It’s not often we go on our review trips and can say we left the best for last or maybe we should just say we left the best “day” for last. Our choices of courses and the dates and times we play them are basically a random selection, so it’s quite possible the best could be the first place we play. Our days have been an organized repeat, wake up, play golf, write and post the review, go to bed. In between throw in the obvious, eating, showering and driving and you basically have what we love to do and have accomplished. Combined within that spectrum has been meeting some great golf course operators, golfers that we have been paired with, hard working staff members from pros to customer service, starters to greens keepers.
It’s never really about which course out does the other, but more of providing an informative overview of what types of courses provide an opportunity for the travelling golfer to play. In the Olympic tradition, which I failed to mention was on our TV every night, we will put three courses out of 10 we reviewed on the podium, they can fight it out for which medal they want.The other 7 all tie for the 4th Olympic medal – the brass?
On the podium in no particular order are Catta Vedera Golf and CC, Winchester Golf and CC and Empire Ranch Golf Club. What was particularly delightful with playing Empire Ranch Golf Club was pretty well everything. It was the closest in proximity to where we were staying in Fair Oaks and there was not a cloud in the sky.
Our introduction could not have been more friendly and welcoming as both Ralph and Peter in the Pro Shop were smiling and engaging in letting us know about the course during our check in. We headed out to hit a few balls on the range and met the Starter, Mr. Johnny Butler, a wonderful man with an interesting and to say the least challenging upbringing as a young black man in Jackson, Tennessee. He was certainly “right there” when the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. It was a rewarding few minutes we had sharing with him our recent visit to Tennessee. Johnny made it even more special by pairing us with a local uncle and nephew duo, Steve and Josh.
Now to this great links style layout which was in excellent condition throughout. The fairways were in really good shape due to not having any of the hot weather Bermuda grass which in this region hasn’t begun to flourish. The greens couldn’t roll any truer and smoother and cannot be held responsible for my 38 putt round. I just couldn’t get the ball close enough on a fairly windy day to truly guarantee certain 2 putts. The par 3’s got better as the round went on and climaxed with the finishing hole playing into a 4 club wind being an amazing way to finish, par 3 here would outstanding. Myra who is less a fan of wind than cold, apparently gave herself a little talking to at the turn very displeased with her highest 9-hole score of the trip at 62 strokes rebounded and amazingly carded a 52 finishing with 3 consecutive bogeys.
My 43-42 was just the way I was playing. Hitting really good drives, avoiding all bunkers but putting like an aging club pro at a mini golf center.
Our two new golfing companions had numerous great shots and all 4 of us were in agreement that the back nine was a slight notch above the front as the terrain was more undulating and the Par 3’s having more meat on the bone than the two on the front.
The highlights of the day were left to the last 2 holes. On Hole 17 Myra from 75 yards out hitting a pitching wedge to a foot and then Josh, the lefty, rolling a putt from over 60 feet down a slight incline to see it trickle to the edge of the hole on the spectacular 18th Hole. Quoting a line from Jack Nicklaus’ amazing final 9 at the 86 Masters as it was making its way to the hole it seemed to go into slow motion and then “Yes Sir!” it dropped, thank you Ben Wright it was an iconic statement I still believe belongs only to you. What a 2 Josh, what a birdie!
It was a moment worthy of celebrating and we were pleased to get to know the guys as we rendezvoused in the lounge. But first, I had a chance to thank Chris Souza, Head Professional, and let him know how just how impressed not only I was, but Myra too. I loved the openness of the course perhaps because of my 6 years living in and golfing frequently on the best links courses in the world in Scotland and the Northeast of England. This is a really good golf course folks and designer Brad Bell really knew what he was doing with the landscape here.
Mark it on your golfing travel planner and for that matter choose this entire great area of Northern California for your own golf getaway. We were “prospecting for golf” and we hit pay dirt.