4th of July Road Trip, Day 2: A Rugged, Uphill Battle

For the second day of my extended holiday weekend golf trip, I headed due north of where I was staying in Livermore to the Brentwood/Antioch area for two rounds. With Friday being a day off for most people, but not the actual holiday, that meant a lot of golfers were out and ready to take advantage of some gorgeous weather in the area.

I had thoughts of maybe playing three rounds this day, but it just didn’t work out because the courses were just so crowded all day long and even into the evening when I might normally be able to squeeze in a really quick 18. Still, I got in two very enjoyable rounds that tested my patience for semi-blind uphill approach shots to tricky green complexes. 

I got started relatively early…

Shadow Lakes Golf Club • Brentwood, CA • 7/3/15

I had a 7:06 tee time for $49 (with cart) and ended up in the second group off, paired with a threesome of regulars. They definitely helped me with some of the trickier aspects of this course’s layout. The pace was nice at 3.5 hours. I’m sure it was a much slower pace for those who started a little later in the morning because of how busy it was.

I noted the abundance of uphill approach shots here in jest, but it is a distinctive part of this course that not everyone will enjoy. There are a few downhill holes (mostly par-3s) to level out your elevation over the course of the round, but for the most part, the holes play significantly uphill. The greens are large and have plenty of undulation. They are well-guarded by bunkers and without prior knowledge of pin positions, it’s hard to know where to aim as a first-time player. The fact that my playing partners were struggling to score made me feel a little better, but I was clearly at a disadvantage not knowing the course. After awhile, it did become a bit exhausting.

That said, I did still enjoy Shadow Lakes on many levels. I particularly liked the rugged links style playing through the rolling hills. The bunkers have a very rough and “natural” look to them, which adds some nice aesthetics amidst the homes that surround the course. Most houses are not really anywhere near “in play,” but they do detract some visually.

The most memorable hole at Shadow Lakes is unfortunately its quirkiest. The par-4 16th plays straight downhill and is a simple lay-up off the tee. Then, you have to hit your approach over water to a peninsula green, likely from a somewhat downhill lie. Big hitters may be tempted to drive the green, but it would take a really perfect shot, so it’s hard to call this a good “risk/reward” design.

That section of holes around the lakes is definitely the most interesting part of the course, including the par-3 11th, the brutal straight uphill par-4 12th and then the demanding par-3 17th that is all carry over the water. These big water hazards also help give the course its name, which is also a reference to being in the “shadow” of Mt. Diablo to the west.

Though you’re not really very close to the mountain at Shadow Lakes, it does provide a cool backdrop on numerous holes along with those ever-present golden rolling hills of the East Bay.

The course was in pretty good overall shape. It was perhaps a little rough around the
edges with water conservation in effect, but it kinds of works with the rugged
design. The tee boxes were good. The fairways were mostly quite good. The first cut of rough
was much more spotty. The greens were firm, quick and smooth. The bunkers seemed like a
mixed bag, though. Some looked good and others appeared terrible. 

Unfortunately, the holes around the water hazards were suffering from the amount of goose droppings everywhere. It was pretty nasty walking through those minefields and the grass was just not good quality in those areas because of all the damage the birds have done.

Despite some quirks and a few too many uphill approach shots, I felt Shadow Lakes was a quality course with plenty of good aspects to offer, as well. The locals seem to like it and I’m sure the experience is improved with more course knowledge. 

Some pictures from Shadow Lake Golf Club (7/3/15):

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Next, I headed just a few miles down the road for what turned out to be my 650th course played. That’s kind of an odd number to celebrate, which is why didn’t plan anything super special, but it is worth noting…

The Golf Club at Roddy Ranch • Antioch, CA • 7/3/15

Interestingly, though this course is actually closer to Mt. Diablo than Shadow Lakes, you do not get many glimpses of it from Roddy Ranch because it is more shielded by the foothills directly surrounding it.

Things worked out well in the morning and I was able to snag an 11:24 time. The tee sheet here was very full at this time of day. The price was $45 with a cart and I was paired with another single and a twosome. I wanted to grab something to eat before teeing off, but the girl working the snack bar was nowhere to be found. I was very grateful to the guy working the pro shop as he ran in there and made me a tasty turkey sandwich.

The place was packed and we knew from the start it would be a slow day.
We waited on every shot and it took 5 hours to finish. It was a hot day
and the wind didn’t kick up until the very end, so it seemed even longer
than that, especially as my second round on the day. Normally the wind is a big factor here, as I experienced on the final few holes. My playing partners commented on how abnormally still the air was during most of the round.

I believe this is one of the newest courses in this area, built in the midst of the golf boom in 2000 with grand aspirations to be a truly special course. The bones of a spectacular course are clearly there, but the drought and the economy have certainly made an impact lately. All things considered, it is still pretty well kept in the areas that matter most for good playability, but you can just see how great it probably once was or could be again with more TLC.

Roddy Ranch does feature a fun and challenging design with a good variety of holes. Especially on the front nine, I did experience more of those pesky semi-blind uphill shots that plagued me in the morning, but this course ultimately leveled out more with a decent mix of uphill and downhill shots the rest of the way. The most brutal hole of them all is the 16th, which plays at 420 yards from the gold tees we were playing (par-4). It features a pretty narrow fairway, plays uphill on the tee shot and approach, and faces directly into the prevailing wind. It’s a real beast.

There are plenty of distinctive holes here and, similar to Shadow Lakes, it has an even more rugged modern links design. However, there are no homes around this course. Just some hills and ranch land, which reflect the strong cowboy theme that is applied throughout the course and clubhouse. The tee markers are painted horseshoes, the logo is a cowboy on a horse and there’s all sorts of western art and gear on display in the pro shop and cafe—even though it’s just a boring old trailer on the outside. I’m sure they had grand visions of a big rustic clubhouse to further bring this theme to life, but it seems the trailer set up isn’t going away any time soon.

On the starter shack by the first tee, there’s a sign that says “brown
is the new green” to obviously pre-set your expectations with drought
issues affecting the course. There was still more green than brown in
the key areas (tee boxes/fairways/greens), but it’s definitely a dappled look
throughout and not as pretty as this course could be if pristine. You lose a little of the visual contour with less definition around the edges, so the pictures won’t really show how dramatic the layout is.

The
tee boxes were good. The fairways were mostly good with plenty of
dry/thin spots scattered throughout. The main cut of rough was very
spotty and chunky. The outer native areas were best avoided because you
never knew what you’ll get (if you found your ball at all). The greens
were in very good shape. They were firm and rolling smooth/fast on putts. The
bunkers weren’t too great, though—very crusty and thin. 

I’d love to come back some day and see this course in really great shape once again because it can and should be something pretty special. As it is, the rates are very reasonable and the dynamic layout still makes it well worth a visit as long as you set your expectations accordingly. It’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s kind of the cowboy way!

Some pictures from The Golf Club at Roddy Ranch (7/3/15):

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