There’s Golf in Them Thar Hills, Part 2

Day two of my quick visit to California’s Gold Country took me to four courses in a whirlwind day of golf. I will cover the first two courses in this article, since I need to do a better job of spacing out my content. Each article will feature one full-length course and one 9-hole short course.

I stayed the night in Sonora, at the Sonora Inn hotel. The whole downtown is interesting with an old west mining town feel mixed with some Spanish missionary style. The hotel is really old and it has a cool, yet creepy vibe. I didn’t experience any paranormal activity, but it definitely looks like a place that would be haunted!

I got up early the next morning and wiggled my way through some dark and winding back roads, eventually finding my first course for the day…

Mountain Springs Golf Club • Sonora, CA • 10/20/2017

You don’t hear much about golf in this region, and you especially don’t hear much about any of the courses I played on Friday. I’m not sure why because it’s such a beautiful setting and the golf courses offer plenty to draw the interest of traveling golfers like me.

It had rained overnight and thick fog was rolling through the mountains in the morning. I had already booked a 7:22 tee time, which is the earliest they had. I arrived a little before 7:00 and the place was a ghost town other than one maintenance guy starting to pull carts out front. I had just gotten my new iPhone 8 a few weeks ago and this round was my first real “dawn patrol” test with the new camera’s low-light abilities.

It definitely passed the test as I walked around and snapped some killer unfiltered pictures with the fog hugging the hilltops all around the course. It looked so beautiful. The sad thing is that by the time I finally teed off, the fog had engulfed the course and it obscured many good photo opportunities throughout the front nine. Still, the iPhone did much better in the fog than any other camera or phone I’ve owned.

A couple other golfers showed up, but decided to go play a different course instead (Phoenix Lake, which I played later in the day and will review in Part 3 of this story). Eventually, the pro shop guy showed up and got me checked in at the $47 (with cart) rate. I basically had the place to myself other than a few encounters with maintenance on the course. I finished in just over two hours, perhaps spending more time taking pictures than hitting my ball.

Mountain Springs was designed by Robert Muir Graves and it utilizes the natural mountain terrain very well. No two holes are the same and there is no such thing as a flat lie anywhere on this course. There are downhill shots and uphill shots to/from elevated greens and tee boxes. Then, there are numerous side-slanting fairways (usually in conjunction with a dogleg) that really come into play. You definitely want to pay attention to the slopes here and land your ball on the high sides.

Mountain Springs has a number of memorable holes. The flattest hole on the course is the signature par-3 17th, which plays over a water hazard. Perhaps my favorite hole was the par-4 10th. It offers an elevated tee on a severe dogleg right hole. The fairway slopes from left-to-right all the way, so if you catch the right spot you can really run it down there. With my shorter cut shot, it was more like hitting it and hoping it it didn’t funnel into the bunkers on the corner. Thankfully, I placed it in just the right spot to benefit from the slope.

Conditions were decent for this point in the season. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were pretty patchy in places and had plenty of mushy/muddy spots, as well. I had mostly decent enough lies, though. The rough had pretty good coverage where it mattered, though there were plenty of gopher mounds and lumpy/patchy sections. The bunkers had good sand and I passed the maintenance guy dragging and hand-raking each one, so it’s clear they keep them up nicely here. The greens were punched not too long ago, so they were sandy, bumpy and slow. From what I could tell, it looks like they’re probably normally in nice shape and should be back to normal in a few more weeks.

Mountain Springs turned out to be one of several pleasant surprises on this trip. I love mountain golf, but this course has a much more open feel than something like Sequoia Woods. At times, I was definitely reminded of La Purisima or maybe Diablo Grande, which are both positive comparisons.

Some pictures from Mountain Springs Golf Club (10/20/17):

Next, I went on a mini short course blitz just to the northeast of Mountain Springs. I started with the furthest course away…

Twain Harte Golf Club • Twain Harte, CA • 10/20/17

I arrived around 10:00 and the place was pretty wide open. I saw a couple groups out on the course and a foursome of older gentlemen were just teeing off on the first hole. The price was $19 to walk nine holes, which I thought was extremely expensive for a course of this caliber.

I ended up playing through those older dudes on the second hole and then didn’t run into anyone else. I was done fairly quickly.

Twain Harte is a small mountain town off of Highway 108. It is named for authors, Mark Twain and Bret Harte (not to be confused with wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart), who both are tied to local history. I drove past Twain’s old cabin outside of Angels Camp the day before. And, if you’ve ever read the “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mr. Twain, you can enjoy one of the locally inspired stories he wrote while living there. 

The golf course in Twain Harte is a simple 9-hole layout that plays to a par of 29. It features a couple of short par-4s and then a healthy mix of par-3s ranging from 140 yards up to 210 yards from the front nine blue tees. There are separate white tees meant to play as your back nine. Ladies play the red/gold combo.

This is a decent little track that offers plenty of challenge for a short course. There are a lot of trees in play and some awkward tee shots. I did notice the 8th hole is currently using a temporary green. On the card and signage, it is listed as a 180-yard par-3. However, if you had to play to the normal green, it would be an evil dogleg left from the tee (corner being lined with massive trees and a fence along the bordering street OB). That would be a nasty little hole if actually a par-3. Not sure what the future of this hole is either way.

Conditions were adequate throughout the course. It was fairly green and lush. The greens were very soft and rolling at medium speeds. There is a lot of slope in play on these small greens, so downhill putts can be tough to stop, even on a soggy morning.

If you are all the way out in Twain Harte for some inconceivable reason, the course is a fun way to kill an hour or two. I noticed they did have lights throughout the course, but I am not sure if/when they use them for nighttime play. I saw no indications of them being open past sunset, at least not this time of year.

Some pictures from Twain Harte Golf Club (10/20/17):

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