Haggin Oaks Practice


A player practices a tough chip from a downhill lie at a Haggin Oaks Academy Hole.

It’s winter.  Sunday it rained all day.  I knew playing golf was out of the question on Monday.  I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for mud-walking.  However, I determined that I could practice my game (not that I needed it!).  Where should I go?  Sacramento is lucky enough to have one of the most complete practice facilities in Northern California, so naturally I headed to the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, easy to see from Business 80, even under the lights at night.

Where to begin?  Since I have developed a case of occasional “yips” in my senior years, I headed for the practice putting green or should I say putting greens.  Haggin Oaks actually has three putting practice areas.  The first two are huge greens, one in front of the clubhouse and one to the rear toward Arcade Creek, the two 9-hole courses on the property.  I am working on using my shoulders to swing the putter, taking my hands (which have a mind of their own) completely out of the putting stroke.  It’s a good idea, but it will never work unless I practice it, and the two greens gave me plenty of room to do just that.  The third putting area is actually a 9-hole miniature golf-like track, the “McKenzie Putting Course”.  It features a natural layout – no windmills or open-mouthed dragons.  Although its “turf” is artificial, it offers a fun way to practice your putting stroke.  The experience is free with the purchase of a bucket of range balls ($2 without purchase).

Since the miniature course was right next to the driving range, I made it my next stop.  The range was busy even on a weekday at off hours.  It is open from 7 AM to 8 PM during the winter, during the day or under the lights at night.  It features new technology; some bays tee the ball up automatically so the player doesn’t even have to bend over.  On this day I spotted only two women hitting balls; the rest were men – mostly with bad swings.  Practice balls range in price from $6 for 50 balls to $18 for 175 balls.  Sadly, the range desperately needs re-seeding.  The yardages are well-marked but difficult to see due to the bare spots, and when the wind blows, the dust swirls.

During my practice marathon I was more interested in working on my short game.  After all, we girls cannot rely on our lengthy drives all the time.  I drove my car around to the little-known and less crowded world on the far side of the driving range.  Here I found another set of practice bays facing away from the afternoon sun, pointed back toward the main range.  Once I got over the fact that some of those long hitters on the opposite side were aiming directly at me, I realized this alternate reality right out of “Stranger Things” was a real find.  I decided that I would definitely head back here in the future in spite of the porta-potty bathroom facilities.

Finally, continuing my focus on the short game, I moved to the nearby three “Academy Holes” that are located on the backside of the driving range.  These holes offer a wealth  of practice possibilities for every aspect of the game around the green.  Large, deep teeing areas allow the player to use shorter and longer irons (or even hybrids) to work on a variety of approach shots.  Well-groomed fairways and green surrounds afford an infinite variety of wedge and chipping practice.  Best of all are the well-contoured greens surrounded by mounding, bunkers, and fairly gnarly rough.  Use your imagination to practice flop shots, run-up shots, bank shots – any type of finesse approach shot to improve your game.  To use one of these holes, you must make a reservation in advance with the Concierge Desk at (916) 808-2283.  The price is a reasonable $15 an hour; bring your own practice balls.

Thanks to the facilities at Haggin Oaks, my enthusiasm for practicing has been renewed.  I have no excuses – except maybe my busy schedule, general aches and pains, bad weather, etc.  All I can say is that I need to get over it and get practicing!



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.)

Golf Shopping – ‘Tis the Season

Today’s blog entry started out to be all about practicing at Haggin Oaks; however, I have postponed the practice, as I often seem to do in winter months, to focus on another important area of interest to golfers – retail goods.  Yes, Christmas is coming, and I couldn’t resist all the shopping possibilities here.  For the golfers on her list, a Christmas elf really can’t go wrong at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex.

Out of habit and because I needed my driver re-gripped, when I arrived I made my way to the pro shop which overlooks the first tee.  The check-in desk caught my eye first, but soon I realized that most of the space in this building was filled with shoes – stacks and stacks of boxes of shoes and all walls filled with colorful shoe displays.  Haggin Oaks may be the golf shoe capital of Northern California with Foot Joys, Adidas, Sketchers, Nikes, New Balances, Under Armors, Pumas, Eccos, Callaways, and others stacked in neat piles of boxes.  It carries virtually all brands – a bit confusing since I expected shoes to be located in the Superstore, a large building adjacent to the driving range (where I should have been practicing).  Almost hidden among all the shoe boxes was the small club repair shop where it took Dan three minutes to re-grip my driver for about $10.  What more could I ask for?

The Superstore, a cavernous building that requires a map to get around, basically carries apparel (other than shoes) and any piece of golf equipment a player desires.  Women’s clothes are a featured attraction.  Holiday shoppers can choose from Nike, Puma, Tail, Adidas, Sunice, Jaimie Saddock, etc.,etc.,etc.  A clerk was excited to tell me about the deal they were offering on Jaimie Saddock: buy 10 items and get 1 free.  Of course, if I bought 10, I really couldn’t afford to play golf anymore.  Approximately half of the Superstore is dedicated to hard goods: balls, clubs, bags, pushcarts, even cute, fuzzy little headcovers that could also function as puppets to entertain the kids.  Shoppers are welcome to test prospective clubs on the driving range behind the Superstore; they simply need to sign up, leave a driver’s license, and swing away.

Located at the center of the Superstore, the Concierge Desk is the heart of the operation.  The desk is manned (or “womaned”) by Sterling who is as valuable as her name suggests at tasks such as arranging group or private lessons with PGA teaching pros, setting up appointments for club fittings using the latest Doppler Radar technology (sounds more like a weather report), reserving one of the Academy Holes for practicing that short game, and even purchasing gift certificates for Christmas.  Look for more about using the Concierge Desk in a blog about Haggin Oaks’ practice facilities coming up in the near future – depending on how many times I postpone writing it.

