Road Trip – Six Great Golf Destinations

OK! So you have a long weekend—or better yet, longer than that—to go and do as you golfing-well-please. You have a full tank of gas in your rig, a fresh stock of balls and, best of all, a robust, built-for-spring confidence in your game, ready to take on the road.

Where should you go? Consider this winning set of nifty suggestions, beginning south of Sacramento before swinging northward.

A Central Valley Jewel: Stevinson Ranch

Despite its obvious nods to golf’s Scottish roots, the Savanna Course at Stevinson Ranch Golf Club is solidly, splendidly a great American course. Designed by John Harbottle III and George H. Kelley, this immaculate 7,205-yard links-style track in the San Joaquin Valley seems to have been born—not “made” or “molded” or any of the other terms we associate with golf-course design—in the delicate rural wetlands it so gracefully occupies.

In 1996, Stevinson Ranch became the first golf course in California—and only the fourth in the world—to attain the coveted “Signature” award from Audubon International for its excellence in environmental preservation. More than 80 species of birds and other indigenous wildlife reside here. Gently rolling, meticulously groomed terrain, abetted with intrusions of water, sand, sinister hollows, and tall grasses, reeds and cattails, combine to create its indelible charm and challenge. Natural forces also impose themselves: brutal summer heat, fierce shoulder-season winds, bone-chilling damp and fog. The course itself is tough as nails; even so, it’s definitely playable if you know what you want to do and can do it well. (The record is a blistering 59 set by PGA Tour pro Matt Hansen in spring 2005.)

Set in a realm of farmland and orchard groves, far from any urban development, almost luxurious in its sense of space, this self-proclaimed “Jewel of the Valley” demands and, at the same time, engenders a rare thing: vigor. It asks for your full attention and skill on every shot, ready to confer smiles of contentment or groans of remorse.

Players who can crush their drives will be hard-pressed to resist the many temptations here. Truly a “let’s get serious” blast-away opener, “Savannah” (Hole No. 1) is an inviting, huge 612-yard par 5, sweeping some 90 degrees to the right at the elbow toward a wavy, jelly-bean-shaped green, a long, twisting sand trap dominating the right. Serpentine hole No. 6 is named “Risk and Hope”—enough said. At “Alps” (No. 14, 341 yards, par 4), you get to try a blind approach shot, unless you target the extreme left off the tee, which of course brings two fat bunkers into play if you miss.

The three magnificent finishing holes (yardage: 243, 425, 545 from the back tees) all involve water crossings, delightfully interesting angles of attack and Stevinson’s uniformly flawless, lightening-quick greens. You must take your time; there are no gimmes here. If there’s anything to complain about, you might pick on the overall flatness of the terrain: You just can’t see enough of this exquisite design. (For sure, pick up the $5 course guide.)

The resort has all of 20 comely, narrow cabins to let, and what Stevinson might lack in creature comforts is offset by the endearing, cheerful service. Three levels of stay-and-play packages ($109 to $205) include golf cart, lodging, breakfast, hosted receptions, unlimited use of the excellent practice facilities, and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. (The SR Grill restaurant makes great ribs and tri-tip and a delectable filet with mushroom sauce.)

For off-course time, walk the Lake Honda Nature Trail (about a mile around the property’s great waterfowl draw) or fire away at the resort’s Rooster Ranch (sporting clays, bird hunting, skeet and trap shooting). You can drive a half-dozen miles west to visit Hilmar Cheese Company (9001 North Lander Ave., Hilmar; 800-577-5772) to tour, taste and shop for gourmet cheeses, nuts, oils, jams and sauces in the expansive visitor center. Or visit old downtown Merced to explore for antiques.

Stevinson Ranch Golf Club, 2700 N.Van Clief Road, Stevinson, CA 95374; (209) 668-8200; stevinsonranch.com.

Two Glories in the Gold Country

The golf course at Saddle Creek Golf Club has something for everyone: five sets of tee boxes (6,826 yards from the tips, rating 73.1/137), lots of elevation changes (the view from the 17th green is panoramic), completely renovated traps, grip-and-rip options as well as sheer target-shot-only challenge. It’s all part of the emerging town of Copper, an ambitious planned-community development project in the foothills near Copperopolis.

Designed by Carter Morrish and opened in 1996, the course has won numerous accolades, such as the No. 8 ranking in Golfweek’s “America’s Best Courses” in 2004 and 2005.
 
