Obstacle Course Part II: Green Target

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A beautiful but diabolical green at Martis Camp. So many factors make this green difficult.

Welcome to hole #2 of your obstacle course.  You have hit two really good shots on this long par 4, and you are ready to approach the green.  If you hit your ball about the same as what raters call a “bogey” player does, your drive traveled 150 yards and your second shot 130, leaving you with a 70-yard approach on this 350-yard hole.  Good for you!  A 70 yard shot is right in your wheelhouse.  What could go wrong?  The numbers for the “green target” obstacle will tell the tale.

First, consider the size of the green.  If it is a large green, you should get on every time.  The smaller the green, the less chance you will have to get on.  And what if you didn’t hit your shots well on this hole?  A longer approach shot could also prevent you from making the green.  The basic classification for a green as an easy target or a difficult target depends on green size and approach shot length.

However, the obstacle fairy does not stop there in her effort to ruin your approach shot experience.  What if a green is elevated and is blind or only partly visible?  Add difficulty points.  What if a giant valley oak tree has chosen to hang its limbs over the green, obstructing your perfectly-hit iron shot?  Add those points (and strokes to your score).  And what about the surface?  Is it like concrete or like mush?  Either condition will prevent your ball from rolling happily toward the hole – more difficulty points, more strokes.  And what if a green is tiered?  I’m so discouraged right now that I will put a discussion of tiers off until another time.

One hint:  Don’t stand over your ball worrying too much about these obstacles.  Grip it and rip it!

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Thank You Women Course Raters

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Northern California women course raters (and John Erskine) at Martis Camp in Truckee.

Thank you to all the women who have served as course raters over all these years whether you have represented the Pacific Women’s Golf Association or the Women’s Golf Association of Northern California.  We thank you for all the time you devoted to learning your craft, studying the guide books, and attending all the seminars and calibrations.  The many hours you spent trudging around golf courses and writing down all those numbers were not wasted.  The USGA needs women raters, and more importantly, women golfers need women raters.

If you see any of the following raters for the Sacramento Area, please give them a thumbs up for work well done: Sheri Erskine (chairperson), Carol Whitelaw, Jan Levine, Dyan Mart, Lynn Cowan, Leslie Cooper, Mary Stockdale, Karen Price, Mary Deardorf, Codie Powers, Nancy Sartor, Mary Thompson, Claudia Matthys, Cathy Trevena, Donna Tomlinson, Shelly Zeff, Linda Bunker, and Belinda Colville.

Rating Martis Camp: Heaven or Hell?

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A heavenly view of the Martis Camp Clubhouse and the 18th green.

This week marked a bittersweet occasion for WGANC River Valley course raters as it was our last rating as an independent women’s group.  From now on we will be part of NCGA who will be in charge of all ratings and handicapping for men and women players alike in Northern California.  We worried that men would be doing women’s ratings and that they might not necessarily understand a woman’s game.  However, beginning in 2018 each course will be rated by a team composed of 6 men and 6 women.  As long as women are willing to volunteer as raters, we should be well-represented.

And so we ventured forth to Martis Camp, a private facility located in the beautiful valley above Truckee, CA.  Our schedule this time found us playing the course Wednesday afternoon and rating after the frost on Thursday morning, after leaving time Wednesday night for our rating group of women to have a final good-bye dinner; we have been a pretty close-knit group over the years and we like being together.

Our first taste of heaven on this rating was the warm welcome we received from Assistant Pro Anthony Roth who escorted us on a tour through the entire clubhouse after the valet unloaded our clubs and parked the car.  Already feeling very special, we explored one of the most spectacular clubhouses we have ever seen.  Designed as a series of smaller, intimate rooms, the layout provides sweeping views of the 18th hole with the towering Sierras as a background every step of the way.  Add stone fireplaces and comfortable conversation-inducing seating and a member or lucky visitor may never want to leave.  Walls of picture windows allow the views of the imposing mountains to enter each room of the clubhouse and become part of the decor.

