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

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:

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

“The Founders” Film – A Review

The golf world is full of stories about the pioneers of golf, men such as Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen.  Movies abound about their exploits – Bagger Vance, The Greatest Game Ever Played.  But notice it’s all about the men.  Do women golfers even have any pioneers whom they can look up to and thank for the game they so love today?  Do we women even know who they are?

Here are the thirteen names we should all know and revere:

  • Alice Bauer
  • Marlene Bauer Hagge
  • Patty Berg
  • Bettye Danoff
  • Helen Dettweiler
  • Helen Hicks
  • Opal Hill
  • Betty Jameson
  • Sally Sessions
  • Marilyn Smith
  • Shirley Spork
  • Louise Suggs
  • Babe Didrikson Zaharias

They are the founders of the LPGA and the subject of a fairly recent film “The Founders” produced by Stacy Lewis and Kari Webb through Mighty Fine Pictures.  We sat spellbound through a screening of the film on August 1st here in Sacramento, but it is also available on iTunes, Amazon, etc.

The film begins with an old clip featuring a gentleman looking into the camera, smiling, and saying, “Competitive athletics tend to destroy all that is natural in women and all that makes them attractive to men.”  By the end of the film, the audience is amazed at the accomplishments of the Founders but acutely aware that the misogynist culture surrounding golf may not have changed all that much since 1950 when the LPGA was founded.

The film tells the story of the 13 founders “through rare archival footage, historical re-enactments and current-day interviews with surviving founders and leading players” (as described on “The Founders” website).  However, the audience’s emotional involvement stems from two conflicts, one cultural and one personal.  Because of the existing prejudices against female athletes, the thirteen founders were forced to plan their own tournaments, create the original LPGA by-laws, set up the golf courses they played, and even hand out tickets. They received no help from existing golf organizations.  They might have failed altogether had it not been for the big-name draw of member Babe Zaharias, perhaps the greatest female athlete of all time.

Equally as compelling a conflict is the rivalry between Zaharias and Louise Suggs.  Their ill-will toward each other unfolds dramatically in the film through emotional interviews with Suggs.  The fact that all is not fun and friendship in competitive golf makes these founding women seem more human and therefore much more interesting.

The film brought back a personal memory for me that now has a new significance.  As a very young girl in the late 1950’s just starting to play the game, I accompanied my mother to an LPGA tournament in Spokane, WA.  I was so impressed with all the women who participated and I remember deciding that Louise Suggs was my favorite.  I rooted for her with great passion from then on.  In retrospect, I realize I was a witness to the great existing inequality in the game.  The women played their tournament on what was perhaps the worst golf course in Spokane at the time.  The image I have of it in my mind is flat, brown, and almost treeless.  It was not a very welcoming venue for either players or galleries.

The film ends with a crucial point.  Have times changed?  Women are still not seen as athletes.  Do women’s professional tournaments have the same prize money as men’s? The answer is an overwhelming no.  Are women pros playing their tournaments on the same top-notch golf courses as the men do – Pebble Beach, Olympic Club, Augusta?  No. Have we come a long way, baby?  The film leaves the audience wondering.

This film is beautifully put together.  It combines a documentary style with a tension-filled and compelling human story.  These tough, pioneering women golfers deserve our admiration and gratitude. A good way to honor them is to see this inspirational film.

Lincoln Hills

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.

The Canada geese of Lincoln Hills.

The Opens on T.V. – Part II

Warning:  This article may be further evidence of the boredom forced on me by sitting around indoors watching television on 100+ degree days.

NBC added a new feature to its coverage of the British Open which it needs to reconsider and hopefully dump immediately.  Its new commercial break format called “Playing Through” turns out to be distracting and irritating for us couch potato television viewers.  An admirable idea, “Playing Through” allows viewers to continue watching the action on the golf course while a split-screen format runs commercials at the same time.

The problem with this idea is that it reduces the golf action to half a screen, making it harder to see.  In addition, the golf half of the screen has the NBC logo (those peacock feathers), the title “The Open,” and a list of the top 3 players on the leader board superimposed over the action.  It is just too hard to see the golfers on the smaller screen with all this extra business going on.  I found myself praying that Jordan Spieth would finally hit his shot from the practice area after the commercial break.  Why pay all that money for a 50″ screen when you find yourself squinting at an 25″ picture?

Even more annoying are the commercial jingles that end up providing background noise for the golfers – almost as irritating as some boor in the gallery yelling “mashed potatoes” after a golf shot.  On behalf of couch potatoes everywhere, I ask NBC just to give us a regular commercial break after which we catch up on the action via video replay; forget about “Playing Through.”

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.