There’s Golf in Them Thar Hills, Part 3

As mentioned in Part 2, I ended up playing four rounds of golf on Friday during my quick trip to California’s Gold Country on the western edge of the Sierras. After quick morning rounds at Mountain Springs and Twain Harte, I kept things rolling with another short course for round 3…

Phoenix Lake Golf Course • Sonora, CA • 10/20/17

Phoenix Lake was not too far a drive from Twain Harte on the way back toward downtown Sonora. I arrived and saw some groups out on the course, but the first tee was wide open. I paid for 9 holes with a cart ($24, I believe) and was on my way. I quickly caught up to a slower group, but they eventually let me through and I still finished relatively quickly.

Phoenix Lake is a 9-hole regulation layout with different tee boxes for front and back nine play. The front nine plays a little longer, but is still short overall at 2,625 yards total for a par of 35. There are two par-5s on the course and three par-3s.

The par-3 holes are respectable, playing at 139, 175 and 218 yards from the front nine white tees (the 218 hole plays significantly downhill). The par-4s are all relatively short with the longest one being 324 yards. The first par-5 is average at 504 yards and the second one is short at 427, though it is a little tricky with a sharp dogleg and some well-placed trees coming into play.

Phoenix Lake is a pretty decent 9-holer with a moderately interesting layout. There are some elevation changes, natural hazards and trees to keep you on your toes. Some shots are very wide open while others feel quite tight, so it’s a pretty solid design.

Conditions were just so/so as most of the tee boxes, fairways and rough areas were pretty dried out and spotty. The greens, however, were adequate. They were soft and receptive while rolling at medium speeds. A few showed some damage and areas under repair, but mostly as good as you can hope for at a small local course like this.

There isn’t too much else to say about Phoenix Lake. It’s just fine for what it is and it seems to be one of the more popular courses for locals.

Some pictures from Phoenix Lake Golf Course (10/20/17):

Before the day started, I wasn’t sure I’d get anything in beyond those first three rounds. However, things went so quickly at each course that I still had plenty of daylight to spare. I had to go way out of the way for another course to squeeze in, but it ultimately worked out well…

Pine Mountain Lake Golf & Country Club • Groveland, CA • 10/20/17

If you look at a map of the courses in this region, they don’t appear to be too spread out as the crow flies. Unfortunately, this area is not easy to get around. From Phoenix Lake, there appeared to be two ways to get to Groveland, which is just southeast of Sonora and on the way toward Yosemite. 

There was a small back road that was shorter mileage to drive, but it looked super sketchy on the map. Google told me to take the longer way around and I’m glad I did. That drive was bad enough! Groveland is way up in the mountains, so it’s a steep, winding little highway that ultimately takes you there. It took about an hour to make the 26.5-mile drive from Sonora to Groveland, but I finally made it.

The course was fairly busy, but I still had ample daylight and I felt confident I’d have no problem finishing before dark. The guy in the pro shop was super nice and got me checked in at the twilight rate of $42 with a cart. I quickly caught a group ahead and played through them. Eventually, I caught the log jam later on the front nine and didn’t have anywhere to go. Another twosome let me play through at the turn and then I ended up joining the threesome ahead on the 11th tee. The total round still only took about three hours and 20 minutes.

Being up in the mountains, Pine Mountain Lake certainly has a nice setting for golf. The holes are tree-lined and there are numerous elevation changes in play. The front nine plays a little tighter and more up/down than the back, but both offer fun layouts that will challenge and entertain you just enough. The Pine Mountain Lake resort community surrounds the course and also provides a touch of mountain charm.

The course was opened in 1969 and designed by William F. Bell. The layout doesn’t feel like it’s been renovated or manipulated in any significant ways since then, but I don’t really know. It’s not as dramatic as some mountain courses can be, yet it works nicely for what it is.

I’m not sure what you’d consider the signature hole at Pine Mountain Lake, but it’s probably the par-3 17th. This is a nice downhill hole with trees protecting the green in front on either side. It is a pretty good-looking hole and a strong par-3 to finish with before the demanding uphill dogleg right par-4 18th. 

Pine Mountain Lake is a par-70 layout with just one par-5 on each side. Otherwise, I’d say the total yardages are pretty average and the elevation changes certainly make some holes play much longer than others.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this course was the insane amount of deer roaming around. No joke, I saw at least 100 deer on the course during my round. I counted 25 of them hanging out on just the 12th hole!

The course was in solid shape, especially for this point in the season. I don’t know if they stay open year-round or not, but Groveland itself seems like it wouldn’t be easy to access in the winter if the roads are wet and/or icy. Most tee boxes were sanded pretty good as they were doing some maintenance work on them. The fairways were in good shape overall. They were a mix of brown and green colors, but had a good turf base to hit from. The rough was pretty good, as well. The bunkers were nicely kept with soft sand. The greens here were also aerated not too long ago and seemed a week or two further along than Mountain Springs. Should be back to normal soon enough. For my round, they were still a little bumpy and slow with the aeration scars showing.

I wouldn’t say Pine Mountain Lake is worth going out of the way for, and I do mean “out of the way.” No matter how close it looks on the map, it is a brutal drive from any direction. If you do happen to be in Groveland coming to or from Yosemite, though, it’s well worth a stop.

Some pictures from Pine Mountain Lake Golf & Country Club (10/20/17):

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