With Pebble Beach top of mind, we all know California is rich in golf-centric locales. But Pebble Beach’s prestige shouldn’t blind the avid golfer from other outstanding courses throughout the state. One of the best golf paths you can follow begins in the state capital of Sacramento and stretches along Interstate 80 on a northeast path all the way to the Sierra Nevada foothills. These courses are sure to offer amazing values and unforgettable experiences.
Located in North Central Sacramento, long-time Northern California golfers will tell you that Haggin Oaks is the epicenter of golf in this part of the state. It is one of eight California courses designed by Alister MacKenzie, the man behind Augusta National and Cypress Point. Haggin and the nine-hole Northwoods course are his only two public venues in the state.
MacKenzie’s penchant for expansive greens with large bunkers are no different here, contributing to the course’s outstanding features. This is also a course that, with back tees measuring nearly 7,000 yards, allows you to grip it and rip it off the tee. But scoring well means hitting precise shots to proper sections of the greens. That’s MacKenzie. The “good doctor’s” designs offer risk-and-reward on every hole, and rank among the world’s best.
Further east in the suburb of Rocklin, Whitney Oaks Golf Club is one of the area’s most demanding courses, designed by Johnny Miller.
This 16-year-old course is a multi-faceted wonder. The topography is breathtaking. Sloping land decorated with large oaks and marvelous rock outcroppings. Fairways that skirt and then fall into wetlands or dry creek beds. The variation is endless and the challenges are just as plentiful.
A little further east in the tranquil town of Lincoln is Turkey Creek Golf Course, a “local gem” among Sacramento golfers.
Architect Brad Bell utilized the gentle undulations, rocks and trees as guideposts, and by the time you get to the back nine you feel as if you’ve reached a wooded wonderland. The par-4 18th features two forced carries over small lakes which are the dregs of the former quarry that occupied the land years ago. Many might find the course a bit tight, but, to its credit, the short transitions make Turkey Creek easy to walk.
Tucked back in the foothills of Auburn sits Dark Horse Golf Club, a name that captures the experience perfectly. Architect Keith Foster laid a course that can be visually intimidating thanks to plenty of large bunkers filled with reddish-brown sand and topped with natural grasses – a frightening view to even the most experienced men and women.
There’s plenty of landing space but also definite areas golfers try to avoid. Some holes have hard edges in the form of wetlands and fall-offs, but a few come as a relief with the challenges not be quite so steep. The back nine has more elevation changes, but also plays easier. Although, the uphill, snaking par-5 11th is the toughest hole on the course. By the end of your round, you indeed feel like you’ve taken a wild ride on a dark horse.
In northeast Auburn, The Ridge Golf Club offers another example of Robert Trent Jones II’s design acumen. What you will remember: deep bunkers next to large undulating greens along with uphill, sidehill and downhill lies. Also, there are decisions you must make off the tee on the shorter par-4s. Fly the bunker or lay up? And the elevation changes add more factors to shots, particularly on approaches to the greens. It’s a course that requires tactical forethought or excellent execution.
In other words, this trail through the great state of California is made up of plenty of courses and challenges that linger with you, even after you step away from the greens.
Featured image courtesy of Dark Horse Golf Club.