Good News and Bad News in Amador County

A big goal on my recent Northern California trip was to take care of some outlying courses that were still on my list, but somewhat geographically inconvenient. Sunday and Monday were spent south of Sacramento in the Stockton/Lodi area. On Wednesday, I went out to Calaveras County with my friend. On Tuesday, I was on my own, so I decided to take care of some courses further to the east of the city.

My main round for the day was scheduled for 1:07 at Rancho Murieta Country Club, but I will review that in a separate post. That left me with time for a morning round and an evening round. I decided to take this opportunity to knock out both of Amador County’s only two courses.

I went for the furthest away first, driving up in the early morning from my hotel in Lodi to the small mountain town of Pioneer…

Mace Meadows Golf Course • Pioneer, CA • 10/2/18

This course is kind of off on its own, but I was determined to play it on this trip to finally get it out of the way. My expectations were set very low because I know this place has struggled a lot. However, I was secretly hoping it might be a little bit of a hidden gem. After all, I love mountain golf and I knew I’d at least probably enjoy the course’s remote setting in the Sierra foothills.

Well, I guess I did like the setting and the quaint mountain atmosphere. Beyond that, this was a very rough golf experience.

From October through winter, they open up at 8:00 daily. I arrived early and had time to relax and enjoy breakfast in the little restaurant next door that seems to be a popular place among locals.

By the the time the pro shop opened up, I was the only one there and I literally had the course to myself. I saw a couple people getting there as I was leaving, but this place was pretty much a ghost town and that speaks to the very sad state of Mace Meadows.

Let me backtrack and talk about the name a bit, because it has been a major source of confusion for me (even after playing here). I’ve seen this place listed as both Mace Meadows (plural) and Mace Meadow (singular) online. I’d say it’s about 50/50 when you are here in terms of signage. You will see it with and without the “s” pretty much equally around this property.

I even asked the lady in the pro shop. She said it was Meadows and seemed confused when I asked the question—as if she had never seen it the other way. That was when I pointed to a sign about 10 feet right in front of her counter that boldly said Mace Meadow. Ultimately, though, the scorecard says Mace Meadows Golf Course and that is the name I am going with.

Sorry for that tangent, but that kind of thing kind of drives me mad. As a marketing/branding guy myself, I guess I just want courses to be consistent with their names. It’s not too much to ask, is it?

Anyway, the name may be the most interesting thing about Mace Meadows. Thankfully, I got a decent deal through GolfGuide.net ($24 total for a round here with cart any day/time) and I was able to play quickly by myself.

I will start with a couple more positives. The people around here were very friendly and I did enjoy the setting of the course. The layout wasn’t too bad either, with plenty of hills, trees and natural hazards in play. It has some quirks for sure, but that’s often the charm with mountain courses.

Unfortunately, this course has fallen on really tough times and it shows. While eating breakfast, I overheard some of the regular old dudes talking about how some more funding has been improved and they are working to grow some more grass on the course. The course actually did shut down for a little while in recent years, so at least it did reopen. So maybe, things are trending upward at Mace Meadows. However, it really does not show at all right now. This place is an absolute mess!

I made a joke on my greenskeeper.org review that this whole course should probably be roped off as “Ground Under Repair” until a lot has improved. It’s that bad. The greens do have the only dependable patches of green grass here, though they are shaggy, bumpy and slow. Beyond that, the tee boxes, fairways, rough and bunkers are all just a lumpy pile of hardpan dirt and weeds.

There is an occasional patch of grass here and there and some “fairways” were much better than others, but even then it’s not great as the ground underneath is so bumpy. Even if they were to grow in some fresh grass, it would still be so crappy underneath that the lies would be super inconsistent. They really need to level things out before growing grass, but I get the sense that’s not in the plans. Even at its best, this course will still be a rough ride.

