t until 8:30 that I teed off. The guy working the pro shop and acting as the starter was super nice, though. I told him about my second tee time and he worked with me to make sure I was in the lead group of a mini shotgun that went off. I still needed to play quickly, though. He put another single with me, which was okay. Then, right as we were headed off to start on the 3rd hole, he sent another single out to join us.

Playing as a threesome was just slow enough that I got worried about finishing in time before my brother arrived for the second round. We were moving along pretty well, but I still ended up breaking off from those guys on the back nine and that worked out perfectly until I reached the 1st hole. They were sending out regular groups by this time and it was all backed up, so I had to sacrifice holes 1 and 2.

Thankfully, after we played our round on the Hills Course, there was ample time and zero crowds on Christmas afternoon, so I was able to go back and play the 1st and 2nd holes on Orchard. Those who know me best will understand how important this is to “complete” the entire course!

Anyway, both courses at Lincoln Hills are very nice. They are part of a Del Webb Sun City retirement community, and I’ve always been pretty impressed with the Sun City courses I’ve played in the past. Both courses at Lincoln Hills were designed by Billy Casper and Greg Nash. They each feature an out and back routing, so you never return to the clubhouse until after the 18th hole.

I would have to agree I preferred Hills, but Orchard offers plenty of enjoyment.

Orchard is the slightly longer course at 6,443 from the blues (7,009 from the tips if you really want to stretch out), but it is also more wide open. The fairways are very forgiving and a few feel wide enough to land a jumbo jet. I found a few of these holes to be quite boring. However, there are also a handful of great holes here that offer some challenge and require some strategy.

A stretch of the front nine plays along a marshy area that cuts across at various times to provide a hazard and force accurate shots. Getting safely off the tee still isn’t too tough, but the approach shots can definitely be tricky on a few holes.

All the rain here means that both courses looked beautiful with everything very lush and green. On the other side of the coin, everything was shaggy and there are a lot of mushy spots, too. There was no roll-out on the fairways, but the lies were almost always nice and fluffy. The rough was thick and brutal, and you really had to keep your eye on the ball to keep from losing it once it settled in. That said, I’d always prefer to have too much grass rather than not enough (especially in winter), so the shagginess was just a minor quibble.

The bunkers were kind of a mess, though. I can tell they are normally pretty nice when not ravaged by so much rain, but there were a ton of footprints in all of them and that was disappointing. The greens were nice and rolling at medium speeds, but again too many unrepaired marks from disrespectful golfers.

Overall, Orchard was in slightly better shape than Hills. Because it’s a flatter layout, the low spots aren’t as low and I’m sure it’s easier for maintenance to keep it up when everything’s wet and soft.

Some pictures from the Orchard Course (12/25/14):

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I met up with my brother and by then there weren’t many players looking to get out. The pro shop closed at noon and we were one of the last groups out on the Hills Course. Our tee time was 11:50, which I booked through TeeOff.com. With a promo code, it worked out to around $47 for both of us, which is about the same rate they were charging regular single players that time of day on their site.

I did notice they offer a $20 replay rate here, which is fantastic. It wouldn’t have helped us since my brother only played the second round, but I still feel very good about the prices I got for each course.

Hills Course

We teed off a little early and enjoyed our own relaxed pace. A few singles did sneak up on us and we let them play through. Ultimately, a few of them grouped up together in front of us after catching the groups ahead and then we were the ones pushing from behind.

Hills, as the name would suggest is definitely hillier than Orchard. It’s not too extreme, but there is more natural undulation to offer the layout some added contour and strategic design. The fairways are narrower and the angles are somewhat less wide open. Still, I’d say it’s pretty forgiving off the tee on most holes. There isn’t a ton of trouble to get into unless you really spray the ball.

Another difference is that greens on Hills are bigger and feature some funkier shapes and slopes. They can be tricky at times.

Hills runs out and back through the community and a lot of it plays along a marshy water hazard that is almost always to your right. You go up one side and then back the other. It had gotten windy in the afternoon (and was still pretty chilly all day), so the earlier holes were with the wind and the later ones were straight into it.

The signature hole on Hills is the par-3 12th, which definitely has a great look to it with an elevated tee and the hazard to the right.

Hills was in similar shape as Orchard, but as I mentioned it was maybe a little more affected by the rains as the mushy spots were even mushier and the shaggy sections of fairway were even shaggier. Again, though, this is a minor complaint. For winter conditions in this part of California, you can’t ask for too much better.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either Lincoln Hills course to anyone. This is a nice facility, the staff is great, the prices are generally reasonable for the quality you get and both courses offer an enjoyable experience. If I had to pick one, though, I would stick with the consensus favorite of Hills.

Some pictures from the Hills Course (12/25/14):

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