Heading for the Hills

I’m back up in Modesto this weekend on business, but I made the most of my drive up on Friday. I took kind of a circuitous route to get here in order to check out some new golf courses along the way. 

In the morning, I was just east of Fresno for my first round of the day…

Sherwood Forest Golf Club • Sanger, CA • 6/24/16

I actually met up with a friend for this round (@cencalhack, follow him on Twitter if you want to stay in touch with the golf scene in the Central Valley). I had originally booked a 6:00 through the course’s website, but then I was told by someone else that they typically don’t open the pro shop until 6:30. I called and they confirmed that fact. They slotted us in instead at 6:22 to ensure we’d still be first off. 

We both arrived a little before 6:00 anyway and the cart attendant was already out getting the carts lined up for players. He told us to go ahead and pay at the turn, so that’s what we did. We enjoyed a nice three-hour pace, with a brief stop after nine to pay our $45 green fees (with cart). 

I kind of knew what to expect at Sherwood Forest from my friend’s reviews on Greenskeeper.org. Nice setting, narrow but fun layout and mediocre conditions. The first two were true. The conditions weren’t anything too great, but better than I expected.

The course runs back and forth. It’s not long by today’s standards, it’s very flat and most holes are pretty straight overall. However, there are a ton of really big old trees hanging over. They really come into play a lot and make for several really uncomfortable tee shots. I think I hit just about every tree on the course and it really got into my head. 

I’d say the layout favors a straight-ball hitter above all else. For those of us with any consistent turn one way or the other, there will be some awkward tee angles to contend with. If you do get the ball out there safely, then things are pretty straightforward hitting into the greens. There are a few trees that will block out some approach angles. The greens aren’t too crazy or well-protected otherwise, so you can make up for questionable tee shots with a good wedge and putter game.

It is a nice little setting just before you start getting into the hills to the east. Most of the area around the course is pretty open farmland and there’s a winery next door, but the course itself has a secluded feel amongst the trees. The “forest” in Sherwood Forest is earned.

I’m not too sure the story behind the name, but apparently there are a few theories around. Whatever the origin, the holes are all named for “Robin Hood” characters. Thankfully, nobody is out there wearing tights, shooting arrows and stealing from the rich, so the hole names are about as far as they go with the theme.

Everything was extra wet that early in the morning, but overall the grass coverage was pretty good throughout the important parts of the course. Things are definitely a little scraggly and rough around the edges, but fairway lies were generally good enough. Most of the blue tee markers weren’t set out, so we played greenskeepers for the morning and set them out ourselves. I was in one bunker and it had good soft sand. It just looked a little neglected. The greens were soft and rolling slow with so much moisture, but they started to speed up a little toward the end.

The course is definitely a bit out of the way compared to other Fresno area options and the prices are a little high for what you get. However, if I lived locally I’m sure it would be in the rotation. It doesn’t seem to draw the crowds like some of the other local courses (Riverside, I’m looking at you), so that adds some appeal to coming further out here for a better pace of play.

Some pictures from Sherwood Forest Golf Club (6/24/16):

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From Sherwood, I headed pretty much due north along Highway 41 and toward my ultimate destination, Yosemite National Park. I had a grouping of short courses out on their own in this neck of the woods, so it was time for another Short Course Blitz on the Yosemite trail!

Yosemite Lakes Park Golf Course • Yosemite Lakes Park, CA • 6/24/16

I wasn’t a hundred percent sure that this course was open to the public. The course itself really doesn’t have a website and the only information about it can be found on the homeowner’s association page. However, I called earlier in the week and they said to come on out, so it is easily accessible for public play at least some of the time.

They did warn me that most mornings the course gets clogged up by men’s club members. They do shotguns almost daily, and as a 9-hole course, it doesn’t take much to fill up. I was basically told the same thing at the next course I played, too. Originally, my plan was to play this loop on the way back home on Monday morning, but it made more sense to avoid the morning crowds and play Friday afternoon.

I got out to the course around 10:30 and it looked pretty empty out. I did ultimately catch a couple men’s club groups that were still out there playing, but they were all super nice guys and let me play through. The rate was $14 to walk nine holes.

Yosemite Lakes Park features a 9-hole regulation layout that plays to a par of 31. There are three really short par-4s in the mix (all under 275 yards). Then, the 9th hole is the longest one at 360 from the back nine blue tees. The par-3s are a good mix of lengths, ranging from 81 yards up to 164. There are slightly different tees for front and back nine play.

The first half of the course puts the “Lakes” in the name as it circles around the edge of a lake. Holes 1-5 are actually a nice stretch with water very much in play on each shot. Then the final few holes go back up into the hills as you eventually circle back around to the clubhouse.

Conditions were just so/so. Everything is kind of dry and brown, but most of the key areas had decent playability. The greens seemed rather firm underfoot, though good shots would bite plenty. The surfaces were very fast on putts and there’s a lot of natural sloping, so you don’t want to be above the hole.

Yosemite Lakes Park is certainly not worth going out of your way for, so it really is a low-end local’s course for this community. I had enough fun there and it is a nice setting, so I’m glad I got to play it.

