More Central Valley Surprises

According to Mr. Newton, what goes up must come down. I went up to Modesto (albeit the very scenic route through Yosemite) on Friday. Monday saw me working my way back home. Again, it wasn’t the most direct route as I had to go out of my way for different courses along the way. As I near the end of my list of public courses to play in the Central Valley, my driving routes get more goofy with each trip.

As usual, I got started early…

Rancho Del Rey Golf Club • Atwater, CA • 6/27/16

This was the easy one to get to, right off the 99 about 40 minutes south of Modesto and just north of Merced. I had hoped to play this course on my last trip, but the timing didn’t quite work out. So it was a primary target for this visit.

As fate would have it, just a few days before I left, GroupGolfer put out a voucher deal for Rancho Del Rey. It was $24, including cart and range balls. It was good any time Monday-Friday and weekends after 11:00. Now, that price isn’t too much lower than some of their hot deals on weekday afternoons, but this voucher required no booking fee and gave me much more flexibility on when I could play.

It worked out perfectly to book a 6:28 tee time on Monday morning. It was real quiet when I arrived and I went off first by myself around 6:15. I had to dodge a lot of maintenance on the course and I also caught a couple of back nine groups after the turn, but they were nice and let me play through. I also had to weave my way around sprinklers at times. A few times, there were so many sprinklers going on between me and the green, I had to sit there and plot out a route, and then execute with perfect timing. I felt like Catherine Zeta-Jones in that terrible movie where her slithering through the laser grid in her cat suit is the only thing people remember. Me weaving through sprinklers spraying reclaimed water in a golf cart was probably not as sexy a sight.

Anyway, that added a little bit of adventure to the round. Otherwise, Rancho Del Rey is yet another pretty traditional and straightforward Central Valley kind of course. There are plenty of trees, a few water hazards and a back and forth routing on a relatively flat piece of property. It’s a solid layout, but not unlike others I’ve seen throughout the region.

Where Rancho Del Rey did shine is in its conditioning. I continue to be impressed with the level of conditions offered by some of these very affordable Central Valley courses. For $24, I got conditions that would rival some of Southern California’s best resort courses (especially now in the days of the drought). In a nutshell, they just know how to grow things around this region where agriculture is king.

Everything was so lush and green throughout the course. The tee boxes and fairways were great. The primary areas of rough were also very nice. There are some outer areas they’re not putting as much effort into, so I can see a bigger turf reduction effort in the future here. I saw lots of maintenance out there, and the guy was dragging the traps in front of me. The bunkers were excellent. The greens had been cut and rolled tight, so putts were relatively quick even while still pretty wet. The greens here were fantastic. There were just a lot of old ball marks and unprepared marks. There was nothing that affected putts much, but it is a shame the players here aren’t truly appreciating what they have and doing their part to keep them as nice as possible.

I’d put Rancho Del Rey in the same overall category as nearby Madera Golf Course or Pheasant Run Golf Club. Another solid track where the conditions are well above average and the rates are very affordable. Not a destination course, but not a bad place to stop if you are driving through the area.

Some pictures from Rancho Del Rey Golf Club (6/27/16):

Next, I went further south and then cut across on Highway 145 to work my way out to Friant (just a little northeast of Fresno)…

Eagle Springs Golf & Country Club • Friant, CA • 6/27/16

Admittedly, this would have been a better one to play Friday morning before continuing up the 41 toward Yosemite. Again, the timing wasn’t ideal, plus I decided I wanted to save a little money here by playing on Monday. Though not a bank-breaker, Eagle Springs is definitely as expensive as any public course gets in the Central Valley. The weekend rack is $75, which is a lot around these parts. Also, I knew this was supposed to be one of the better courses around and it represented the last of the public regulation courses I needed to play in this region, so I figured I was kind of saving the best for last by playing it as the second round Monday.

I figured I’d be playing in the afternoon, but the morning round went so quickly that I was here in the mid-morning. I called ahead and they slotted me in at 10:00. There were people on the course, but it wasn’t too busy and everybody was rather spread out. I teed off around 9:45, played through a few groups along the way and ultimately finished about two hours and 45 minutes later.