The women’s locker room because it is a big part of our heavenly experience earned its own paragraph.  Without question it is the largest and most attractive locker room we have ever seen.  Rebecca Taylor who manages this lovely space told us that it was “built to be a place to be.”  The women’s locker room has the same floor plan and space as the men’s.  Can you believe it?  Its lounge, which includes a fully-stocked bar, features picture windows wrapping the room with views of mountains and golf course and a central 2-way stone fireplace for  warmth on those frosty mornings.  Other areas of great interest are the full spa, a workout room, lockers for guests as well as members, smaller “quiet” rooms, and sound-proof work spaces for women who must work before or after a golf game.  The tranquil decor of the “locker room” (a real misnomer) is subtly feminine.  Why would a girl leave all this loveliness to go out a play golf?

Martis Camp Golf Course is where heaven and hell finally meet.  The course, designed by Tom Fazio who is known as a visionary, emphasizes the natural beauty of the Sierra environment, but don’t expect it to be easy.  Remember how the Donner Party had to fight its way over rough terrain, mountainous passes, and the sand and water of what is now Donner Lake?  They weren’t particularly successful, but your round can be a success if you “play the forward tees and enjoy the views” as rater Cathy Trevena suggested.  Just as there are no bad days in Cabo, there are no bad views at Martis Camp.  The drastic elevation changes, the sidehill fairways, the extensive bunkering both around greens and in fairways (and many of these bunkers are eight feet deep girls!) provide the obstacles that add a devilish punch to all this beauty.  A woman player can choose among a middle tee at 6010 yards, a forward tee at 5003 yards, or a combination tee at about 5300 yards.  Yes, you are at a high altitude which allows you to hit the ball farther, but the course has such tricky terrain that the forward tees seem to be the happiest idea.  The fairway bunkering threatens players the most.  After climbing down into the bunker, it is somewhat unnerving to look up to see an 8-foot wall in front of you, making that fairway wood you brought with you irrelevant.

Heavenly or hellish, Martis Camp was an experience not to be missed.  A course as challenging as Martis Camp is always difficult to rate because of the plethora of those hellish obstacles, but the pristine condition of the course and the genuine welcoming attitudes of of all the staff from the head pro down to Rick, the forecaddy assigned to our group, to the assistant in the pro shop who gave us extra Dove chocolates at the end of the round – all made our two days there beyond delightful.

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Don’t be deceived; this fairway bunker is hell!

 

Obstacle Course: Part I, Overview and Fairway

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What troubles await the golfer on this beautiful, pristine dogleg fairway at Martis Camp?

Did you know that a golf course is really an obstacle course with dangers for our games, seen or unseen, that inevitably will affect our scores?

We are beginning an off-season series of blogs that will discuss the various obstacles on a golf course that cause its rating and/or Slope to be higher or lower.  Of course, the length of a course is its most critical defense, and the length of a course is reflected mostly in its rating number (i.e. 72.3).  Other obstacles including fairway, green target, rough, bunkers, out of bounds, water, trees, green surface and topography – make up the slope number (i.e. 123) that you see on a scorecard or when you post.  This series will take a descriptive trip through these obstacles to reveal why that course you are playing is so darn hard!

FAIRWAY

You are standing on the first tee of your favorite course.  Let’s say the hole is a relatively short par 4, 310 yards, that you might possibly reach in two shots.  Why then do you always have such a high score on this hole?  As you look at your drive’s landing area in the distance (210 yards for a scratch player, 150 yards for bogey) you see the fairway narrowing appreciably, making it much more likely that you will hit your drive into the rough which immediately adds difficulty to the hole.

And rough is not the only problem a fairway can have.  Its width can be reduced by 1) a dogleg, 2) overhanging tree branches, 3) contour or tilt so that the shot must be played to one side, or 4) severe obstacles on one side (dense trees, deep bunkers, nearby water hazard, out of bounds or extreme rough).  What if your  course is suffering from water grass or bare lies from over-watering in hot months?  Your fairway just got more difficult.  If you are a bogey player, your fairway troubles haven’t ended because you can’t reach this green in 2 shots.  After your drive you have to worry about all the possible fairway troubles all over again; the longer the hole, the higher the fairway rating (and thus the slope rating) might be.  Perhaps we should just skip this hole and look forward to considering “green target” in our next post.

The Ridge to the River Why

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The Ridge features many natural areas.