I won’t go into any further detail. I’d love to someday hear this place was completely renovated and is looking/playing great because it actually could be a hidden gem with a ton of TLC. However, it’s so remotely located and it will never truly be a destination course. I feel it will either just die a slow death or it will just stay alive enough with poor conditions and whatever local play they can get.

Some pictures from Mace Meadows Golf Course (10/2/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

I survived the bad golf course in Amador County and then had an enjoyable round at Rancho Murieta. It went quickly enough that I had plenty of time to squeeze in the county’s good golf course…

Castle Oaks Golf Club • Ione, CA • 10/2/18

Ione isn’t nearly as isolated geographically as Pioneer, though it is definitely out of the way compared to most Sacramento area courses. It’s still probably 30-40 minutes out of the city and kind of on the way out toward the Gold Country mountain towns. Yet, Castle Oaks is not really a mountain course at all either. It’s basically a “tweener” geographically and that’s why you won’t ever hear too much about it. That’s too bad because this is a very solid course.

The first thing that stands out as you drive into the small town of Ione is that there actually is a prominent castle perched up on a hill. It’s called Preston Castle and it’s a historic part of the Preston School of Industry. It’s a neat red brick gothic style structure that will definitely catch your eye and it’s obviously where Castle Oaks gets its name. You can spot the castle from a few points on the back nine, as well.

I arrived around 4:15 and was teeing off a few minutes later by myself. I played through a couple groups along the way, but otherwise enjoyed my own super quick pace around this course. The price was $29 twilight rate with a cart.

Both halves of this course play through some residential areas of the Castle Oaks community, but there are only a few places where the homes feel a bit close. There is a lot of new construction going on around here, as well.

The front nine of Castle Oaks plays through more of a wetlands area. It is relatively flat, but with a number of water hazards in play. It is a nice overall design given the terrain. However, I did find the back nine much more interesting. It gets hillier and the holes have more distinctive designs. There are still plenty of marshy areas in play, but the terrain more dramatic overall.

Both sides of the course have several pretty memorable holes, but the two that stand out in my memory are the 16th and 18th. The 16th is a short par-3 that plays over a small canyon. There are multiple tee boxes and angles, so you will get a vastly different look at the green depending on which tees you play. The blues (145 yards) and blacks (155 yards) are set way back and give you almost a blind shot over the canyon, which is very intimidating. The white tees (only 110 yards) are further left and much less intimidating as you are slightly elevated and not hitting as directly over the canyon. The golds (103 yards) and reds (94 yards) get even further left and closer, almost taking the canyon out of play. It’s a pretty interesting par-3 design.

Then, the 18th is a great finishing hole. It is a long-ish par-4 with a split fairway that wraps around either side of a lake as the hole ultimately doglegs to the left. The left fairway is smaller and somewhat of an island, but it gives you a much shorter approach than if you take the wide way around on the right fairway. This one also has an elevated tee, which gives you a nice vantage point of the unique double-fairway design.

Adding to my enjoyment of Castle Oaks was the fact that it was one of the better-conditioned courses I played on the trip. It was in pretty nice condition and I’d say more “lush” looking than just about every other course I’ve played so far on this trip—just a little nicer than Mace Meadows!

The tee boxes were good. The fairways had great coverage, just maybe a tad on the shaggy side. There was not much roll-out to be had, but there were great fluffy lies to hit from. The rough was also pretty lush throughout. The bunkers were on the firm side, but adequate enough for me. They told me that the greens were aerated last week. If that was the case, it was not a full-core punch. I could see some very minor bumps, but it looked more like they were punched about a month ago or they just did something very non-invasive last week. They were a bit shaggy and slow for me, though they will be nice when they can cut them down a bit more.

I’m not sure Castle Oaks is worth going too far out of your way for, especially since there is already plenty of good golf more conveniently located throughout the Sacramento area. However, it’s worth a stop if you happen to be traveling through Ione on the way to or from the mountains. It’s a quality course that most people should enjoy, especially if you get conditions like I got.

Some pictures from Castle Oaks Golf Club (10/2/18):

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