Rating Martis Camp: Heaven or Hell?

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.

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



The Ridge to the River Why

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.

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

“Play 9” at Land Park

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!

This sign at William Land Golf Course says it all!


It’s a Man’s World at Empire Ranch

A view of the 18th and 9th greens and the clubhouse from the elevated 18th tee at Empire Ranch. (Note forward tee in the foreground.)

From the limited supply of women’s merchandise in the pro shop to the location of the women’s club bulletin board behind the door in the ladies’ bathroom (as opposed to the men’s club events prominently displayed in the foyer), we got the hint that this golf course might not have been created with women players in mind.  The course layout and tee selections only confirmed our suspicions.

Empire Ranch Golf Club, designed by Brad Bell, became the first golf course in the city of Folsom in 2002.  Billed as a links-style course, it met few of the requisite requirements for its professed “links” style.  First, it is not located on an ocean or sea or large body of water; we couldn’t even see Folsom Lake from the course.  It has no sand dunes, no wind, no thick rough, no uneven fairways, and absolutely no pot bunkers.  Many links courses have an “outward” nine along the coast traveling away from the clubhouse and a parallel “inward” nine returning to the clubhouse.  Instead, Empire Ranch’s front nine is circular in shape returning to the clubhouse, and its back nine, although more traditional in its setup, has only 5 holes traveling “outward” and 4 holes returning “inward” – an abbreviated links style.  We also spotted way too many trees on the property for a links course.  But links courses are all the rage these days.  (Note the USGA choosing Erin Hills, a links-style course in the middle of Wisconsin farmland, for this year’s men’s US Open.)

I suppose the debate about whether or not Empire Ranch is a links course has little to do with what women want or don’t want in a golf course, but the length of the course is an important issue.  Longer-hitting men enjoy three choices of tees:  Blue at 6668 yards, Tournament at 6308 yards, and White at 6058 yards.  Each tee has approximately a 300- yard difference in length from the next, creating an excellent variety in lengths.  Women, however, must choose between the White tees at 6058 yards (so long that course raters will only do a paper rating because so few women will play those tees) and the Reds at 5036 yards, 68.0/113 rating and slope, a length so short that it may not present enough of a challenge to be interesting.  We found a Combo tee on the card at 5427 yards.  We chose to play that set of tees, much to our chagrin.  The Combo is simply not set up for women players.  It features a 413-yard par 4 and 151 and 153-yard par threes, unreachable for most women players.  The final straw occurred when we discovered we could not post our scores because Empire Ranch did not establish a women’s rating from the Combo tees.

We found two holes that were memorable, unfortunately for the wrong reason.  The first tee is located across the parking lot around the corner and down the entrance driveway from the pro shop.  After asking directions, we finally found the first hole snuggled up against the towering, protective netting of the driving range which runs along the left side of the fairway.  The opposite side of the fairway features a large electrical tower which looms menacingly for anyone who fades the ball.  To complete the picture of this unusually unattractive starting hole, power lines form an arbor across the hole.  The landing area is not visible so a player must aim her drive at one of those visually stunning, striped directional barber poles.  I don’t know about other players, but I am much happier when I can see my target.  I hate aiming at a pole, of which there are many here.  We women players are justly proud of our feminine sense of aesthetics.  It is a big reason why we play golf.  Needless to say, Empire Ranch’s first hole was the most unwelcoming hole we’ve played this summer.

The 18th hole is probably the course’s signature hole – for men and long hitters.  For women it is a huge disappointment.  After seemingly playing uphill on the entire back nine, longer hitters end with a par 3 that involves a shot off a cliff to a green far below. Shorter hitters (read “women”), however, drive their carts on steep paths down to the bottom where their Red tee is located.  The tee allows them to reach the green, but they lose the character (and the fun) of the hole.

Although the course itself did not provide a positive experience, the game of golf as always, certainly did.  We were paired with a gentleman from the Folsom community, Brian Richie, who represented the positive aspects of the game in every way.  We had a lovely day comparing shots and sharing golf stories.  His daughter, Marissa, has taken up the game in a big way and is currently competing for the Vista del Lago High School girls golf team.  Hooray for girls golf and hooray for its supporters like Brian!