The front nine is arguably the better half, as the course meanders back into the lovely oak-studded foothills and away from housing. The No. 2 hole is gorgeous, a sweeping 433-yard, par-4 boomerang. Hit your tee on a diagonal over water and a sandy beach; the more water you can carry, the shorter your approach to a wedge-shaped green guarded by three bunkers and a dangerous bramble slope on the right. Follow this with a game 477-yard par 5; clobber a left-right fade and you are in great shape, as the green is heavily protected on the left.

The back nine—at least for now—is less charming as new houses go up, part of the overall development; on weekdays you’ll have to block out the occasional pounding of hammers and whirring of saws. But in many respects this set of nine is tougher, with more water, bigger traps and skinnier fairways to test you. The course concludes with a difficult, thrilling 535-yard par 5 offering 10 sand traps en route, plus a creek the full length along the right to a small pond aside the green. (A word from the pro shop about the slick bent-grass greens: If you even suspect there’s a break, play the break.)

For staying over, the resort has tastefully appointed one- and two-bedroom bungalows with fireplaces, kitchens and patios ($165 to $325; inquire about special Adventure Retreat Packages). Off the course, take advantage of the Sports Club, lap pool, and seven miles of hiking/biking trails, and massage services. (The Peppermint Foot Treatment is the way to go.) The Copper Grille restaurant menu changes seasonally and offers a wine tasting and food presentation series on weekends, often focusing on excellent vintages from foothill wineries.

By spring 2007, the new town of Copper will likely provide stores, galleries and restaurants to enjoy. Something for everyone, indeed.

Saddle Creek Resort, 1001 Saddle Creek Dr., Copperopolis, CA 95228; (800) 611-7722; saddlecreek.com.

Greenhorn Creek Golf Course

About 10 miles away toward Angels Camp, Greenhorn Creek Golf Course offers its own variety of golfing pleasures. Redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Jr., in 2001, and a bit higher up into the foothills than Saddle Creek, Greenhorn has denser clusters of trees, more side-sloping fairways and a more rugged feel, all contributing to greater sense of seclusion over its 6,749 yards.

Five sets of tees accommodate players of all levels here. Accuracy tee to green is paramount; keep out of trouble and you’re sure to have an excellent round. Hole No. 5 is the toughest, a 424-yard par 4 demanding an over-water tee shot into a tree-sprinkled palm of sloping fairway toward the green, with deep water all the way on your right. If you’re ever to score an ace in your life, No. 13 might be the place: Just 150 yards from an elevated tee (enjoy the majestic view) down to a fat green, it plays shorter, so select your club well. The final hole, a par 5 at 485 yards, could make your day, too: If you can reach the elongated green on the same tier as the cup, a birdie finish is yours.

The pro shop is well stocked, ready with repair service and lessons from pro Darryl Pief. To slake thirst and appetite, Camps Restaurant serves food all day—robust breakfasts, great salads and sandwiches for lunch and (perhaps after your spa treatment) dinners from beer-battered fish and chips to sumptuous poached Pacific salmon with porcini mushrooms and leeks on garlic mashed potatoes. As an alternative, in Angels Camp, try Crusco’s for Italian food (1240 S. Main St; 209-736-1440).

For staying over, the resort has one-, two- and three-bedroom cottages, with stay-and-play packages offered throughout the year. The course management can also arrange lodging through several providers close by, whether you prefer a quaint inn or private cabin, or a two-bedroom suite at the full-service Resort at Angels Camp.

Greenhorn Creek Resort, 711 McCauley Ranch Road, Angels Camp, CA 95222; (888) 736-5900; greenhorncreek.com.

From the nearby junction of highways 4 and 49, you can quickly reach Jackson, San Andreas, Sonora and other Gold Country towns, rich with recreation, fine shopping, galleries, historic sites and winery tasting rooms (such as free-spirit Twisted Oak or longstanding Stevenot in Murphys). For more information about Calaveras County, contact the Calaveras Visitors Bureau toll free at (800) 225-3764 or on the web at gocalaveras.com.

The Promise of Tuscan Ridge

As a promising work in progress—now that financial difficulties are in the past—the Tuscan Ridge Golf Club shows all the signs of becoming a really splendid course. Perched atop a lava-based butte midway between Chico and Paradise, this challenging and imaginative par-71 layout (6,240 yards) offers tight rye-Bermuda grass fairways, subtle, true, excellent bent-grass greens and plenty of scoring reward for the opportunistic player.

The original front nine is now completed by a more stretched-out backside, which opened in August 2005. The compact, difficult front is full of rolling elevation changes, narrow targets, oak trees, lava stones and boulders to negotiate. Hole No. 8 is as tough as you’d ever want to face—a 518-yard, par 5 dogleg right, leading downhill to a treacherous approach across a brushy gorge. The S-shaped three-tier green is a nightmare if you land above the hole.

