I recently returned home from my annual trip up to Northern California for the holiday season. Normally, I play more golf on the way up and down than I did this year. Weather, timing, budget and other factors came into play, so I really only played two rounds on this trip and only one of them was on a “new” course for me. It was a little disappointing, but golf has honestly been less of a priority for me lately. I hope that changes in the coming year!
On the drive up, I did stop just north of Sacramento at River Oaks Golf Club in Nicolaus. Geographically, it’s a bit of an outlier course and it made sense to play it and keep driving northward toward my final destination. Also, it was one of only a few courses in the region that had good hot deals still available when I booked the day before. I snagged a 10:30 tee time for only $17 on GolfNow.
My drive up went smoothly and I arrived there closer to 9:30. The place looked mostly deserted on a cold and dreary Thursday morning. At least it wasn’t raining, though! I checked in and they said I could head out whenever I was ready.
I did see a handful of players out on the course once I was playing. I leapfrogged one single at the turn and then played through a foursome on the back nine. Then, I played behind a slower twosome for the last few holes. Overall, it was a nice quick pace, which was ideal to break up a long drive without taking up too much time.
One interesting thing to note about River Oaks Golf Club is that it is the third course in California I’ve played with the name “River Oaks.” I’ve always found it strange knowing there are three courses in the same state with that name. One is just a 6-hole short course in Paso Robles (Central Coast). The other is an 18-hole executive course in Ceres (Central Valley). At least they are somewhat spread out to avoid further confusion.
This River Oaks is the only regulation-length 18-hole course in the bunch. It used to be named Rio La Paz and was originally intended to be a private club, but I don’t think the full development here ever panned out and it became public soon after opening in 2000. It has struggled in various ways throughout the years and actually shut down operation for a period in 2016-2017. When that happened, I didn’t think I would ever complete my California River Oaks trilogy. However, it reopened and it sounds like they have been putting a lot of work into this place since. I was curious to finally see it for myself.
As for the course, it was designed by Peter Jacobsen. I’ve played a handful of his course designs and I’ve really liked them for the most part. Unfortunately, I have to say River Oaks is the least interesting of the Jacobsen courses I’ve played. It’s not bad in any way. There just isn’t anything too memorable or distinctive about it.
I would describe the front nine as a semi-links style course. The landscape here is flat, but there is some mounding along the fairways and large greens with some undulation to keep things somewhat interesting. There are some water hazards, as well, though a few are mostly dried out.
The back nine does get more interesting in terms of the layout. The doglegs are sharper (especially hole 10) and the hazards are more in play. There are a couple slight changes in elevation, too, but it is still mostly pretty flat terrain.
Conditions were decent for winter. When you have dry/cold winters in Sacramento, things tend to get really dormant. When you have wet winters, things will be green but also very soggy and muddy. I’d say River Oaks was somewhere in between. It hasn’t been the wettest winter here (yet), but they did get a lot of rain right before I was there. They told me not to drive on the fairways because they were wet. There were definitely some squishy areas, but nothing too bad. I thought the fairways were in pretty good shape for this time of year.
The tee boxes were a bit shaggy as they hadn’t been able to mow in a few days. The rough was a mixed bag. There were some thinner dormant sections along with some thick, deep and wet patches of grass. Then there were clovers, weeds and gopher mounds mixed in, so you never knew what kind of lie you might get. The bunkers were damp and packed in pretty hard, so they were almost unplayable. The greens were soft, but rolling a lot faster than they looked. I ran many putts past the hole.
It’s nice to see that River Oaks is back open and they are putting in some work to get it back to a better state. The layout really isn’t anything that exciting, but I think the nicer they get the conditions the more appealing it will be. The location is a tough draw to get people up from Sacramento, where there are a lot of similar public courses in terms of design and price range. The next closest course to it was the 9-hole Mallard Lake, which also closed down some time ago. Plumas Lake and Coyote Run (at Beale AFB) are the other nearby courses. I haven’t played either of those yet, though, so I don’t know how River Oaks stacks up against its nearest competition.
If you happen to be up in Nicolaus/Yuba City, then River Oaks gives you a decent place to tee it up and I’ll be curious to see how they continue working to improve this course.
Some pictures from River Oaks Golf Club (12/19/19):
(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)