There’s Golf in Them Thar Hills, Part 1

As you can see, my golf schedule lately has been pretty minimal. Plus, I’m typically not posting new articles about courses that I’ve already played around Southern California. So, from now on you can expect blocks of reviews coming from any road trips I happen to take. It is what it is, so I appreciate those who continue to follow the blog.

This past weekend, I had a business meeting up in Modesto. It should come as no surprise that I tried to squeeze in a little golf with the trip. Unfortunately, I have already played every public course up through Modesto and Stockton. That means I have to get a little more creative.

Therefore, I decided to head east of Modesto toward the Sierras—up into “Gold Country” as it’s known. It’s a region I hadn’t really explored. There aren’t a ton of courses and they are much more spread out than any map would lead you to believe. Getting around this area is tough on back highways and windy mountain roads, and then there are the small old mountain towns in between to bottleneck any traffic. It makes it hard to cram in a lot of golf in one day (especially during the short autumn days). Fortunately, it’s kind of the off-season already there, so courses were less crowded than they might be in spring and summer.

My original plan was to design the trip around Saddle Creek and Greenhorn Creek Resort, which are the most notable courses this area has to offer. However, Saddle Creek was closed Thursday through Saturday for a big member/guest tournament. Greenhorn Creek just aerated their greens earlier in the week, as well. They had some good prices that would help make up for that. With Saddle Creek off the table, I decided to save Greenhorn for another trip when I could do both. Geographically, they are a good pair.

Instead, I drove up Thursday morning and made the most of the first day…

Forest Meadows Golf Course (Murphys 9) • Murphys, CA • 10/19/17

Note: This course closed down not long after I played, but I believe it is back open again. 

Forest Meadows is a gated community in the hills with what is currently a 9-hole golf course. It used to be an 18-hole executive course that was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. (Senior may have had a hand, as well). I can only imagine how sweet it was in its heyday with that kind of design pedigree and this beautiful mountain setting.

Several years ago, they ended up renovating the course and cutting out seven of the holes. The other half of the course was adjusted to eliminate one par-3 and two combine two others together to make another short par-4. The result was a par-33 9-hole course that feels like it’s probably a shell of its former self. You can easily see what those holes used to be when you are there. Sadly, one of the best green complexes on the course sitting right on the edge of a lake is one that is no longer used. Many reviews I’ve read online don’t seem favorable of the new version of this course.

Anyway, with the renovation, they changed the name to Murphys 9. Some online sources and even the yardage guides available at the course still use this name, but clearly they decided to go back to the original Forest Meadows name at some point. It is the name of the community where it sits, so it makes sense. Most everything there says Forest Meadows now, including the scorecard, so that’s what I’ll go with.

I arrived around 10:00 and the place was a total ghost town. I called in advance just to make sure the place would be open, and they were despite outward appearances. There was an old dude in the little pro shop. It was $25 with a cart. I probably should have walked for $11 given how much time I had to kill, but I had just driven 7 hours straight and hadn’t eaten anything, so I opted to ride.

I did encounter a twosome out on the course and they let me through when I caught them. Otherwise, it was a quick round on an empty course.

As mentioned, this little course has a great setting. Tall trees line the fairways and it it is rather hilly. There are some narrow shots and tricky doglegs on the par-4s (there is one par-5, too). It’s a fun and tricky short course. The par-3s range from 148 yards up to 190 straight uphill on the 5th hole. The par-4s range from 279 up to 333, and the par-5 is average at 509 yards from the blue/front nine tees. So, it’s no pushover when you add in all the natural hazards.

I wish I had played the original layout, though. As it is now, it sure doesn’t feel like an RTJ course. It’s definitely quite rough around the edges and everything about it feels run down. Conditions were okay. The greens were soft and mostly in good shape. The fairways, tee boxes and rough were all pretty spotty. Part of this is due to the late point in the season, but you can tell it’s probably never in that great of shape any time these days.