I ended up paying the weekday rack rate of $65, so I still saved a few bucks compared to a Friday morning round. Deals aren’t easy to find here and they aren’t on booking sites, so it is what it is. Now that the Table Mountain Rancheria owns the course, I’m surprised they don’t have a player’s card discount. If so, I would have went to the casino across the street to get one before my round. I did pop into the casino after my round just to take a look and it seemed like a pretty nice one.

Eagle Springs was once called Brighton Crest Country Club. It is within the Brighton Crest community (the community still goes by that name), but the course is now owned by the tribe. The layout is a Johnny Miller signature design, so you know to expect something interesting, and like the man himself, maybe a little polarizing.

I had read mixed reviews of the course, but I expected I would like it. In general, I’ve really enjoyed other Johnny Miller courses I’ve played, especially others in California like Maderas, Eagle Ridge and Whitney Oaks.

Interestingly, even though all four of these are in very different regions, there are a lot of similarities to be found with them and Eagle Springs. All use the natural terrain beautifully and somehow the landscapes are remarkably similar. All are peppered with oak trees and boulder outcroppings. All layouts are quite challenging, but also a lot of fun. You might get tired of listening to Miller talk on golf broadcasts, but you certainly won’t get bored at any of his courses.

At the same time, a course like Eagle Springs may not be for everybody. It’s a beautiful layout in a fantastic setting, but it has some quirks and is definitely tough in places. These are elements I personally loved. I enjoyed just about everything at this place.

There is a great mix of holes that will require every shot in your bag. There are short risk/reward holes like the 10th, which is drivable for some. There are long beasts where you can grip it and rip it off the tee.

The 2nd hole is the signature par-3 that you’ll see when driving into the community. It is a nice one with water. The 7th is another nice par-3 with a downhill tee shot. There are some good par-5s, highlighted by the 9th. It gets really narrow on that second shot.

My favorite hole was undoubtedly the 4th, which offers the most elevated tee box on the course and a beautiful view from up-top.

The greens at Eagle Springs do have plenty of undulation, but maybe aren’t quite as tricked out as some of the other Miller courses I mentioned. Easily the toughest green complex on this course is the 18th. At first, I thought this was a weak finishing hole (though I do think the nines were switched at some point). I thought it was a good hole overall, but kind of lacking as a finisher. After getting to the green, I kind of changed my mind. It is a short, uphill hole that looks pretty basic, but has more bite than appears. Some really long hitters might go for the green and that brings more trouble into play. Otherwise, the fat part of the fairway is very forgiving. The green is where this hole has teeth. It has all sorts of big humps and bumps, along with a huge false front. Depending on the pin placement, it will make you work to make your final putt of the round. My approach landed on the front half, but rolled all the way back off the front edge. I then took four shots to get down from there with the pin all the way in the back!

The course was in very nice shape overall, playing even better than it looked. They don’t skimp on water here so there were some soft/mushy spots all around. Still, the tee boxes were nice. The fairways had fantastic turf that I loved hitting from. The rough was not too much of a factor, but conditioned fairly well and cut consistently throughout the course. There were some dapples of brown here and there in addition to some soft spots, but the surfaces all played great in my opinion. The rough had some dead spots, as well, but was generally much more good than bad. The greens were receptive, yet smooth and rolling pretty quick. The only real weakness here was the bunkers. They were inconsistent and ranged from just okay to terrible. As the area’s “high-end” course, they could do better with the sand.

The sand traps were not good, the rate is relatively high (at least compared to other Central Valley courses), the location is a bit out of the way and also the routing of the course is kind of funky and very spread out in relation to the clubhouse. Those are all minor quibbles, though, because there is so much more to like about Eagle Springs. The layout is fun and challenging, and the setting is gorgeous. I would recommend it in a heartbeat and it will easily rank at the top of my Central Valley list.

