(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.)