It’s a fun stop for a quick, relatively inexpensive nine if you are visiting locally and want to knock the ball around. Otherwise, not worth the trouble to get there.

Some pictures from Forest Meadows Golf Course (10/19/17):

With Saddle Creek and Greenhorn off the table, I decided to give this next course a call. It ended up working out well…

Sequoia Woods Country Club • Arnold, CA • 10/19/17

This was an ideal course to pair with Forest Meadows because it’s only about 15 minutes further up the highway toward Ebbetts Pass. However, the trick is that Sequoia Woods is actually a private club. I reached out and pitched my story, and they were nice enough to set me up with a 1:04 tee time for $60 with cart.

A friend of mine actually came out and joined me for the round, so I had to wait for him to arrive. They had men’s club in the morning, but the afternoon was open for member play. We eventually caught up to some member groups, so we just hung back and took our time. We still finished in about 3 hours, 20 minutes, so it worked out well.

The two nines at Sequoia Woods are actually quite different. The front nine sits out in a more open valley area. There are some water hazards in play and a few holes that run along the edge where trees hang over into play. Otherwise, this side of the course is pretty straightforward.

Then, the back nine is a totally different story. It is tight and hilly with trees closing in on every side. The trees here are mostly mighty sequoias, so they are tall and imposing.

Speaking of different nines, the scorecard tells you all you need to know. The front nine is a par-38 with just one par-3 and three par-5s. From the blues, it tops out at 3,468 yards on this side, so it’s still not that long. The back nine, on the other hand is only par-32. It has four par-3s to go along with five par-4s. It tops out at just 2,132 yards.

This is one of the craziest splits I’ve ever seen, though you can argue the back nine is actually the much tougher nine. There is so much more trouble to get into and the hills make several of the holes play a lot longer than listed on the card. The total yardage for the course from the back blue tees is just 5,600 yards, though, so it’s definitely not a long course overall.

I personally found the back nine much more entertaining. The 14th-16th holes make up what they affectionately call the “Sequoia Triangle,” even though they don’t really flow in a triangular shape. These are three very tricky uphill holes in a row.

The 14th is only 262 yards, but it provides one of the more uncomfortable tee shots you’ll find anywhere. To the left, there’s a hillside that is lined with white OB stakes at the very bottom (just a few yards from the fairway). On the right, there is the cart path and then a drop-off to a wooded creek area. Just a few feet from the cart path you’ll see another row of white stakes. The hole itself doglegs left as it goes uphill. Even if you are just laying up with an iron like most people will, it feels so tight off the tee because of the OB on both sides and left turn it makes about 2/3 of the way up the fairway.

The 15th is a 179-yard par-3 that plays closer to 200 because it is uphill. Again, it is narrow and intimidating with no room for error left or right.

Lastly, the 16th goes steeply uphill with another left dogleg. Some well-positioned trees make this a trickier hole than it first appears.

After that, you finish with the super tiny and should-be-super-easy par-3 17th just 81 yards slightly downhill with virtually no trouble to get into. It’s almost a par-2 because par feels kind of like a failure. Then, you have the dogleg left, straight downhill finishing 18th hole which is a fun way to complete the round.

For this time in the season, Sequoia Woods was in pretty good shape. It was pretty green throughout and mostly good in the areas that mattered. The fairways did have some weak/thin/muddy spots and brown sections. The further you strayed from the fairways, the more spotty things got in the rough. The bunkers were fantastic. The greens had recently been aerated and sanded, so they weren’t great to play on. However, it was easy to tell they are normally in very nice shape. They just need a few weeks to heal up.

If you have an opportunity to play Sequoia Woods, it’s worth checking out if in the area. I am very glad they let us come out to play and we had a lot of fun on this course. It is the only private club in the area, so it felt good to check it off the list. The staff and members were super friendly and it’s a charming mountain course with a beautiful setting.

Some pictures from Sequoia Woods Country Club (10/19/17):

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