2018 Christmas Trip, Part 1: The Sacramento Stop

Though sometimes we move around where we meet, my dad, brother and I always try and get together during Christmas. The default location is usually my hometown of Crescent City, which is located in the far northwest corner of California. That’s where we ended up this year. When the weather allows, I usually like to break up the drive with some golf.

This year, the weather forecast looked bleak for most of the time I would be up there. However, I didn’t get much rain at all and actually got several beautiful clear days. I didn’t golf as much as I could have, but I still got some rounds in—enough to be reasonably satisfied with the trip overall. In total, I played seven new courses in the past week or so, and I was able to finish off my golf year on a pretty solid note.

I left last Wednesday afternoon and stayed the first night in Sacramento. It’s usually a good midway point and there are also still plenty of courses for me left to play in that region. One I had a particular eye on was Rancho Murieta Country Club’s South Course. I’ll explain a little more later on, but an afternoon round there ultimate shaped my schedule for the day.

Still, I had the morning free and had another course to check off the list…

Cordova Golf Course • Sacramento, CA • 12/20/18

My tee time at Rancho Murieta was set for 12:15, so that left me with some options in the morning. However, it doesn’t get light around here until after 7:00 this time of year, so it was best to play something fairly close by. My best options were Cordova and Mather. Mather didn’t have any early tee times available and their prices for a mid-week round seemed a bit steep. I decided to keep it shorter, quicker and cheaper at Cordova for $19 to walk 18 holes.

There wasn’t much of a dawn patrol crowded, but I ended up going off second by myself behind an old lady who is a regular here. She teed off while it was still fairly dark and she played quickly, so I just enjoyed a relaxed walking pace of about 2.5 hours. When I say “walking,” I really mean trudging carefully through lots of mud and puddles. After plenty of rain lately, the course was very wet!

Cordova is an executive 18-hole layout that plays to a total par of 63. It features just one par-5 to go along with 10 par-3s and seven par-4s. It’s a very basic layout with flat terrain and holes that run back and forth. There are a few doglegs here and there, and a couple of green complexes have a little character, but it is mostly pretty wide open and simple in design.

The wet conditions certainly made the course play longer than it is. Having said that, this “little” course isn’t necessarily a pushover in the distance category. The par-5 is fairly short and nearly half the par-4s are 300 yards or less. There are a few longer ones, too. The par-3s will make you work here. From the blue tees, the shortest par-3 measures 155 yards. The next two shortest are 165 and 177 respectively. The rest are all over 180, including three of them over 200.

I actually thought a couple of them I played early on were really short par-4s, as you might expect at an executive course. I realized a bit later that they were actually just long par-3s, playing much longer because it was cold and wet. I always find it weird that so many of these executive layouts, which are usually most often played by seniors and novice players, almost always have a collection of really long par-3s. I would hope and expect to have a few short ones mixed in, as well, but that’s just not the case at Cordova.

As I mentioned, the course was really wet, muddy and patchy. It was tough sledding from tee to green. The bunkers mostly had nice sand and they were kept in decent shape. A few were flooded out and obviously the sand in the others was obviously very heavy and damp. The greens, however, were the highlight. I thought they were in great shape all things considered. They were more firm than you would think given how wet everything else was, and they were rolling well at medium speeds.

Cordova is an okay little local course and the people I encountered there were very friendly. It’s a good place to work on the game and enjoy a relaxed round with friends. Otherwise, there isn’t really much more to highlight about it because it’s a very basic layout.

Some pictures from Cordova Golf Course (12/20/18):

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

After Cordova was in the books, I headed east toward my main destination for the day…

Rancho Murieta Country Club (South Course) • Rancho Murieta, CA • 12/20/18

My tee time wasn’t until 12:15, but I arrived here much earlier. I didn’t have quite enough time to squeeze in a bonus round anywhere after Cordova, so I figured I’d take my chances at Rancho Murieta and maybe get out early. If not, I would just relax and grab a meal in the nice clubhouse restaurant.

It did not seem crowded at all here, but it actually was. However, all the morning member groups had gone off and they let me head over to the South Course a little before 11:00. I should mention that the South Course is located in a different part of the community and it’s a bit of a cart drive from the main clubhouse where the North Course and driving range are located. They have a separate starter shack, but you still have to check in at the main pro shop first and get your cart over there.

I had booked the round as a hot deal for $44, which is reasonable. I played the North Course a couple months ago after finding out that this normally private club was offering public tee times through GolfNow as a way to generate some extra exposure and revenue. Unfortunately, the South Course was closed for maintenance last time I was here, so I wasn’t able to play both courses. I knew they were continuing the offer through the end of the year, so the Christmas trip was the perfect time to return and make sure I played it while it was still available. In talking with the staff on this visit, there wasn’t any certainty one way or the other if it’s something they are going to continue in 2019. We’ll have to see.

I teed off by myself, but quickly caught the groups ahead. I was led to believe there might be a gap in front of them, so I skipped a couple holes and couldn’t find any openings. The course was stacked solid. I ended up joining a nice member threesome on the 5th tee and playing the rest of the round with them. I went back and quickly played the couple holes I skipped afterward. The total pace was fine around four hours.

I definitely enjoyed the North Course last time around, so I was curious to see how the less-heralded South Course would measure up. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the layout. This course is a Ted Robinson design that offers a lot of the same qualities that make the North Course fun and challenging. Like its sister, South has a very spread-out routing and there are no parallel holes on this side. This course does have a lot more houses lining the course, but they rarely felt too much in play.

Both courses have some funky holes, and the South starts off with probably its quirkiest design. It’s a sharp dogleg left and kind of an awkward one to start with. Beyond this, the course uses the natural terrain well as it works its way through the hills, oak trees and boulder outcroppings. There are never any boring moments.

One of my favorite holes was the par-4 9th. It features an uphill tee shot and a slight dogleg left. The approach shot is downhill to a green surrounded by some oak trees and the aforementioned boulder outcroppings. I thought the green complex had a great look.

The greens here to have plenty of undulation, but nothing as severe as on the North. Most of the greens on the South are elevated and very well protected by bunkers and false edges, so it takes good accuracy to score well here. The fairways are reasonably wide for the most part. There are narrow sections and not many flat spots, though, so you will have you pick your spots and execute properly for the best angles of attack.

Though I really enjoyed the layout, I have to say I was very disappointed in the conditions as a private club. I usually don’t expect much in this area in the winter season, but it was very patchy and largely dormant throughout the course. There was a hodge podge of green and brown patches throughout the fairways and rough. It mostly played okay (certainly playing better than it looked and not as muddy as the more “lush” courses will be this time of year), but there were a lot of weak areas, too. The bunkers fine with a few having puddles from the recent storms. The greens were pretty nice overall, receptive and rolling well at medium speeds. The tee boxes were also fine throughout.

Winter is clearly not the ideal time to play Rancho Murieta, but beggars can’t be choosers. I definitely wouldn’t pay the full guest rate right now and even the $44 is borderline based on current conditions. However, both layouts here are very good and it’s worth checking out, especially if they offer any public access during better parts of the year.

Some pictures from Rancho Murieta Country Club (South Course) (12/20/18):

(I did my best to find some flattering angles, but the ugly grass and gray skies didn’t make it easy.)

 

 

 

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