Some pictures from Eagle Springs Golf & Country Club (6/27/16):

Originally, I had just planned to play the two rounds on Monday. However, I finished both so quickly that I had a lot of extra time. There was one last grouping of courses further south that I still needed to play, so I decided to take my chances for an impromptu Short Course Blitz. I didn’t bother to call ahead, which I might normally do. I just went for it, and ultimately I regretted that decision.

The first stop went smoothly, though…

Exeter Golf Course • Exeter, CA • 6/27/16

Exeter is just east of Visalia. They have a 9-hole executive in town. It is a par-29 layout with one short par-4 (300 yards) and one fairly long one (400 yards) in the mix. Otherwise, the par-3s range from 85 yards up to 165.

I should note that the temperature gauge on my car was at 106 degrees when I pulled into the small parking lot here. I was actually surprised to see a handful of players out on the course, but at least that meant it was open. I paid $6 to walk and the guy inside told me that was good for as much as I wanted to play. Of course, I only played nine and barely survived that walk in the oppressive heat.

The layout at Exeter is very basic and pretty uninspiring. There isn’t much to highlight. Conditions were very dry and firm. The greens were just okay.

Not sure what else to say, but I played as quickly as I could and moved on to the next stop.

Some pictures from Exeter Golf Course (6/27/16):

Speaking of the next stop, it was about 15 minutes further south in a little town with an almost-great name…

Lindsay Golf Course • Lindsay, CA • 6/27/16

Not to divulge too much personal information, but my last name happens to be Lindsey (with an “e”). I’ve always joked that the people of this small misspelled Central Valley town are my mortal enemies, just like the people who make Lindsay brand olives (which are grown nearby, I believe).

After attempting to play the golf course, I stand firm in my belief that this town and I just won’t ever get along. I followed the GPS directions only to encounter a closed road right where the course entrance should be. I could see the course, so I drove around the block to investigate.

I saw no people on the course and no flags on the greens. I noticed a pink posterboard hanging from the fence with some writing on it. I parked nearby and then walked up to read it more closely. I should mention my temperature gauge was reading 110 degrees by now!

The sign said Lindsay Golf Course was open during construction and to park down the street at the Wellness Center. I did that and saw an opening in the fence where I could access the course. I was pleasantly surprised to see an OPEN sign hanging on the pro shop door. However, all the doors were locked and nobody was inside. I saw another note saying the course is not open Tuesdays, but this was a Monday. I tried calling the phone number I found online, but got a “this number is no longer in service” message.

My best guess is that nobody was out there on a ridiculously hot afternoon and they closed up shop early. I looked for a sign-in sheet or a place to drop some money and found nothing. I looked on one of the greens to see if there were at least holes cut and there were, despite no flags being out.

I was all the way out here, it was hot and I didn’t care if I was supposed to play the course or not. The signs all said open. I slid a couple bucks under the door just to be nice and I played as quickly as humanly possible. Fortunately, I found a slightly used scorecard while out on the course, so that was good enough for me. I didn’t care that there were no flags. I just played it as-is so that I would never have to return to this place!

The course is flat, wide open and boring. It is a 9-hole par-3 layout with holes ranging from 85 yards up to 144. Conditions were pretty bad. The greens were spongy and excruciatingly slow. Oh well. I played it, got an official scorecard and am checking it off my list!

Some pictures from Lindsay Golf Course (6/27/16):

Now, there was one more course in this hellish trio that I needed to play to complete the circuit. The abandonment of Lindsay in the afternoon heat had me worried as I made my a bit further south into Porterville. There, you’ll find the 9-hole Porterville Golf Course.

I was dismayed when I drove up to the course and saw no players or flags on this course either. There was one car in the parking lot, but the clubhouse was all gated up and there wasn’t any way to play it without hopping fences. That’s where I draw the line, so I tried calling the pro shop just in case. I got voicemail.

It was really disheartening to have to give up, especially since I did play the other 2/3 of this trio I’ve been dreading to play. It was hot. I was exhausted and depressed as I pulled away and headed home with my tail between my legs. Now, I have this one lousy 9-hole course to come out and play another time. Porterville is not conveniently located either, so it just sucks on all levels.


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