On the backside, you’ll find ample chances to score well if you can keep your tee shots from straying into the tree-strewn roughs. Aside from the panoramic views, the finishing three holes (pars 3, 4, 5) are terrific for pure shot-making.
The clubhouse isn’t much yet, but the service, led by head club pro Jay Berkowitz, is outstanding. “We have several upgrade projects in the works: refurbishing a few traps, widening a few fairways, finishing cart paths, touching up the landscaping,” he says. With its well-draining soil and appeal for all playing levels, Tuscan Ridge is looking good for years to come.

Tuscan Ridge Golf Club, 3100 Skyway, Chico, CA 95928; (530) 343-3862; tuscanridgeclub.com.

For top-notch nearby lodging, check into Chico’s landmark Hotel Diamond. Built in 1904 and reopened in 2005 after an extensive four-year restoration, this elegant hotel is jewel in the heart of downtown. The 43 handsomely appointed rooms and suites—from standard (simple bed-and-bath arrangement) to executive (living room, master suite, wet bar and balcony)—range from $143 to $323, double occupancy. Johnnie’s Restaurant and Lounge offers a generous selection of salads, meat, seafood and pasta dishes, plus nightly specials. (Hope you luck into rich ostrich or fresh Hawaiian escolar.)

Hotel Diamond, 220 West Fourth St., Chico, CA 95928; toll-free (866) 993-3100 or (530) 893-3100; hoteldiamondchico.com

The Chico area offers an abundance of activities to enjoy, from shopping, museums and art galleries to fishing, bird-watching, hiking, biking and walking tours. If you come on the first Saturday of the month, be sure to visit the Upper Crust Bakery from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. to enjoy the Butte County Folk Music Jam—great free tunes. For more information, contact the Chico Chamber of Commerce toll-free (800) 852-8570; chicochamber.com.

Magnificent Mount Shasta Country

Set near the base of the majestic 14,161-foot mountain, the handsome Mount Shasta Resort offers just 50 one- and two-bedroom chalets and 15 hotel-style rooms near Lake Siskiyou. But the rooms are large and affordable, with a relaxed, rustic accent in their décor—perfect staging for the 6,035-yard, par-70 golf course.

With its abundance of pine and deciduous trees, rolling fairways, tricky greens and terrific alpine views, the golf course is a sneaky-hard pleasure, slipping through thick forest along the edge of Box Canyon on the Sacramento River. It’s tight here—you’ll need accuracy and patience above all else. Consider the par-5 No. 4: Playing 535 yards, it sweeps right from a secluded tee over a deep swale; your second shot is a dart-throw over another swale with no room on the right. The reward: a short approach to a large green and your birdie.

The practice center has three levels of tees, chipping green, bunker and triple-tier putting green. Other resort amenities include a full-service spa, the Highland House for dining (Sunday brunch is great), a huge lounge, plus numerous events and specials throughout the year.

Mount Shasta Resort, 1000 Siskiyou Lake Blvd., Mount Shasta, CA 96067; (800) 958-3363; mountshastaresort.com

You can also stretch out your game at Lake Shastina Golf Resort, with “The Magnificent Monster,” a 6,933-yard, par 72 track by Robert Trent Jones Jr. It’s a beautiful course of varying terrain, but the demands for accuracy here are much the same. Some of the approaches are downright scary, forcing you to negotiate scooping bunkers of deep-red volcanic sand and thickets of tall, close-in trees.

Shastina also offers a fascinating little nine-hole, 3,009-yard, par-35 Scottish links course, providing you a brief taste of golf’s historic beginnings.

For lodging here, you’ll find one-bedroom condos as well as three- and four-bedroom homes around the course. The clubhouse restaurant and lounge are passing fine. Stay-and-play packages run two to seven days, with unlimited golf.

Lake Shastina Golf Resort, 5925 Country Club Dr., Weed, CA; (530) 938-3205 or toll-free (800) 358-4653; lakeshastinagolf.com

The town of Mount Shasta has numerous restaurants for any meal of the day. Michael’s Restaurant (313 N. Mt. Shasta Blvd.; 530-926-5288) is best known for its excellent pasta specials, while Lily’s (1013 S. Mt. Shasta Blvd.; 530-926-3372) runs the gamut from vegetarian to prime rib. For more visitor information, contact the Mt. Shasta Chamber of Commerce, 300 Pine St., Mt. Shasta CA 96067; toll free (800) 926-4865; mtshastachamber.com.

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