Disappointment in the Delta

The last day of my recent Bay Area trip took me to the northeast part of the Bay Area. Perhaps it’s better known as the Sacramento Delta region, where the bay transitions into the rivers and sloughs near Stockton and Sacramento.

I had only been to this area once before, and both of those courses I played (Roddy Ranch) has sadly closed since my visit. However, there are still a handful of other courses out there for me to experience, so I was able to check two (or was it three?) more off this list on Tuesday before heading home…

The Golf Club at Rio Vista • Rio Vista, CA • 11/7/17

My friend and I bought a voucher on Groupon that was a really good deal (2 players for $41 with no restrictions). The only trick was making sure we could play out here in the early morning. With winter approaching, Rio Vista is shifting to a daily 9:30 shotgun format during the weekdays.

Fortunately, we were able to contact the powers that be and ensure that we could go out earlier. As long as we were off the course by the time the shotgun started, we were clear to play. We teed off around 6:45 and were finished by 9:00, so it worked out perfectly for everyone. It was extremely cold in the morning, but luckily there was no frost. That might have been our only concern with trying to get an early round in.

Rio Vista is definitely out of the way, but it’s kind of in right between the North Bay, East Bay and Stockton areas. I just don’t know how much draw it has from any of those regions, though, because it’s so isolated amidst the Delta waterways.

Rio Vista is a Trilogy community that was master planned in the 1990s during the residential golf boom. The course was designed by Ted Robinson, Sr. and that will be easy to see in the pictures below. It had a very “familiar” look and feel with lots of water hazards and other typical Robinson features. I was joking that it was Robinson residential template #5 because it felt like so many other courses I have played.

The course runs through the community and houses may come into play from time to time. Water hazards can be found on a majority of holes, except for the par-3s, which is really strange on a Robinson course. Usually, he has at least one or two tricked-up par-3s with water features. A couple of the par-3s had small natural hazards in play, but certainly not the contrived Robinson style.

The 9th and 18th holes were more traditional Robinson signature finishers. They are both fun and challenging with those water hazards very much in play. The 9th is a dogleg left with water left and behind the green. The 18th is another dogleg left with a peninsula green. It requires a full carry over the water on your approach, and then there is water right of the green as well. I had kind of a blind second shot. I’m pretty sure I cleared the big water hazard in front, but may have caught the smaller one to the right because I never found my ball.

Though familiar in style, the layout at Rio Vista is actually very solid. It offers enough challenge with so many water hazards and some OB along the houses, but is still pretty forgiving off the tee. The greens are large and have the undulations and shelves you would also expect on a Robinson course. There are some well-placed bunkers, as well. Just imagine parts of Tustin Ranch or any number of Coachella Valley Robinson courses picked up and transported to the Northeast Bay Area.

Where the real disappointment came was with the conditions. Rio Vista was not in very good shape from tee to green. I wouldn’t expect things to be super nice this late in the year, but you can tell this course has fallen on some tough times. It looks and feels run-down. The tee boxes were okay. The fairways were very spotty, especially on the front nine. There were a lot of big dead/muddy patches and it looked ugly. The back nine had slightly better coverage, but still had some issues. The rough was even spottier throughout the course.

The bunkers were odd. Some were fine and we even saw the guy dragging them in the morning. Then, about a third of the other bunkers were completely untouched and being reclaimed by nature (weeds, etc.). There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to which bunkers were left to die while others were still being maintained. Some seemed quite integral to the hole designs, but were beyond repair. Meanwhile others that didn’t seem so integral were still being taken care of. It was strange and sad to see.

The greens were the lone bright spot in terms of conditions. They were soft and receptive, and the surfaces were well-maintained. They were rolling pretty smooth at medium speeds. It’s clear this is where they are putting the most effort right now.

Rio Vista is okay if you get a really good deal and you happen to be very close by. Otherwise, it is best avoided for awhile.

