Requiem for a Golf Course

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The ornamental cherry tree in full bloom on hole #3 at North Ridge.

(Note:  Seasons Greetings.  This memory of the front nine at North Ridge, written with nostalgia, is a fond memory not a criticism.  We know our North Ridge friends are creating their own fond memories of their newly-designed course.  Happy golfing in 2018!)

The vote for the golf course project was overwhelming, and I knew my North Ridge was doomed.  Rebuilding greens and bunkers ballooned into a Robert Trent Jones modernization.  My beloved fairways and greens of 54 years would soon be only a memory.  The old traditional architecture which made its ambiance so challenging yet comforting would give way to the changes so in vogue with the USGA and new generations.

My North Ridge was, and still is, located among busy thoroughfares, houses, apartments, and shopping centers.  Many Fair Oaks residents don’t even know a golf course exists there, an acreage of lush country in our urban and suburban world.  Its park-like character returned its players to a sense of serenity and a oneness with nature even when we endured the worst of golf games.  As it changes, and change it must, I want to remember the old, venerable golf course hole by hole.

I always had a love/hate relationship with the first tee.  I loved the view from its elevated perch over the course, the majestic eucalyptus trees guarding the left side of the fairway and the picturesque stand of coastal redwoods on the right framing the bend of the dogleg.  The first drive there, however, was always a struggle.  If one had not warmed up properly, one’s ball would almost certainly fade into “Mary’s Grove” on the right.  On too many occasions I over – corrected and found myself enjoying the shade of a eucalyptus on the left.  Reaching the green on the par 5, the flattest on the course, was always a relief although the great depth of it from front to back never assured me of an automatic 2-putt.

Although hole #2 became much more reachable from the forward tees, the drive was again difficult if not dangerous.  Again a beautiful stand of redwoods formed the dogleg, this time to the left.  A shot off line to the left invariably landed in jail and left me chipping sideways for a second shot; a shot too far to the right brought another eucalyptus guarding the path to the green into play.  The green, however, presented the hole’s greatest difficulty.  It’s depth required a 2 or 3 club difference for an approach shot, and its narrow opening between large bunkers often left me with long bunker shots.

Even with the racing of engines and sudden unsettling squeal of brakes from San Juan Avenue, hole #3 remained a pastoral par 3.  The many trees lining the left side created a beautiful buffer from suburban civilization although they did attract pulled golf shots.  Again the deep green presented a 3 club difference, but at 150 yards the hole was unreachable for a majority of the women players.  A Chinese cherry tree (once three), planted in memory of my dad, stood to the right of the tee.  Its spectacular pinkish white blossoms in the spring always evoked thoughts of our many games together over the 32 years that he played there.

Historically, hole #4 was an unreachable par 4 over a lovely lily-lined lake and straight up a hill to a blind green.  The forward tee took the pond out of play but provided a much more competitive experience for the average woman player.  After huffing and puffing up the hill, the green may have been the most challenging aspect of the hole as it would not hold a low or running shot.  The out of bounds about 10 yards behind the green ate golf balls, and the walk back to hit the shot again meant another exhausting climb back up to the green.

If I had to pick a favorite hole, I suppose hole #5 would be at the top of my list.  The view of the elevated green from the fairway was stunning, framed with ancient oaks behind it and a bunker complex in front that prevented running the ball up to the target.  The arm of the beautiful lateral lake that ran between the end of the fairway and the green was equally as imposing.  The treeline on the left, thick with firs, was beautiful but deadly with the tee positioned on the left.  Finally, the extensive bunkers on either side of the driving area were magnets for any shot slightly off line.  Gone are the days when a long-hitting woman might reach this short par 5 in two, but a lay-up and a well-placed short approach over both water and bunkers to a blind target were equally enjoyable.

Hole #6 was always the shortest hole on the course.  At 116 yards before the advent of forward tees, it often presented the first opportunity for an iron shot other than a wedge and was the only par 3 most women could reach in one shot at the time.  Its biggest obstacles, two large bunkers on either side of the green’s opening made shots difficult, particularly with the hole cut in the front.  I always thought that this hole would gift me with a hole in one, but more often than not it wouldn’t even let me land on the green.

Hole #7 at 296 yards was a great hole for women, requiring accuracy and not length.  The fairway, looking almost claustrophobic from the tee, narrowed as the landing area approached.  Long and short hitters alike were practically guaranteed a downhill lie for their approach shot.  Famous for the double bunkers on the right front of the green and deep bunker on the left, the hole was identified years ago  by the large heritage oak, North Ridge’s logo, which guarded the right side of the green and every wayward shot to the right.

Hole #8 became a very controversial hole when they cut down the fir trees that framed the back of the green; however, I liked the new look which highlighted the natural surrounding mounds and the contours of the green.  Originally a 170-yard par three which was unreachable for most women, the hole from new forward tees presented new obstacles.  The double bunkers on the right and deep bunker on the left protected the green only too well.  A little known fact about the green was that the steep slope from back to front was a bit of an optical illusion.  How many “downhill” putts have I left short of the hole on that green?

Hole #9, an uphill par 5, was a challenging hole heading back to the clubhouse.  The lovely lake, studded with lily pads, was the location of the club’s luaus for many years.  Although women no longer are required to tee off over the benign water, they may still fade a ball into the depths since the lake meanders up the fairway toward the landing area.  The hole was lined with old eucalyptus which separated it from the driving range.  The trees supplied welcome relief on a hot day.  On this hole I always worried about hitting into the group ahead as the second shot over a rise was blind.  In retrospect I shouldn’t have worried as my second shot always seemed to land in the long fairway bunkers on the right.  The green was entertaining.  Slightly elevated, it was protected by a large bunker, which was usually directly in line with the pin, and lovely but problematic mounding on the right.  We used to say that putts broke toward the tennis courts which have been gone for many years now.

(Stay tuned for our back nine memories which we will post in the near future.)

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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.