The best thing about Christmas shopping at Haggin Oaks is that you can get all the gifts on your golfing list so quickly and conveniently that you will have time to play the MacKenzie 18-hole course or one of the Arcade Creek 9-hole courses when you have finished – a little Christmas present to yourself.  Happy holidays!


Obstacle Course: Part III – Rough

High grass, rocks, thick bushes and trees in this rough – no wonder Mary looks so discouraged.

The third hole on your “obstacle course” is infamous for its nasty rough.  Several players are rumored to have walked into this rough never to have been found again.

How often do you think about rough on a golf course before you tee off?  I know the idea of rough seldom crosses my mind because I plan never to be in it.  Usually I find myself up to my fetlocks within one or two holes, however, and I am struggling to get out.  Perhaps I should have paid attention to the characteristics of the course’s rough before I started my round.

Course raters call the evaluation of rough “Rough and Recoverability.”  I like that title; it sounds so positive.  Raters judge the probability of missing the tee shot landing zone and the green, as well as the difficulty of recovering if a player misses either or both.  The 3 main factors that affect a hole’s “R&R” rating are the difficulty of the green (see “Obstacle Course II: Green Target”), the type of grasses used in the rough, and the height of the rough.  Personally, I believe that rough is a more difficult obstacle for women players because we do not have the arm or wrist strength that a man has to dig the ball out of heavy rough.

We should ask before we play what type of  grass is found in the rough.  The first type, cool season grasses, includes ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and poa annua.  The second type, warm season, includes bermuda, zoysia, kikuyu, buffalo, and bentgrasses.  Cool season grasses are not as tough and sticky as warm season, but they are often left at much higher lengths and are mowed less often than warm season grasses.  For example, a one-inch high bermuda rough is considered the same difficulty as a two-inch high ryegrass rough.  If you ask about the height and type of rough in the pro shop, you will know what you’re in for.

If the green is small or highly sloped so that it will not hold an approach shot easily, the player may very well land in the rough.  Watch out also for rise and drop or mounds around the green.  And what about the golf architects new pet feature – shaving green surrounds to keep the ball rolling off the green and into the rough?

In addition, rough is not necessarily composed of grass only.  Other conditions such as sand dunes, waste areas, brush, hard pan, tree roots, rocks, desert, and even ice plant may lie in wait for the unsuspecting golfer, making rough even more difficult.

If you are at all skeptical about rough affecting the difficulty of a course, take the case of Del Paso Country Club as an example.  In order to host the 2015 US Senior Men’s Open, Del Paso under USGA direction was required to narrow its fairways and raise the height of its rough.  For a year before the event, players had to negotiate the extremely high and dense rough, an almost impossible task for most women players.  Course raters did a temporary emergency rating.  The normally 132 slope back tees became a 140 slope and the front tees went from a slope of 120 to 130 – significant differences.

Finally, rough is meant to be rough.  Sometimes it may be more prudent to take our punishment and get out however we can rather than trying to pull off a Jordan Spieth or Lexi Thompson miracle shot.  I know I am always happier on shorter grass.  Mary is happy on any grass.

Golfing in Egypt

Temple of Luxor at sunset.

Beware!  The title is a trick.  We never saw a golf course on our just-completed trip to Egypt although they do exist.  Some are located on the Mediterranean coast to the north and some on the Red Sea to Egypt’s east.  The largest cluster, according to Google Maps, is around Cairo where most of Egypt’s population resides.  Palm Hills, a John Sanford and Nicklaus design, even uses the pyramids of Giza as a backdrop.  However, on our trip from Cairo up the Nile River to Aswan and Abu Simbel and back again, we admit that golf was not on our minds.  The following list touches on some of the amazing sites we experienced:

1)  The sun setting on the Nile River as it winds through Cairo, a city of eclectic architecture, high rises, and bright lights.  Egypt needs to take better care of its life-giving river, perhaps the most important river in the world; sadly, it is polluted and its banks are littered with garbage.

2)  Waking up one morning to find the Temple of Kom Ombo, brilliant as the sun rose, directly outside our riverboat window only steps away.  It has been there for 2200 years.

3)  Walking through the barren hills of the Valley of the Kings in brutal 100+ degree heat in order to duck into the cool, elaborately decorated tombs of pharaohs who had undertaken their journeys to the afterlife 3500 years ago, an indescribable feeling.

4)  Traveling 300 miles by air just to see the breathtaking Temples of Abu Simbel, a double miracle.  First – that human beings of the 13th century BC could have carved the temples out of a solid cliff.  Second – that human beings in the 1960’s could save the temples by relocating them piece by piece to higher ground before the waters of newly created Lake Nasser could engulf them.  Thank you Egypt and UNESCO.

5)  Passing by hundreds of Nile riverboats either abandoned, retired, or out of work on the banks of the Nile from Luxor to Aswan.  The crowds of tourists have disappeared; at times we were the only tour group at a site.  Our Uniworld boat (ship?) had an eighty passenger capacity; only thirty of us enjoyed this river cruise, great for sightseeing but terrible for the Egyptian economy.

Do not journey to your own afterlife not having seen Egypt.  The country poses no more dangers than any tourist destination you visit these days.  We traveled with Uniworld River Cruises and felt very safe at all times.  If you travel in the near future, you will encounter smaller crowds and always very warm, welcoming people.

As the 5th century BC Greek historian Herodotus so eloquently said of Egypt, “Nowhere in the world are there so many marvellous things of unspeakable greatness.”

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!

Thank You Women Course Raters

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.