Some pictures from The Golf Club at Rio Vista (11/7/17):

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After that round was complete, we headed south for our next destination in the Delta region…

Brentwood Golf Club • Brentwood, CA • 11/7/17

This course also went by The Golf Club at Brentwood name, and there is still a lot of signage around the course that displays that. However, the scorecard says Brentwood Golf Club and so does any of the more modern-looking signage, so I will stick with that as the current official name.

After a quick breakfast, we teed off around 9:30 as a twosome. We had used a GolfMoose voucher that was a decent deal. We saw steady groups going out ahead of us, so we knew it would be a slow round. We ended up joining the twosome ahead of us for part of the front nine (Creekside). Then, instead of playing what would be our normal back nine, we jumped over to the Diablo nine before coming back to the Hillside nine and finishing out. It was a lot of driving around, but it ended up saving us quite a bit of time overall as we intended to play all 27 holes anyway.

I should back up and note that Brentwood is a 27-hole facility. However, it is not necessarily a 27-hole course, at least not anymore. In fact, I’m actually having a very hard time deciding if this counts as one or two courses on my list.

If you go play there right now and sign on for a typical 18-hole round, you will play Creekside and Hillside. Diablo is basically considered a separate 9-hole course these days. Geographically, it makes sense because the Creekside nine does not come back to the clubhouse after the 9th hole. It leads right to the 1st hole of the Hillside nine, which ultimately brings you back in. The Diablo nine does a full loop that returns you back to the clubhouse.

Based on that, it’s clearly two different courses. However, the scorecard is set up like most other 27-hole courses that displays all three combination rotations. There are combo ratings/slopes for each pairing and there is no clear distinction that Diablo is a separate scorecard. All the signage on the courses and the scorecard itself refers to holes 1-9 of each course, not Hillside being holes 10-18 as they should be considered.

It’s all a bit confusing and I had the exact same dilemma at Whittier Narrows several years ago. I ended up only counting that as one course and I am probably going to end up doing the same at Brentwood. Until I know the scorecards and other elements are clearly distinguished as one 18-hole course and a separate 9-hole course, I can’t count them as two in good conscious.

Sorry for that, but these are things I think about. I hold a grudge against all 27-hole courses for various reasons, and Brentwood is one that adds an extra layer of frustration.

However you divvy up the 27 holes, it’s easy to draw comparisons between Brentwood and Rio Vista. Brentwood opened in 2000 and is another master planned residential course designed by none other than Ted Robinson, Sr. If Rio Vista is template #5, then Brentwood is #6. It also has the same familiar look and feel.

Hillside easily stood out as the most interesting of the three nines, followed by probably a tie between Diablo and Creekside. Each of those had a few memorable holes and a number of fairly forgettable designs. Hillside brings in a few slight changes in elevation and more distinctive holes than either of the other two nines.

Brentwood was in slightly better condition than Rio Vista, but it’s clear they’ve also had their own struggles here. Most of the white tee boxes were being overseeded, so they had us moved up with the reds on most holes and back with a blues just a couple times. I probably should have played blues if I had known that most holes were moved up, but oh well. I had fun playing a super short version of the course. I needed a confidence boost at the end of this trip anyway!

The fairways were somewhat spotty, though much better than the really beat up ones over at Rio Vista. The rough was very inconsistent here. Some spots were bare hardpan, some spots were littered with gopher mounds and some sections features super deep, thick rough where you were lucky just to find your ball. In other words, it was best to stay on the fairways. The bunkers were rock hard and not good at all.

Again, the greens were the highlight. They were firm, yet receptive and rolling well at medium speeds.

Neither course played on Tuesday was all that enthralling or unique, especially if you’ve already played a lot of Ted Robinson courses as I have over the years. They are fine enough for the right deal and you can’t expect much from the winter conditioning. If I had to pick one to recommend, it would be Brentwood by a slight margin. It had somewhat better conditions and an extra nine holes to play, though I would say Rio Vista is probably a slightly more interesting and challenging layout overall. Neither are worth that much attention from a traveling golfer’s perspective.

Some pictures from Brentwood Golf Club (11/7/17):

Creekside

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Hillside

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Diablo

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