Even after playing The Ridge Golf Club, we remain confused about the course’s character and its playability for the woman player especially.  Don’t misunderstand us; the Ridge offers a beautiful and inviting layout designed by architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr.  Located in Auburn, only a short drive up I-80 from Sacramento, it offers some good deals on greens fees either over the phone or online.  However, as I sit here gathering my thoughts, I find the course difficult to describe.

The Ridge is a good example of a Sierra Foothills golf course.  It features fairly narrow fairways winding through blue oaks, mountain streams, and wild, natural grassy areas.  Jones has used the natural land as his palette and his man-made additions blend well with the natural layout.  The clubhouse overlooks the course, providing spectacular views while golfers relax after 18 holes.

Our first question is about length.  The yardage on the scorecard is very deceiving since a majority of the holes play uphill, generally very steeply uphill, adding yardage every step of the way. (As much as we love to walk, we would recommend taking a cart here.)  Although the course provides 5 tee boxes on each hole “for all levels” of players, women players basically have 3 choices: White tees at 5844 yards and a 74.0/130 rating, Reds at 5,331 yards and 71.5/130, and Greens at 4,936 yards and 69.2/127.  If you choose the White tees, remember the course easily will play over 6,000 yards because of the uphill holes.  We played the Reds and had all we could handle out there.  The 130 Slope was our tip off that the course plays harder than the yardage suggests.

Our second question is about the condition of the course.  We know that we have endured a long, hot summer and golf courses have suffered, so we could forgive the bare spots in the fairway and muddy areas where we had to move our balls in order to play.  However, if a course features greens necklaced with bunkers as part of its aesthetic, shouldn’t those bunkers be maintained?  They desperately needed raking and edging.  If a course boasts 5 tee boxes on each hole, shouldn’t a player be able to find a grassy flat spot to put her tee in the ground?  Each tee box is too small in area, preventing divot marks from filling in and healing.  All tee pads were pretty chewed up.  Also the five tee boxes lack shade or shelter making for an uncomfortable wait to tee off.  All of that sunshine creates a great grass-growing environment but is hard on golfers in warm weather.

The good news for women is that Chris in the pro shop enthusiastically praised the women’s group, the Ladies Club at The Ridge, over half of whom are original members.  They are an active group, meeting on Wednesday mornings for a skins game (what a fun idea!) and holding two or three tournaments a month.  It might be worth the drive to join such a well-organized women’s club.

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Our personable and long-hitting playing companions, Robert Kyhn and John Anderson.

What Grass are You On?

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Lovin’ the grass at Bailey Creek.

No, not that kind of grass; the grass (-es that comprise the fairways, greens, and rough.)

Have you noticed that with the extreme heat some golf courses are watering like mad even to the point that there is significantly less roll in the fairways?  Other courses, although watering during the heat spells, seem to be able to maintain their grasses with less water and therefore have more roll and the grass seems to be thriving.

Welcome to the Sacramento Valley where no grass type is able to grow 12 months out of the year.  Some grasses like the hot summer and some like the cool, wet winter, but few grasses likes both.  A few newly developed hybrids do pretty well, but their cost for a golf course is prohibitive.  You might be able to afford enough of this hybrid seed to plant the lawn of your patio home.

Golf courses that have the money or that have been constructed more recently (in the last 20 or so years) generally plant the fairways and green surrounds with one type of grass.  The two most popular grasses for golf in the Sacramento Valley (because a golf balls sits on top of the grass when it is cut short) are bermuda and rye.  Older courses and those without luxurious budgets tend to have a mixture of grasses including bermuda, rye, and other local grasses.

Grasses fall into two general categories, warm season grasses and cool season grasses.  Bermuda is a warm season grass; it does well in the heat and goes dormant in the winter.  Rye is a cool season grass; it does well in the cool weather and struggles to survive the valley heat.   When you see cart restrictions, lots of water running, and bare spots during our hottest summer days, that course is likely to be planted in rye grass.

Personally, I prefer bermuda grass because the ball sits so well on it and I don’t play in the winter. (Mary is the President of the “Play It Warm, Dry, and Forward” fan club.)  While rye grass is green and offering its best lies in the winter months, Bermuda is “USGA golden” brown when it is dormant which draws complaints from those who live on a course planted in that grass.  The dormant grass does offer playable lies for those of you who insist on playing in crappy weather.