Some pictures from Yosemite Lakes Park Golf Course (6/24/16):

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My next stop turned out to be kind of a hidden gem in the foothills…

River Creek Golf Course • Ahwahnee, CA • 6/24/16

The landscape of my eventual road trip to this region was definitely changed last year when another course just up the road from this one (Sierra Meadows) closed last fall. It would have been a natural grouping to play the three short courses I did play along with Sierra Meadows, which was a full-length 18. However, it closed kind of quietly and it was way too late by the time I figured out.

Instead, I made a visit to nearby River Creek, which seems to be reaping some benefits of being the only course in town now. It wasn’t too busy out, but there were more people than I expected to see on a Friday afternoon. I did have to wait on a men’s club group still finishing up their morning shotgun on holes 1 and 2. I later caught up to another couple of groups, as well. Still, the pace was good around 1.5 hours.

The price here was $30 for nine holes with a cart. I could see the layout was pretty hilly and spread out when I pulled into the property, so I decided to splurge for the cart on this one. I think at least half my rate was for the cart, but it was worth it I guess. I had somewhere comfortable to sit while waiting on other groups.

I ended up really liking this course. It is also in a fantastic setting with a pretty secluded feel and lots of nice scenery running through a rural neighborhood. There are many old oak trees peppering the landscape along with neat boulder outcroppings on most of the holes. Setting-wise, it definitely reminded me of Horse Thief Country Club in Tehachapi, and that’s a good thing.

River Creek is a regulation par-36 9-hole course. They don’t have different tees specified for front and back nine play. I played the tips at 3,140 yards and it was just right for me. Definitely enough challenge to keep things interesting, but not too difficult overall. I played really well here, so that added some enjoyment.

The course was in pretty good overall shape. The tee boxes and fairways were maybe a little shaggy, but had good grass coverage throughout. The rough was generally pretty nice, too. I wasn’t in any bunkers, so no comments there. The greens were firm, but receptive enough and rolling smooth at medium speeds.

River Creek was definitely a pleasant surprise and I would easily consider it one of the best regulation 9-hole courses I’ve played in California. I enjoyed it on all levels, including the friendly old black lab hanging around by the clubhouse to greet you before and after your round. Is it worth going out there just for this course? No. However, it’s a great place for a quick nine if you want to break up your drive to or from Yosemite. 

Some pictures from River Creek Golf Course (6/24/16):

After my round at River Creek, I did venture up to check out what used to be Sierra Meadows. It definitely doesn’t appear to be coming back any time soon, or ever, but the skeleton of the course is still there:

Last but not least, I ventured into Yosemite National Park for one more round on the day…

Big Trees Golf Course • Yosemite National Park, CA • 6/24/16

In case that name doesn’t sound familiar, it used to be known as Wawona (or Yosemite’s Wawona) Golf Course. It’s attached to the lodge there in the south end of the park, which also goes by the Big Trees name now.

Again, it was a bit expensive for nine holes here. Not only was the green fee $25 to walk, but then I also had to factor in Park admission. The cheapest option is $30 which covers a family car for up to seven days of park access. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a cheapo “only going to in to play the golf course” pass.

By the time I teed off a little after 3:00, I had the course to myself and it was a real treat walking through the meadows and woods. I always get a kick out of courses situated in interesting places, so it was cool to tee it up inside Yosemite National Park and the scenery did not disappoint. This is such a beautiful place and a great background for a golf course, even if it is only nine holes.

Big Trees is also a regulation nine, playing to a par of 35. It does feature slightly different tees for front and back nine play. Still, for the men it’s only 5,468 yards total if you loop around twice. And, you are also at elevation, so it’s at least a club less on every shot.

Really, this course is all about its gorgeous setting. The first few holes play in a meadow area right along the street (across the street from the lodge where the pro shop is). Then you work your way back into the woods and the “big trees” the course is now named for. It’s a decent layout in a wonderful place. There’s not much more to say.

The course was in decent shape. Really from tee to green, there was very good grass coverage. The tees were way too shaggy and the fairways were also a bit too long. I wasn’t in any bunkers, but some looked terrible while others looked serviceable. The greens were tough to rate. They had good grass coverage and were mowed consistently. However, they were excruciatingly slow. It was like putting on shag carpet. They do apparently have a lot of restrictions being within the National Park. They can’t use any pesticides or other chemicals, so they try to make the best of the grass that they have.

I couldn’t really take putting seriously, but I gave the greens a pass. The course also did just open for the season on Thursday, so I’m sure they’ll cut them down more as the year goes on. Otherwise, this is a course where the overall experience easily outweighs the quality of golf you can expect. It is not a destination course and certainly not worth paying the park admission just to play it (unless you are a crazy course collector like me and some of my friends). However, it is another great activity to consider while visiting Yosemite National Park.

Some pictures from Big Trees Golf Course (6/24/16):

My whole day went a lot smoother and quicker than I expected, so it worked out very well. In fact, I had ample time to at least do a loop down through Yosemite Valley. I got to see some of the iconic scenic views of El Capitan, Half Dome and the astounding waterfalls. I can’t remember if my family ever came here when I was a really young kid, so I was able to enjoy the sights with a fresh perspective. It truly is a special place and it was a picture perfect late afternoon, so I snapped some really nice photos…

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