Nevada County Gold

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The old Worthington home.  Now the clubhouse at Nevada County Country Club.

Last week we traveling golfers truly found gold in the foothills in the form of Nevada County Country Club.  Located off East Main Street in Grass Valley, this Gold Country golf course is indeed a rare find.  A nine-hole course in pristine condition, it has an accompanying history that is every bit as interesting as that of any gold discovery.

The course itself is an architectural marvel.  Designed in 1926 by noted architect Sam Whiting who also created Harding Park, the Olympic Club, the Sonoma Golf Club, and Stockton Country Club, the nine-hole layout easily converts to 18 holes by using an ingenious set of different tees that actually changes the dynamics of most holes.  The holes wander up, down, and sideways along a tree-covered hillside which makes for some challenging lies.  The fairways are lush Kentucky bluegrass, and the bluegrass in the rough is even more lush (sadly for me).  The greens are excellent – medium fast, smooth, moderately contoured and really fun to putt.

The course offers some unique challenges for women players.  Its length, 5158 yards for 18 holes, seems short, but remember we are in the foothills; several of the holes play uphill and some are side hill in character, causing a player to lose yardage.  In addition, the side hill holes make the punishing rough a magnet for tee shots.  Once in the bluegrass rough, good luck getting out.  Personally, I lost a number of strokes there.  I just did not have the forearm strength needed to hit a clean shot out of thick, sticky rough. When I was not in the rough, I was a happy camper.  The lies were generally good, the greens were outstanding, and the walk was absolutely picturesque.

As for the history here, we felt it as soon as we turned into the driveway.  We were greeted by a beautiful, old, Victorian home which sits by the first tee, still looking elegant after all these years.  It was built by the owners  of Pie Plant Ranch, a dairy farm. Previously, in 1850 the owners raised horses on the property, racing them at the nearby Glenbrook Race Track.  Finally in the 1920’s a group of local golf enthusiasts planned the Nevada County Country Club, hired architect Whiting, and converted the old ranch home into a clubhouse.

On this day we were a group of four raters invited to play in the women’s club guest day by Nevada County member (and rater extraordinaire) Mary Deardorf.  She shared stories of the camaraderie at the club, describing how the superintendent, the men’s club, and the women’s club collaborated to build an attractive fountain on the 9th hole to replace a fallen tree and how some of the women’s club actually did some interior decorating in the historic clubhouse.  In fact, Nevada County Country Club is a semi-private membership club, but they welcome public play seven days a week and are anxious to have all golfers enjoy their course.  In Grass Valley the golf course is golden, and although we struggled with our games (with the exception of the other rater extraordinaire Karen Price who shot 38 on the back nine), we never blamed this beautiful course for our misfortunes.  Instead, we congratulated ourselves on our great discovery, a lovely day with friends, and a delicious lunch at “the Dump”.

Check out the Nevada County Country Club website for more information: http://www.nevadacountycountryclub.com

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View of the 5th and 6th holes from the elevated 5th tee at Nevada County CC.

“The Founders” Film – A Review

The golf world is full of stories about the pioneers of golf, men such as Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen.  Movies abound about their exploits – Bagger Vance, The Greatest Game Ever Played.  But notice it’s all about the men.  Do women golfers even have any pioneers whom they can look up to and thank for the game they so love today?  Do we women even know who they are?

Here are the thirteen names we should all know and revere:

  • Alice Bauer
  • Marlene Bauer Hagge
  • Patty Berg
  • Bettye Danoff
  • Helen Dettweiler
  • Helen Hicks
  • Opal Hill
  • Betty Jameson
  • Sally Sessions
  • Marilyn Smith
  • Shirley Spork
  • Louise Suggs
  • Babe Didrikson Zaharias

They are the founders of the LPGA and the subject of a fairly recent film “The Founders” produced by Stacy Lewis and Kari Webb through Mighty Fine Pictures.  We sat spellbound through a screening of the film on August 1st here in Sacramento, but it is also available on iTunes, Amazon, etc.

The film begins with an old clip featuring a gentleman looking into the camera, smiling, and saying, “Competitive athletics tend to destroy all that is natural in women and all that makes them attractive to men.”  By the end of the film, the audience is amazed at the accomplishments of the Founders but acutely aware that the misogynist culture surrounding golf may not have changed all that much since 1950 when the LPGA was founded.

The film tells the story of the 13 founders “through rare archival footage, historical re-enactments and current-day interviews with surviving founders and leading players” (as described on “The Founders” website).  However, the audience’s emotional involvement stems from two conflicts, one cultural and one personal.  Because of the existing prejudices against female athletes, the thirteen founders were forced to plan their own tournaments, create the original LPGA by-laws, set up the golf courses they played, and even hand out tickets. They received no help from existing golf organizations.  They might have failed altogether had it not been for the big-name draw of member Babe Zaharias, perhaps the greatest female athlete of all time.

