Central Valley Weekend, Day 2

I chronicled Saturday’s at private clubs up in Fresno and Visalia. We worked our way further back south for Sunday. I was able to arrange two more private clubs for this day in Kern County. I am extremely grateful both places invited us out…

Stockdale Country Club • Bakersfield, CA • 7/9/17

Special thanks to the Head Pro and the entire golf staff here for treating us so nicely and arranging the round. They slotted my friend and I in with a 10:30 tee time. One of the caveats as non-member guests was that we had to be accompanied on the course by someone from the golf staff. It did cost a little extra for these “services,” but we were happy to pay and ultimately it made the round more fun.

On the front nine, we played as a fivesome with one assistant pro and a couple of younger members. On the back nine, we played as a threesome with a different assistant pro. It was fun all around and we still finished in right about three hours.

Stockdale is yet another older Central Valley club with plenty of history. Its roots date back to 1925 and I would say the layout falls almost exactly right in between what we encountered at Sunnyside and Visalia the day before. I’m sure it has had some renovations throughout the years, but it still retains a very simple, classic charm as a traditional course.

The course starts off with six straight par-4s, which is a bit grueling. The first hole is the most interesting of this bunch because it actually has two greens that they switch between. We were playing the one on the right, which makes it a little trickier with a dogleg. The hole would play straighter overall to the left green.

There is only one par-3 (the 7th) and one par-5 on the front nine (the 8th). To me, the design really perks up starting with the 9th hole. This is a severe dogleg left that will tempt longer hitters to try and cut the corner and/or drive the green. That’s no easy task with plenty of tall trees in the way.

The back nine plays as par-35 with three par-3s and two par-5s in the mix. In fact, the back nine is a rarity in that it begins and ends with par-3 holes. They are very contrasting holes, though. The 10th is a short one (122 yards from the blues) that plays slightly uphill to an elevated green. The 18th stretches out to 221 yards, but it is very wide open and flat. Honestly, it’s kind of a bland finishing hole, especially considering it is a par-3.

The signature hole is the other par-3, which is the 15th. It is a nice design that plays over a water hazard. It has a unique feature with a smaller secondary green set up to the left of the water. I guess this is used for some bonus “challenge” games in tournaments and member events. I just thought it was kind of cute.

Overall, I thought the stretch from 9-15 was the best part of the course. It easily has the most character at Stockdale.

The course was in very nice condition. The tee boxes were nice. The fairways were lush and green throughout with just a few tiny brown/thin spots here and there. The fairway grass is kept a tad shaggy on purpose. I guess the superintendent likes to keep things soft here, especially to combat the summer heat. That meant there was not much roll on drives, but good lies to hit from on fairways. The rough was a bit spottier along fairways, but good in the areas where it mattered most (especially around greens). The bunkers were great. The greens were receptive, very well-kept and rolling true at medium speeds.

I had driven out to Stockdale before just to take a peek. The big gate up front is kind of a cool entry point that evokes the history of this club. Ultimately, the course turned out to be more interesting than I expected it to be, though it is still a pretty straightforward Central Valley kind of design.

Some pictures from Stockdale Country Club (7/9/17):

We had one more stop to make on the trip. This invite came together at the last minute, but it couldn’t have worked out better…

Oak Tree Country Club • Tehachapi, CA • 7/9/17

Once I had played Stockdale, that left only one course in Kern County to play (not counting the remaining nine holes I still need to play over at Seven Oaks) and it was perhaps the most difficult-to-access of the bunch. The fact that it was last basically proves that point.

For those of you who know where Tehachapi is, you already know just how “in the middle of nowhere” this place is. And if you have ever played the public course in town (”in town” is a loose term here), Horse Thief, you know that it is even further off the beaten path. Tehachapi is already out of the way and then you have to drive another 15-20 minutes through the valley to get to the course.

Well, Oak Tree is kind of the same thing. It’s in a slightly different direction than Horse Thief, but equally out of the way. It is located in the Bear Valley Springs community and it is a private club.

Oak Tree is a regulation 9-hole layout (designed by Ted Robinson, Sr.), so it doesn’t seem like it would be one that would end up being such a thorn in my side. However, because of its obscure location and what I would guess is a fairly small and isolated membership group, you just don’t encounter many people with the right connections here. Most people don’t even know this place exists!

I was grateful to the Head Pro for responding to my email and inviting us out to play on Sunday afternoon. It worked out so well because it was basically right on the way home for me off Highway 58. The timing couldn’t have been better.

As I mentioned, Oak Tree is a regulation 9-hole design. It plays to a standard par of 36 and has different tee boxes for each nine, so you can get more out of an 18-hole round here. In fact, a few of the tees were quite different, so it will give you some variety with a replay. We only played nine holes (front nine tees), and that was satisfactory. It wasn’t crowded at all and we zipped through pretty quickly. We encountered a few members on the first tee and they were super nice, giving us some pointers and allowing us to go off ahead of them.

The first tee is the most dramatic point on the course. You get an elevated view from up by the pro shop and it is a fun opening shot. After that, the course flattens out without any more major changes in elevation as you circle around a scenic little lake in the middle of the community.

It’s hard not to draw some comparisons with Horse Thief. Oak Tree has a lot of the same characteristics thanks to the rugged natural terrain. There are many big boulder outcroppings throughout the course and that offers a very cool look. The background scenery in every direction is beautiful as you are in the middle of a big valley.

I would say Oak Tree is a little more “open” in design than Horse Thief. It isn’t as narrow and there aren’t nearly as many trees in play. Still, it’s a solid course design that is very enjoyable.

The conditions were a little rough around the edges for summer. Yet, it kind of fits the spirit of this community. We saw a couple deer on the course and three huge elk in someone’s backyard as we were driving out to the course. It seems like almost everyone in the Bear Valley Springs community had horses, goats, donkeys or some other kind of livestock.

The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were mostly in good shape with some inconsistencies. The rough was very inconsistent with a lot of squirrel holes. However, up around the greens it was very well-kept. You can tell that’s where they put the most attention. The greens themselves were fantastic. They were nicely conditioned and rolling well at medium-quick speeds. The bunkers had good sand, but could use some more maintenance to fluff up and flatten out.

Ultimately, the natural beauty surrounding the course and the remote setting provide the most appealing elements of Oak Tree. The layout is solid and enjoyable. If conditions were a little bit better, it would definitely qualify as a “hidden gem.” Really, I walked away with the same feelings I had about Horse Thief. They both have the potential to be something amazing, but the location just doesn’t lend itself to pristine conditioning. It’s probably always a little rugged, and that kind of works when you are in the outskirts of Tehachapi.

Some pictures from Oak Tree Country Club (7/9/17):

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