The type of grass that is planted in the fairways will also dominate the rough.  Warm season grasses make it more difficult to hit a ball out of the rough than cool season grasses of the same length.  If you are playing on a course with bermuda as the dominant grass, be aware that your lies in the rough may not look deep, but they are extremely difficult.

One final note:  If you need to sleep, try a Kush.  If you like a “busy” grass, you will want a green style.  If you are playing golf, neither works.

“Play 9” at Land Park

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The famous oak tree on hole #3 at Land Park Golf Course. How would you play this hole?

The USGA’s latest promotion tells us to “Play 9: It’s Your Time.”  Just as a previous promotion told us to “Play It Forward”, this new idea makes sense for any kind of golfer.  Since the average 9-hole round takes 2 hours and 15 minutes, think what you can do with the rest of your day: go back to work refreshed, go shopping, work on your fantasy football roster, spend some time with children or grand kids, or go to the zoo the way we did!  We were lucky enough to play our 9 holes last week right in the middle of Sacramento’s iconic William Land Park.

William Land Golf Course, a nine-hole layout, is one of Sacramento’s oldest tracts.  It has aged well.  Its holes meander through large, mature trees which make Land Park such a welcome respite from Sacramento’s heat.  We noticed beautiful eucalyptus, cork oaks, sycamores, and even palm trees on our 9-hole walk.  Our golf experience also included many dogs and their walkers as well as bicycles moving leisurely along.  We walked from green to tee over the many roads that crisscross the park.  The traffic there was not very noticeable; instead, one can almost feel the horse-drawn carriages of an earlier era going by.

The course itself offers a varied selection of tees from which to play: the Black tees at 2985 yards are plenty challenging for big hitters; the White tees at 2600 yards, 69.9/116 rating, allow shorter hitters to use all aspects of their games; and the Red tees at 2452 yards, 68.0/113 rating, might be an excellent choice for practicing the short game.  Unique to the course are the Brown tees especially for juniors ages 10-12 and the Yellow tees for “Little Linkers” ages 9 and under.  Needless to say, the course offers an outstanding First Tee junior program.

On this day we played from the White tees on the par 34 course.  The nine-hole round was perfect as we had plans to walk over to the zoo and visit the grand nieces and nephew afterward.  The layout is both interesting and challenging with three par 3’s, five par 4’s, and one par 5.  Most holes are tree-lined with fairly wide fairway landing areas.  Most greens are guarded tightly by bunkers; you need to bring a good wedge game with you in order to score well.  I wish I had taken my wedge lesson before rather than after the round.  Several holes utilize mini-doglegs at the end, making approaches to the green much more difficult.  We learned quickly that a 9-hole course is not necessarily an easy course.  The famous (many would call it infamous) signature hole has to be the 147-yard (126 from the Red tees) hole #3.  This hole is home to the famous oak tree standing in the middle of the fairway, blocking the green.  Women will struggle to hit a ball high enough to carry over the tree.  We were certainly unsuccessful.  Shorter hitters who cannot reach the green will have less trouble with the tree, but if a player chooses to hit a low shot under the tree to reach the green, she may very well end up in the large bunker that guards the left front of the green or one of the bunkers in back of the green.  Try both types of shots if you have a chance to do so.  Other than some uneven tee boxes and a lot of water grass (a Sacramento scourge we are finding on almost every course we play), the course is in good shape.

William Land Golf Course describes itself as a place “Where Everybody Can Play.”  In addition to promoting The First Tee of Sacramento by establishing junior tees and plaques honoring First Tee donors and pioneers such as Karen Dedman, it also provides instruction and events for young players.  Chris in the pro shop was eager to point out the bulletin board for the women’s club located in the restaurant (not in the women’s bathroom).  Women golfers can play with William Land Women’s Golf Club, a PWGA -affiliated club that plays every Thursday, or the Land Park Weekenders Golf Club which plays on Saturdays. On the Monday we played we noticed volunteers helping blind golfers play nine holes.  Our friend Keith Evans, a member of the Swingers Club told us that his group assists blind players who in turn inspire the volunteers with their strength and interest in the game.

It is very apparent to us that William Land Park Golf Club provides a welcoming environment for everyone.  We will certainly return when we “make time to play nine.”  Who knows? We may even stay to play the nine holes twice!

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This sign at William Land Golf Course says it all!