Equally as compelling a conflict is the rivalry between Zaharias and Louise Suggs.  Their ill-will toward each other unfolds dramatically in the film through emotional interviews with Suggs.  The fact that all is not fun and friendship in competitive golf makes these founding women seem more human and therefore much more interesting.

The film brought back a personal memory for me that now has a new significance.  As a very young girl in the late 1950’s just starting to play the game, I accompanied my mother to an LPGA tournament in Spokane, WA.  I was so impressed with all the women who participated and I remember deciding that Louise Suggs was my favorite.  I rooted for her with great passion from then on.  In retrospect, I realize I was a witness to the great existing inequality in the game.  The women played their tournament on what was perhaps the worst golf course in Spokane at the time.  The image I have of it in my mind is flat, brown, and almost treeless.  It was not a very welcoming venue for either players or galleries.

The film ends with a crucial point.  Have times changed?  Women are still not seen as athletes.  Do women’s professional tournaments have the same prize money as men’s? The answer is an overwhelming no.  Are women pros playing their tournaments on the same top-notch golf courses as the men do – Pebble Beach, Olympic Club, Augusta?  No. Have we come a long way, baby?  The film leaves the audience wondering.

This film is beautifully put together.  It combines a documentary style with a tension-filled and compelling human story.  These tough, pioneering women golfers deserve our admiration and gratitude. A good way to honor them is to see this inspirational film.

Lincoln Hills

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Mary and Nancy surveying their drives from the platform tee on hole #3, Orchard course.

Can anyone think of a better way to spend a few hours than playing 18 holes of golf with two old and very dear friends?  We savored that very experience last Friday at Lincoln Hills Golf Club.  Although we focused on our games, we shared jokes, gentle barbs, and occasionally some compliments as we played on a hot (what else is new?) summer day.  After the round, in the air conditioned, lively environment of the Meridian Sports Bar, we caught up with each other’s lives over a cool drink – priceless.

The course at Lincoln Hills gets mixed reviews from all of us.  The club actually has two 18-hole courses.  On this day we played the Orchard Course.  Our friend Nancy tells us that it is the harder of the two courses because of barrancas on several holes that a player must cross on her drives.  The ladies’ club has even created drop areas on the far sides of the barrancas to speed up play, a nice idea but it could lower handicaps inappropriately.  On hole #3 the women lobbied successfully for a forward tee built on a wooden platform like a wildlife viewing stand to allow shorter hitters to clear the riparian area. (All of these problems  could have been avoided, of course, if the course architects gave any thought to women players or shorter hitters in general when they designed the course.)  Mary, our other playing partner, complained that there were no trees on the Orchard Course.  On such a hot day we did end up searching for shade.  The other Mary (blog co-author) noted that the course is losing its battle with water grass. We all found ourselves, whether in the rough or middle of fairways, trying to power our way out of the sticky stuff.  This unexpected hazard penalizes women particularly since “muscling” shots is not really part of our game. As for me, although a wildlife lover at heart, I do not like seeing Canada geese on a golf course because I know the damage they can do and I hate stepping on goose poop.  Lincoln Hills, unfortunately, is overrun with Canada geese.

My first impressions of the Orchard course were quite positive.  Again, I thought of Palm Springs while playing another Del Webb course, but even though the fairways generally have homes lining one side, the opposite side often had sweeping views of natural ponds and riparian areas, making the holes seem more wide-open.  The course is not walkable even on a cool day,  but the golf cart ride is an experience in itself, taking players through tunnels, across surface streets (carefully marked with stop signs), on wooden cart paths and walkways, and across winding bridges over ponds and natural areas.

On the negative side, a woman player has a choice between only 2 sets of tees, somewhat limited but both fair for women.  The purple tees at 5571 yards have a rating of 72.5/120 and the red tees at 5366 yards are rated at 71.5/118.  Again, the architects might have given the women players tees with more than 200 yards difference.  The two ratings and slopes are very similar, limiting the variety of the playing experience.

Many players do not realize that the Lincoln Hills courses are open to the public since they were originally built exclusively for the homeowners there.  Unfortunately, membership in the women’s golf group, which meets on Thursdays, is only open to homeowners.  The drive to Lincoln Hills is worthwhile as tee times should always be available with two courses to play.  We intend to return in the near future to review the second 18, the Hills Course.  Meanwhile, I will leave you with a safari-like wildlife photo.