Will Empire Ranch ever be more accommodating for women players?  In spite of a very congenial pro shop and staff, the original set up of the facility will be difficult to change; thus, it is unlikely to ever be appealing to women.

The Canada Gang rushes headlong across the green, ignoring our two great golf shots at Empire Ranch.

Bailey Creek, a Mountain High

One of the 18 beautiful holes at Bailey Creek Golf Course.

It never occurred to me to describe a golf course as “user friendly,” but those words, chosen by head PGA pro Ronnie Theobold, couldn’t have been more apt in describing Bailey Creek Golf Course, a course with no lost balls, no bad lies, and no long carries over water.  Yes, Bailey Creek is not located in the Sacramento area exactly, but the drive to Lake Almanor where it is located is so scenic along the Feather River Canyon and the golf course that awaits is so worth a girls’ trip, we knew we had to tell everyone about it.

Designed by golf architect Homer Flint, the first nine holes were built in 1999 with the second nine completed in 2001.  It is impossible to single out a signature hole as Bailey Creek boasts 18 unique golf holes, each with a mountain feel and each equally picturesque.  As we played, we found it difficult not to gaze up constantly at the tall Plumas pines outlined sharply against the bluest of skies at 5,000 feet.  The Kentucky bluegrass fairways were in perfect condition, gently sloping and in pristine condition. The rough, also Kentucky bluegrass, was certainly punishing for a woman player, but she should be able to avoid the rough as the fairways were open and quite wide.  The absence of blind shots was also comforting although I was certainly distracted by the many mountain views along the way.  The greens were medium fast, lush and true – fun to read and fun to putt.  The only uneven spots on the course were on the asphalt cart paths, having suffered some damage after the long winter.  We tried to keep our loud, somewhat smelly (but necessary at the altitude) gas cart on the fairway.  No bumps there.

As beautiful as it was, what we appreciated most about this course was that it was definitely built with women in mind as well as men.  Most women, as we did, will choose to play the red tees at 5,328 yards and a healthy 70.0/125 rating and slope. This length was plenty challenging; we saw lots of doglegs, elevation changes, and even a tall, intrusive pine tree smack dab in the middle of the 6th fairway.  However, the par 3’s were all reachable, and all other holes had a variety of lengths that create interest and require a variety of skills.  The 5,847-yard white tees at 72.6/131 rating and slope are an excellent challenge for longer-hitting women players, particularly considering the longer flight of the golf ball at 5,000 feet.

We also couldn’t have been more impressed by the obviously close-knit staff at Bailey Creek.  When we first walked into the well-stocked pro shop, we were immediately greeted by head pro Ronnie who was eager to answer any and all questions.  Justifiably proud of the facility, he had worked there since the year 2000 and had started as a cart kid.  The cart girl who helped us at the beginning and the cart boy who cleaned our clubs at the end of the round were cheerful and accommodating.  Even the course marshal added to the “feel good” vibe of the golf course.  When our group was backed up waiting on a tee, Marshal Ev brought out his guitar and serenaded us with a “good ol’ country song.”  It turns out he was Head Pro Ronnie’s fifth grade teacher and a fun part of the family atmosphere at Bailey Creek.

When we checked in, Ronnie was genuinely excited to tell us we were paired with a couple who were trying out the new Golf Boards to navigate the course instead of the traditional carts.  Dave and Nan Wiik from Lake Wildwood had a ball “surfing the earth” on their boards, and we certainly got a kick out of watching them glide along the fairways.  These two skilled players had no problem concentrating on their games while they learned to “golf surf.”  Watch for a separate post about these unique golf surfboards coming to the blog in the near future.

Our game at Bailey Creek may have been our best overall golf experience this summer. Coming back to hot old Sacramento was a bit of a downer as you might imagine.  We highly recommend that you make the trip up to Lake Almanor to experience this course for yourself.

Bailey Creek Golf Course;  phone (530) 259-4653;  email  www.baileycreek.com

The inviting entrance to the Bailey Creek Golf Complex.





Nevada County Gold

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

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

2 for 1 – Timber Creek

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.

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