Spring is in the air and I, for one, couldn't be more excited. The weather is getting warmer, the sun is setting later and that means The Masters Tournament is upon us once again. Hailed as one of the greatest golf courses ever constructed, patrons of golf gather at Augusta National every April to witness the first of four annual major championships of the year. The course was founded in 1933 in Augusta, Ga. and is one of the toughest courses in the world to access. Unless you’re a ranked top 50 player in the world or you pay an enormous sum to become a member, your chances of playing a round at this course are slim to none.
So, as we all fantasize about taking the drive down Magnolia Lane to test our skills on Amen Corner, let’s take a look at a few of my favorite courses that are attainable here in the 209. While they may not be as prestigious as Augusta National, all courses listed are open to the public and tee times are readily available.
La Contenta Golf ClubLocation: Valley Springs
La Contenta Golf Course is settled in the quaint town of Valley Springs and is one of the courses I find myself playing the most often. The course is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and offers a beautiful display of scenery. Designed by Richard Bigler, La Contenta tests your skills and luck with some steep uphill shots and fast greens with large slopes. The fairways can be tight and a couple of the holes offer shots over water, so having a well-aimed tee shot is a must. Two of my favorite holes are 13 and 15. Hole 13 is La Contenta’s signature par 3. You have a 178-yard tee shot on an elevated tee box with a pond placed in front of the green. The greens slope back to front, so having a well-placed shot in front of the hole is crucial, or you may be fishing for your ball. The 15th hole is a 332-yard par 4. You’re positioned uphill on an elevated tee shot and you have a blind shot downhill to the green. There is an old oak tree off to the right which gives you a perfect line to the green. A strong drive over the tree will put you in the perfect position for a birdie. Don’t forget to raise the flag on this hole to let the players behind you know you’re on the green!
St. Stanislaus Golf CourseLocation: Modesto
St. Stanislaus was designed in the early 90s by Robert Muir Graves, the same architect who designed Teleli. This is another course where I played a lot when first learning the game of golf. “St. Stan’s” as it's called by the locals is the perfect course for a quick round. With just 9 holes consisting of all par 3s, you can usually squeeze in a round within an hour and a half. St Stanislaus Golf Course also offers a large driving range and putting green to fine tune your game. I recommend playing this course if you want to get into golf before moving onto one of the larger courses. They also put on fun events such as night golf with glowing balls for a fun night out, so be on the lookout for their events.
The Golf Club at Copper ValleyLocation: Copperopolis
One of the nicest courses I've played in the 209 is The Golf Club at Copper Valley. The course was designed by Carter Morrish and opened in 1996. Located in Copperopolis, Copper Valley displays the best that Sierra foothills have to offer. The course has received numerous awards and has been recognized by Golfweek Magazine and Golf Digest as being a top-rated public course in California. My favorite hole here has got to be 18. Coming down the 18th fairway, your second shot will go over the river that cuts through the course and you have a spectacular view of the clubhouse behind the green. While Copper Valley is boasting with rolling hills, manicured fairways and fast greens, this course is not kind to the casual weekend hacker. There is not much relief off the tee, so a straight drive is key if trying to stay in bounds. If you plan a trip, be sure to bring an extra sleeve of balls.
Teleli Golf ClubLocation: Sonora
Teleli Golf Club is quickly becoming one of my favorite courses. Designed by Robert Muir Graves in the 90’s, Teleli Golf Club is located in the historic gold rush town of Sonora. I just played this course for the first time a few months back and I have already gone back twice since then to play it again. Looking over the course from the top of the first tee, you can see right away the beauty of the Sierra foothills on display. The course is always in great condition and the greens are smooth and run fast. Similar to La Contenta, playing at Teleli can be a challenge with the rolling hills and steep shots you will have to pull off. But, don’t be too afraid to slice a few balls here. Teleli is a great course for all players of all handicaps. There are many opportunities to save an errant shot if you're lucky enough to find your ball downhill. One of my favorite holes here is the short par, hole 10. A high-elevated tee shot gives you a great view of the green 357 yards downhill. A strong drive from the top will give you a good look at a birdie.
River Oaks Golf Course and Event CenterLocation: Ceres
River Oaks Golf Course and Event Center is where I began my journey into golf. Founded in 1979 by Jim and Carol Phillips, this small, par-58 course offers many opportunities for beginners to learn the game of golf. River Oaks has a full driving range, putting green and 18-hole course, which is the perfect place for anyone looking to get started. The front 9 consists of all par 3 holes great for anyone wanting to work on their short game. For new players, this is the best place to learn your distances with your irons and work out your wedges. The back 9 is a little longer than the front and gives you the chance to finally pull out your driver. Made up of five par 3s and four par 4s, the back 9 has to be my favorite part of the course and hole 10 is my favorite hole at River Oaks. It's a simple straightaway shot to the green 290 yards away, but the short par 4 gives you a great opportunity to put a well-placed dive on the green. Any chance I get to drive a green, I’m going for it.
These five courses only make up a small amount of all the great golf the 209 has to offer. This is in no way a discredit to any of the other courses in our area — these are just some of the courses I play often and enjoy. I will of course be discussing other courses in the 209 in future issues, so if I left out your favorite course don’t get discouraged. If there are any courses you would like me to talk about be sure to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to play the course and give my opinion on it. Also, for anyone thinking of getting into golf for the first time, feel free to reach out and ask me for any pointers on where to begin. Springtime is upon us so take advantage of this great weather while we have it and go out and play!