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The Canada geese of Lincoln Hills.

The Opens on T.V. – Part II

Warning:  This article may be further evidence of the boredom forced on me by sitting around indoors watching television on 100+ degree days.

NBC added a new feature to its coverage of the British Open which it needs to reconsider and hopefully dump immediately.  Its new commercial break format called “Playing Through” turns out to be distracting and irritating for us couch potato television viewers.  An admirable idea, “Playing Through” allows viewers to continue watching the action on the golf course while a split-screen format runs commercials at the same time.

The problem with this idea is that it reduces the golf action to half a screen, making it harder to see.  In addition, the golf half of the screen has the NBC logo (those peacock feathers), the title “The Open,” and a list of the top 3 players on the leader board superimposed over the action.  It is just too hard to see the golfers on the smaller screen with all this extra business going on.  I found myself praying that Jordan Spieth would finally hit his shot from the practice area after the commercial break.  Why pay all that money for a 50″ screen when you find yourself squinting at an 25″ picture?

Even more annoying are the commercial jingles that end up providing background noise for the golfers – almost as irritating as some boor in the gallery yelling “mashed potatoes” after a golf shot.  On behalf of couch potatoes everywhere, I ask NBC just to give us a regular commercial break after which we catch up on the action via video replay; forget about “Playing Through.”

2 for 1 – Timber Creek

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View of the front nine at Timber Creek.

I know we all have accused ourselves of playing schizophrenic golf, but have you ever played a golf course with a split personality? We soon discovered that even with our wildest, craziest shots, the personalities of the course at Timber Creek in Roseville made all the difference in our games.

Timber Creek Golf Course is 18 holes of fairly challenging golf that runs through the Del Webb Sun City enclave in Roseville.  Reasonably priced at $43.00 with cart, the course offers 3 sets of tees for women players: the Gold at 5666 yards, the Red at 5208 yards, and the White at a very short 4278 yards.  We were told to play the Red tees as those are the tees most women use.  After playing we thought the course might do well to create combo tees as we had several holes where we could not hit drivers for fear of going through the fairways.

The journey at Sun City begins by traveling through a tunnel to the first tee where we discovered the typical Del Webb course, looking very much like its sister course in Palm Springs.  Homes, evenly spaced, neatly line all the fairways.  Holes feature man-made water hazards and trees planted where they will be most effective.  The homes, which are out of bounds of course, tend to sit up higher than the fairways and greens to provide better views, but walking along the fairways can be a little claustrophobic.

The day was quite hot and the course necessarily quite wet.  We really weren’t looking forward to the back nine, but thank goodness we pressed on.

As soon as we reached the 10th tee, we looked at each other in amazement.  Did we take a wrong turn?  Had we been transported to another golf course?  This back nine at Timber Creek presents a completely different style of course.  The fairways go where the land takes them naturally.  They are lined with beautiful, mature oak trees and protected environmentally sensitive areas.  The water has always been there in the form of a stream that runs across numbers 11 and 17 and affects several other holes.  Even the cart paths from greens to the next tees wind through natural woods, not disturbing the existing landscape.  The course does come back to its other personality on #17 where houses loomed above us on the left, but the expansive riparian area marked as a hazard on the right inadvertently reminded us of the schizophrenia of this course.

My brother, whom I have always accused of being schizophrenic, has always enjoyed playing Timber Creek.  It showed in his game as he played well on both nines.  Mary and I also enjoyed the day although our scores indicated that we must have felt more comfortable with the back nine personality.  We regained our sanity by relaxing in the bright, newly renovated restaurant and bar area overlooking the practice area – recounting our many hits and misses.

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The back nine at timber Creek is a walk through the woods and natural areas such as the one pictured here.

A Tale of Two Opens

I am forced to admit that this summer I have spent a lot of time watching golf on T.V.  The 100 degree + temperatures (why-always on the weekends?) have driven me inside to the air conditioning and my trusty recliner.  Not able to afford the airfare to be there in person, I watched both the men’s US Open and British Open while avoiding the heat outside waiting to do me in.  The contrast between the two championships as far as venue and T.V. coverage was eye-opening to say the least.

Although Erin Hills, built on perfectly good farmland in Wisconsin, and Royal Birkdale, built on the shores of the Irish Sea, are both links-style courses, the viewer at home had a much better view of the game in England than she did the tourney in the USA.  Because the USGA chose yet another treeless links-style course where the fairways were not defined and almost every shot was a blind shot from the television viewer’s perspective, the tournament was hard to watch.  No matter how many shot tracers Fox used, this course gave us no perspective as to where the target was.  We could not follow the ball nor could we tell where the player was aiming and most times where the ball ended up. On the other hand, watching the action at Royal Birkdale was like watching an old friend. The fairways were clearly defined by the sand dunes which belonged there and the tall fescue and heather rough.  From the tees the camera clearly picked up the landing areas in distant fairways.  The only blind shot that was really noticeable was Jordan Spieth’s on #13, but of course a shot should be blind if it is hit from the practice area back to the green.

