Drive-Thru Golf in the Central Valley

After my Short Course Blitz on the Northern California coast on Saturday, I continued my long trek back home. I stayed the night in Livermore and opted for geographically convenient options on Sunday instead of anything fancy.

If parts of the Midwest are considered “fly-over states,” then there are many places in California’s Central Valley that you can consider “drive-thru towns.” I’ve driven up and down this state so many times, more often than not along the I-5, so I know all the little roadside places to stop for gas, food and lodging. There isn’t much golf along this stretch, but if you veer off on the I-580 to or from the East Bay Area, you’ll drive right by this next course…

Tracy Golf & Country Club • Tracy, CA • 12/27/15

It seemed like the time to finally knock this course off the list, so I booked an 8:00 tee time. Unfortunately, temperatures in this area dipped into the 20s overnight, so I expected there would be a frost delay. There was, but they told me it was actually their first one of the year at this course. The price was $35 to walk. Around 8:15, they sent me out second by myself behind a threesome in carts. Right after I hit my ball onto the first green, they called everyone back in for a second frost delay. Things weren’t quite ready yet.

Around 8:40, they set us off again, restarting that threesome on the third hole and putting another group of members off behind them. I was returned to the first green to resume where I left off. By the time I reached that second hole, though, I had already caught up to that in-between group. It was a freaking sixsome! I’m not sure why anyone thought that was a good idea, but I ended up playing through them on the next hole anyway. Otherwise, the staff was fantastic here. After that, I only had to wait on that group ahead a few times and I finished in a nice quick overall walking pace.

Having driven by this course along the freeway so many times, I knew exactly what to expect from the layout. It always looked very straightforward and simple, which is certainly what you get here. It fits in with many traditional Central Valley farmland kind of courses. It is flat and pretty wide open. The holes are lined with trees, but never too tight. There are several water hazards on the course, but only on a couple of the par-3s do they ever feel that much in your way.

All in all, there isn’t anything too exciting about the Tracy Golf & Country Club course. Easily the most memorable hole is the par-3 6th over water. It is clearly the signature hole at a place where not much stands out. The 17th and 18th are a slight departure with tiny bit of elevation change worked in on each hole, but that’s about it.

The course looked pretty ugly for winter with most of the grass being dormant and brown. The tee boxes, fairways and rough were splotchy with multiple types of grasses in play, but everything was mown tight and consistently. From the maintenance, I could tell it’s usually in nicer shape during other parts of the year. In general, I still had good lies and benefited from some extra roll-out on drives. The bunkers did have good sand, but the true highlight of the course was the greens. They were firm and very fast. They were super slick (literally) when frozen early on, but even when they thawed out they were still rolling quick.

Other than having a convenient location to break up your drive between Southern and Northern California, there isn’t much reason to check out Tracy Golf & Country Club. It’s a fine course. It’s just not one you will remember much about. It used to be private, but is now readily available to the public on most days. Still, what you see from the freeway is exactly what you get, so don’t expect anything more.

Some pictures from Tracy Golf & Country Club (12/27/15):

I hit the road, grabbed a quick fast food lunch and stopped in the ultimate drive-thru town for one last round on this fun trip…

Forebay Golf Course • Santa Nella, CA • 12/27/15

I’ve used this joke before, but it is very fitting here. The short review is yes, this course exists.

Santa Nella Village is known as home to one of the Andersen’s Pea Soup restaurant locations (the other being Buellton) and otherwise a true truck stop town. It is solely there for overpriced gas, fast food, and sketchy lodging for weary travelers along the most boring stretch of the I-5. Very few people realize there’s actually a golf course here, too, and it’s just off the main stretch of businesses.

You turn off an easy-to-miss side road and about a minute later you are driving through the golf course’s gates. There is a restaurant here and a modest pro shop, along with the 9-hole course.

The town was bustling with activity on one of the busiest driving days of the year (it was brutal there and driving the rest of the way home, in fact). However, the course was very much empty. I think I might have woken up the nice guy inside, but I checked in and paid $25 for nine holes with a cart (too much walking the past couple days). He had to go grab a cart from the barn for me. That gave me time to munch on a freshly baked Christmas cookie from a plate of treats they had laid out inside the shop. I grabbed another one when I left and they were easily the highlights of the visit. Well, the cookies and the friendly cat hanging around outside the pro shop.

I actually did see a few other people out on the course who were either locals or other travelers just taking a break from the road. I played through one twosome on the second hole and otherwise sprinted through the course as quickly as I could. There was no need to take my time because there wasn’t much to enjoy.

Forebay is another pretty simple and straightforward course with flat terrain and fairly basic hole designs. I had rather low expectations coming in and they were not even met. The 9th hole is the most interesting playing over a creek/ditch in front of the green. It is a regulation par-36 layout that plays at a legit overall distance (6,465 if you play 18). They do have slightly different tee boxes for the front and back nine play and a couple of the holes are switched up between par-4s and par-5s to provide a little variety on your second go-round.

Conditions were quite dreadful. Any green on the course was provided by big patches of weeds and clovers. Otherwise, any other grass was pretty much dead and brown. The greens (or browns if you prefer) were also dormant and not good in anyway. They were very bumpy and inconsistent. The guys I played through joked as I putted that you just hit it and hope here. That’s putting it mildly.

That’s about all there is to say about Forebay. It indeed exists in a place where you don’t expect a golf course to be. The layout is more legit than I anticipated as a regulation 9-holer, but the conditions were awful this time of year. I doubt it ever looks or plays great any time of year (especially with the drought going on), and even at its best, it is still nothing special.

Some pictures from Forebay Golf Course (12/27/15):

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