NBC’s coverage and camera work at the British was far superior to Fox’s at the US Open. NBC never failed to pick up the location of both accurate and wayward drives.  I recall seeing many approach shots to the green at Royal Birkdale.  Sadly, Fox’s cameramen seemed to be just as confused as we television viewers’, often not picking up on the location of drives and not making approach shots a priority.  I can’t recall seeing a green target on any approach shots other than short chips or pitches.  However, the fault was not in ourselves, dear golf lovers, but in the course.

Royal Birkdale is comfortably suited to the terrain it was given while Erin Hills appears to have forced its links-style on a Midwest corn field forgetting that it is in Wisconsin, not on the shores of any great body of water.  The USGA seems to believe that the “modern” golf course does not require trees: note the location of the last three US Opens.  However, the T.V.  audience loves the definition of tree-lined fairways in order to follow the action. Perhaps we television viewers were were more comfortable in our air-conditioned homes even in our collective state of confusion.  I feel sorry for both galleries and golfers searching for non-existent shade in the sweltering heat of a Wisconsin summer.  British seaside courses like Royal Birkdale, working with the dunes and heather they were given, have created playable courses without trees.  Then again, the climate and changing weather conditions don’t require trees for shade or for obstacles.

I would much rather be playing golf than watching it on T.V., but if I am watching, I’d like to be able to follow the play as I was able to do much more easily with the British than with the US Open.

Note: Perhaps you are wondering why we did not comment on the Women’s US Open. We were unable to watch it from our recliners as we were busy driving our air conditioned car on a road trip (see “Golf Montana Style” and “Shopping at Fiddler’s Green” blogs).

Shopping at Fiddler’s Green

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Fiddler’s Green Golf Center is literally filled to the rafters with golf merchandise.

After a long two-week road trip that would have made Thelma and Louise proud and a particularly stressful day in I-5 traffic, there it loomed in front of us – the “Promised Land” in Eugene, Oregon – Fiddler’s Green Golf Center, home of the largest on-course golf shop in the USA.  We felt the tension drain from our tired bodies; we were about to go golf shopping!

We opened the front door and walked into a cavernous whole new world of all things golf related.  The store (it seemed as big as a football field) was an attractive warehouse with rows of colorful golf clothes for women.  I’m pretty sure it carried men’s clothing as well.  Toward the back around the 50-yard line, a cornucopia of golf clubs, all brands and all shiny and new, waited for a lucky player to select them.  At the far end zone was a wall of attractive (too attractive) golf shoes.  Fiddler’s Green also had separate rooms attached to the main large room, one dedicated to golf bags and one dedicated to wedges and putters, enabling a customer to make her choice away from the general hubbub created by the masses of shoppers.  As we wandered around the sidelines, we found everything a golfer could possibly need, including the latest technology.

We definitely needed a guide in this place that so easily overwhelms the senses, and Raymond Moore, a personable manager, came to our rescue.  He was eager to fill us in on the history of the golf center while he tempted us with various “good buys.”  Zeke, another personable and successful employee, was content to help Mary buy her first pair ever of full-priced golf shoes.

Raymond explained that the current owners founded Fiddler’s Green in 1976 when they took over a small, rundown golf course by the Eugene Airport.  Over the years they built addition after addition to the pro shop until golfers now enjoy the current behemoth they see today.  Fiddler’s Green still maintains the 18-hole, 2315-yard short course originally in place.  In addition, it has added a driving range, not only for warming up but for testing prospective purchases as well.  The original pro shop in the back is now a small coffee shop for both players and customers.  To get to the coffee shop from the shopping center, Raymond led us past an in-house embroidery shop, a golf club repair shop, a shipping/receiving space, and Mary and Zeke trying on shoes.  judging by all the services available, Raymond justifiably boasted that “customer service is primary” at Fiddler’s Green.

I know the big questions all you readers are asking are “did you buy anything” and “was it a good deal.”  The answers, of course, are “yes” and “yes.”  How could we resist?  I bought a golf watch that also counts steps, and Mary bought a new, longed-for pair of Footjoys. The purchases did not break the bank.  We will chalk them up to our road trip budget.

Hope to see you again soon, Fiddler’s Green.

Address: 91292 Highway 99N, Eugene, OR 97402.